A lot of controversy surrounds Visceral’s action-adventure title known as Dante’s Inferno
. First, there’s the obvious criticism for the game taking liberties with the storyline of the original poem by Dante Alighieri. If you were wondering how valid this criticism is, the rumors are indeed true.
Visceral’s version of the Divine Comedy essentially uses the literary piece as the footnote for a video game that traverses the nine Circles of Hell. The basic premise is there: Dante travels through Hell encountering the manifestation of people’s sins in the afterlife while being led by Virgil. There are various references to characters that the original Dante met in his travels, as well as references to locations and sites like Acheron or the city of Dis. Even the bosses in each Circle of Hell represent a major character of the Divine Comedy.
In the third person perspective, you will play as Dante who led crusaders in a murderous rampage to conquer the disputed holy land under the orders of King Richard and a deranged Bishop. Said bishop convinces you that all your sins are absolved, even without confession, which leads you into a destructive path of murder, betrayal, and crazy-eyed animations in cut scenes. After a victorious confrontation with Death (which you can play in the demo version), Dante treks home to find his wife Beatrice and his father murdered. What’s worse, your own heinous sins have committed your wife’s soul to Lucifer’s possession. Thus begins your journey through the 9 Circles of Hell to rescue her soul.
Your back-story is revealed to you in graphic novelesque cut scenes reminiscent of Samurai Champloo
(which turns out was a good guess on my behalf considering some of the creative team was involved in the anime show). They’re definitely pleasant to look at if you’re a fan of lush graphic art. They’re composed of constantly shifting and transforming images, my favorite of which is the Bishop’s face transforming into a devilish grin of an expression.
The plot that Visceral did formulate felt like a half effort. It could very well have been Mario rescuing Princess from Bowser. Even though the storyline attempts to connect you with Dante’s history, I didn’t feel any particular bond with him or care for Beatrice’s fate. I was playing to play, not for any other reason.
Dialogue didn’t help for the plot, either. A few lines from the Divine Comedy are thrown in for good measure – generally spoken by your guide, Virgil – but you’ll find good text otherwise remiss.
With such a descriptive text as the Divine Comedy to take cue from, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more feeling put into the game. This is specifically an issue when confronted with the torment that we’re meant to encounter along the way. Dante in the Divine Comedy found the torture and pain palpable, but I wasn’t moved by any of the allegedly tormenting scenes I came across. Disgusted by some, perhaps (wait for the Circle of Lust), but otherwise no emotions were passed.
This was more so disappointing considering that the graphics are fairly impressive. This holds true particularly in cut scenes, of course, breathing cinematic life into the otherwise adventurous gameplay. The detailing in imagery and creativity of how sins are represented in each Circle of Hell is definitely present, but the feeling of immersion in them is what’s lacking.
The other major accusation that has been floating around since the reveal of Dante’s Inferno is its unmistakable similarities to the God of War series. This is another truthful accusation, but there are two ways to take this fact.
One is resentment against the developers for creating a game that is “unoriginal”. The other perspective – and this holds water particularly for 360 owners – is that this is an opportunity to play a game that resembles in the best ways possible David Jaffe’s incredibly popular action-adventure series exclusive to the PlayStation consoles. The idea of playing the antihero and the gameplay formula do make it justifiable in calling Dante’s Inferno a “clone” of God of War. And although while playing the demo I was skeptical of how well Visceral could keep up as a clone, playing the game throughout turned me from skeptic to advocate.
While you might call the game a clone, you can’t accuse Visceral of not being able to deliver on an entertaining game. That much is still true in their latest development.
To put it shortly, gameplay is both diverse and fast-paced. In terms of fighting, Dante’s Inferno provides you with your weapon, a ranged attack, and magic. Your scythe, stolen as a trophy from your encounter with Death, can issue swift light attacks, or throw your enemies into the air in preparation for pummeling hard hits. The combination moves that you can buy with souls you collect in Hell switch up the flow of your fighting style.
Ranged attacks are conducted through Beatrice’s cross, which you pick up early on in the game. Combo moves for the cross are considered under the Holy spec, whereas scythe moves are built up in the Unholy spec. You can increase your level in either specialization by either absolving lost souls in Hell for a Holy path or punishing them for the Unholy path. I personally chose to focus on Unholy first given the cheesy bursts of crosses in what appears to be various dance moves in the Holy specialization. However, you’ll have the opportunity to boost both specializations fairly high if you do choose to do so, allowing you to dabble in both forms of fighting style.
Your magic abilities are picked up along the way, and can be boosted in both specializations, as well. There are four to locate, most of which are both incredibly useful in a tight spot and fun to use.
Fighting style can be very versatile considering the abilities and options you have at your disposal. This is important because certain enemies will require heavier attacks, or can only be reached with your ranged attacks. Enemies that swarm you in packs can be easily dealt with with a lunge of spikes from your Righteous Path spell ability or Sins of the Father that shoots crosses at your enemies. I vary my fighting style from sweeping attacks mid-air, to heavy blows from the ground depending on what enemies I’m facing or even what mood I’m in. The versatility is open enough for fighting to never be a bore.
However, you won’t just be fighting as Dante with your scythe and accumulated magic; you’ll also be playing the role of a parasite, riding various demons and beasts to use as your deadly host. You get a chance to hone your ninja skills with swift splicing attacks and darting across the floor, but you can also partake in some brute force battling by taking control over giant beasts.
Although the game has that hack and slash, leaping across walls of corpses to grab ropes made of bone kind of feel, there is also some great variation to gameplay on a wider scale. You’ll find puzzles and contraptions to tinker with that will require some experimentation, thought, and a little bit of death. Some of this variety produces exciting moment-to-moment fun and has you jumping wildly in a timed dance against swinging blades and flying enemies. Or perhaps you’ll be leveraging a door open as it struggles against you while fighting off bullheaded demons. There are even challenges represented as the Malebolge (set in the eighth circle) to put your fighting skills to the test with bonuses at the end of each round. Fighting definitely stays original throughout your expedition of Hell.
Playing through these aspects of gameplay I was reminded of the sort of Prince of Persia fighting as well as distinct platformer qualities of having to make the perfect jump to catch a ledge by the skin of your teeth. What’s particularly interesting about the platform type of gameplay in Dante’s Inferno is the variety of obstacles you’ll be encountering. Ledges won’t be the only barriers to overcome; you’ll have to maintain your step on spinning gears, or time a jump from rotating blocks.
The game, therefore, requires a lot of trial and error. It’s fun to learn from your mistakes each time, both in terms of leaping from falling boulders as well as perfecting a battle scheme. You’re not a badass ex-crusader for just any reason; it’s up to your skills as a gamer to make sure each move is practically flawless. Fortunately, Visceral made a pretty reliable camera focus to ensure obscured views are not a threat to hindering that skill.
Part of what provides the gameplay diversity is the environment itself. Each “map” – or Circle of Hell – is unique from the other. Hell is definitely an interesting and unique place to be traversing in terms of an environment for a video game given its open-ended quality that is just waiting to be visualized. You’re cutting through the stomachs of demons to enter doorways rather than simply opening them, and breaking down statues of demons with glaring eyes and huge axes to help you cross to the next path.
I was happy to see some creativity implemented in the environment, although still not without the feeling of Prince of Persia or God of War. Every new area of Hell I traversed felt very much appropriate to the sin or sinners it meant to represent. The look and feel, and enemies and bosses included in each area were very much their own. Each map introduces very unique new enemies, and bosses are definitely not excluded from this fact. Each boss makes the pace of the game challenging – which is always expected – but also exciting for what more there is to come.
Dante’s Inferno is also rife with collectibles. There’s always an extra ledge to be found with a hidden soul to claim or relic – which, when equipped, modifies your abilities or can give you bonus benefits – to uncover. At the same time, however, the maps aren’t too extensive, but fairly linear. So if you like the idea of exploring to find hidden items, you’ll certainly find it in Dante’s Inferno, but if you’re hesitant to tackle a game that likes to overwhelm you with mystery treasure chests, you wont have to worry with this game.
Beating the game gains you special features (movies, playbacks of cut scenes) and new game modes. One such game mode is Resurrection, which allows you to play the game with all of your accumulated abilities. Conveniently, completion on any difficulty setting also unlocks the Infernal difficulty mode, which should be easier to complete with Resurrection. Gates of Hell, another bonus to beating the game, is Dante’s Inferno’s horde mode and allows you to gain experience points towards building Dante’s abilities.
Considering our copy of Dante’s Inferno is the Divine Edition, you might also like to hear of the extra content included. The Divine Edition comes with the full Divine Comedy poem, soundtrack, concept art, and a rough timeline of Dante’s life. More exciting, however, is the scores of documentaries and shorts available as well as a sketchbook of concept art by visual designer Wayne Barlowe. There are definitely enough extra features to tide your curiosity over in the Divine Edition.
Although the plot and dialogue are lacking, if you’re looking for a game with nice graphics and fun gameplay with versatile moves and abilities that never tire, Dante’s Inferno can certainly offer that much. For a game that boasts a connection to the ancient poem, however, the storyline could have been formulated in a much more entertaining and involving manner.
If you want to discuss what this means for its monetary value, my fast answer is to wait for a sale or rental. Paying $60, I’m sure you will expect to have a good experience on both the gameplay itself as well as the storyline you’re meant to be immersed into. You’ll only get half of that from Dante’s Inferno, so we’re down to $30 value. Put into account that the game didn’t even take me a full 8 hours to finish and you might be down to a $15 value depending on where your loyalties are.
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Dante’s Inferno is an incredibly fun game with exciting and fast-paced gameplay. However, with a dull storyline experience, Visceral gives me no choice but to call the overall experience of the game mediocre. Of course, if you’re looking strictly for the fun of the gameplay, you can be assured that they’ve delivered on that end.