2010 has been a pretty good year for gaming so far. Slash-em-up fans have already had it good with the likes of Bayonetta hitting our consoles in January. Now we are in February it is time for another title to take the spotlight – step up Dante’s Inferno, a third-person action-adventure blood-feast that sees you journey through the gates of hell and beyond. So with our blood thirst ready to be quenched, lets kicks off our hooves, walk along the hot coals and into our review.
The main inspiration for Dante’s Inferno has come from the first book of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem - The Divine Comedy; a medieval view of the Christian afterlife, written in the 14th Century and is viewed as one of the greatest pieces of world literature. Its developers, Visceral Games, has taken a snapshot of this scripture and has run with it in all manner of directions, seeing your character banished to hell in a quest to save his loved one.
You play Dante, a veteran soldier of the Third Crusade. From the beginning you are instantly thrown into a city under siege - a cunning way for you to get acquainted to the game’s combat and controls. During this sequence Dante is soon killed by an assassin and is confronted by Death himself, who informs him that he and his loved ones are to suffer eternal damnation. Dante decides to redeem himself of his sins, so after killing the grim reaper himself and taking his scythe as a war trophy, Dante returns to his home in Florence to live his life in peace with his beloved Beatrice. On arrival Dante soon discovers she has been murdered, and comes to Dante in the form of a spirit. Your discussions with Beatrice’s spirit abruptly comes to an end when Lucifer drags her into Hell, and thus begins Dante’s chase into the afterlife to absolve his loved one.
The game sees you play through the nine circles of Hell – Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery. Guided by the spirit of Virgil, Dante has to defeat a growing number of undead, as well as jumping across various platforms, swinging from ropes, climbing walls cocooned with the damned and tackle environmental puzzle-based challenges. At the end of each circle you face and array of bosses, ranging from characters that are close to your own eye level through to huge towering bosses, such as King Minos - the judge of the dead - one of my favourites. Making your way through these levels with such towering characters in the background makes the game feel that more epic and, dare I say it, God-of-War like.
Most of the gameplay has you wandering linear pathways that soon form into much wider areas, giving that ‘I’m about to get ambushed’ feeling. Most of the time this feeling is right as you rarely face the undead along the pathways, but once you’ve entered the areas these lead to, their exits become blocked, and remain blocked until you dispose of the many waves of undead that spawn around you. This rinse and repeat pretty much sums up most of the gameplay in Dante’s Inferno, however there are a few twists and environmental changes along the way.
Your primary tool of destruction will be your scythe, obtained straight from the palms of Death himself. With various X, Y and Trigger button combos you can attack, grab, block and throw the undead using an array of medium and heavy melee attacks. Long distance projectile attacks come from your secondary weapon, a Holy Cross, which fires a wave of energy into any direction you are facing, hitting any enemy in its path whether it be shuffling on the ground or flapping the air. In addition to your primary and secondary attacks, Dante can use a small range of magic to attack his foe. The various magical abilities are slowly collected throughout the game, and unlike the Holy Cross, your magic abilities diminish after use. Luckily though, there are plenty of Mana fountains located around the level to top Dante back up, the same goes for health too, as both are most commonly found together in the same room.
Dante’s Primary, Secondary and Magical attacks can be upgraded throughout his journey by buying additional Holy and Unholy skills. Purchasing these skills is done by accumulating experience points, which can be earned by Punishing or Absolving the undead. Punishing specific damned characters (taken from The Divine Comedy) as well as your undead foes will lead to Unholy XP, where as Absolving them to Heaven will give you Holy XP. Choosing which Holy or Unholy XP tree to build is up to you. Dante begins his journey with equal amounts of XP and taking either path will lead to different combos and enhanced abilities. So for those looking for a little more longevity, there is some additional play-through time here to maximise them both.
You will find most of your hacking and slashing is accompanied by an equal amount of platforming, and it is this area that begins to let this game down. The issue here is a problem that faces many third-person romps of this type - the camera. You see, in Dante’s Inferno you cannot control the positioning of it, so you are at the whim of the level designer and how they think you should be seeing the game’s environment. Sadly, there were many instances of bad camera location, so much so that I could easily run out of fingers if I were to count the amount of miss jumps I have made due to a bad camera angle. These problems continue in combat too, where there were many cursed frustrations over attacking enemies that are located behind the camera and out of view. Throughout the game I rarely used the right analogue sticks (which is used to dart Dante in all of four directions) so I would have much preferred to have had full camera control on the right stick instead.
Another area in game that is a disappointment is the game’s difficulty curve and overall game design decisions. Without spoiling the game too much, in later levels you are faced with a few timed platform events that would make those past Mega Man and Ghouls & Ghost frustrations come flooding back to you. Turning the difficulty down didn’t widen the timing needed to achieve these either. I wouldn’t have minded if this was a regular occurrence in the game, but this has been slotted in much later in the story that it felt odd. On top of that the decision to put in ‘challenges’ at the near end of the game baffled me also. These challenges would have been best suited outside of the main story and as part of a different mode. They felt a little tacked on for the purpose of lengthening the six to seven hours it took to complete the game.
Along with the story mode, Dante’s Inferno includes a common element us gamers are finding in games today. Titled, Gates of Hell, this mode has you fighting against up to fifty waves of the undead with each wave becoming harder. This mode also boosts your overall XP, so if you wish to unlock additional Holy or Unholy XP outside of the story mode you can do that here too. The reason why you’d want to do this after the game’s completion is for the upcoming Trials of St. Lucia (which releases April 29th). In this upcoming mode you will be able to battle co-op style with a friend against waves of enemies as well as create your own battle sequences using a custom level editor. It is sad this couldn’t have been in the game from the beginning; I just hope the addition will become a free DLC for the game and not a paid addition.
Despite its bad camera, rinse and repeat gameplay and strange game design decisions in later levels, Dante’s Inferno is an enjoyable fun title to play through, and a worthy filler for PlayStation owners before the release of God of War III. If you can get this game on the cheap or rental you’d be damned not to check this game out - even if it is for stunning CGI sequences, epic bosses, the odd boob shot and the brainless bashing of the undead.