Review: Dante’s Inferno (PS3, Xbox 360)February 24th, 2010 | Written by Josh Schwartzman | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360
When Dante Alighieri wrote his famous Divine Comedy back in the 14th Century I bet he never imagined how shameless his poem would turn out in the present time. Dante’s Inferno is hard to describe on its own merits mainly because it blatantly rips off one of the best action games of the past few years (God of War) with a story loosely based around the Italian poets work. While Dante’s Inferno does have some interesting level design and combat mechanics, for the most part you are left with just an average action game trying way too hard to be like God of War.
Since Dante’s Inferno is loosely (we use that term in a moderate sense since the game only really follows the Divine Comedy for namesake and level design) based on The Divine Comedy, some background information might be prudent to some to understand the story of Dante’s Inferno. For all matters relevant to the game, Dante is transformed from a somber, 14th Century Italian poet to a Knight during the Crusades, who after being punished for his sins, soon ventures into Hell to rescue his beloved Beatrice who has been captured by the various demons of the underworld. Once in the depths, Dante must travel through the Nine Circles of Hell (limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, heresy, violence, fraud, and betrayal) in order to regain redemption.
Admittedly, the idea of Nine Circles of Hell is an interesting premise and as such each of the various Circles offers new ideas and level designs for Dante to venture through. The first few levels in themselves have great artistic moments, with levels that feature living bodily organs scattered over every part of the level to battles aboard the famed ferry on the River Styx. There are moments when Dante’s Inferno does a good job adhering to the Divine Comedy, but the later Circles of Hell, most notably those of fraud and betrayal, are just rehashes of the previous levels and it really is a shame to see such creative visions thrown to the wayside near the end of the game.
While the level designs are surely a treat for those looking for some originality, the combat will surely make you think twice about your thoughts. For starters, the game does not even try to hide the fact that it is blatantly ripping off God of War. The controls might be a tad different, but the overall layout remains the same. You dodge by flicking the right analog stick, Dante can perform heavy and light attacks with his scythe and also perform magic abilities that are almost similar in retrospect to the same type of moves that Kratos can perform. Even the most basic of actions, such as opening doors (which requires you to repeatedly press a button) or the mini-game button presses are no match for what God of War perfected years ago.
That’s not to say Dante’s Inferno just reuses old ideas because it does have some interesting additions that makes the combat feel a bit like its own. When an enemy is close to death, Dante has the ability to absolve or punish them, leaving you with a chance at redemption or revenge. The path you choose has no underlying effect on the actual story but it does allow you to unlock newer skills. For example absolving enemies (which is considered a good action) allows you to upgrade your Holy Cross attacks which fires a beam of energy while punishing enemies allows Dante to reign fire down from the skies or literally rip enemies in half.
These attacks are placed on a skills tree that lets you choose your own path for Dante. Basically, in order to unlock the most powerful attacks, you simply have to use your absolve or punish points to unlock the lesser skills. As you move along the skills tree future options get added as well, such as more health or magic stamina, adding some small branch of strategy for you to partake in if you so choose. While the skills tree is a neat idea to give players some form of control, it is heavily lopsided, with the punish (evil) side of the tree featuring many of the powerful, deadly attacks and the absolve (good) side featuring just projectile or personal attribute skills. It is your choice depending on how you play, but we typically just preferred to invoke carnage upon every creature we met rather than try to upgrade our health bar.
Visually, Dante’s Inferno looks pretty solid, with astonishing creations of what Hell could possibly look like (some may never know) and the distinct variations between the various Circles also helps in giving Dante’s Inferno a breath of fresh air every once in a while. The gore is unabashed, constantly showering you with blood, guts and bodily parts whenever you engage in combat. Visceral Games seems to want to hold the record for most unnecessary use of blood at any given time, but given that this is Hell, you can’t expect anything less for that matter. The character models could have used some more work, and although Dante is menacing in his own right the enemy models are all rehashed throughout the game and you never really get to see the same creativity shown in the level design on the enemies. The accompanying score sets the pace for the game with plenty of chorus fanfares chanting Latin passages and it does seem pretty badass to battle demons in Hell while having giant fanfares and preaching in the background. The voice acting is a bit monotonous at times, but the passages that Vergil recites are a welcome pace away from the constant screaming and moaning.
While the level designs deserve plenty of praise for creatively exhibiting the Nine Circles of Hell, Dante’s Inferno really has nothing else to offer itself other than its obvious comparison to God of War. Some of the more interesting combat mechanics, such as the absolve and punish decisions, could have been used more effectively to showcase the sins that Dante is overcoming, but instead they feel like a feeble attempt to add something new to a structure that was already well polished. With a bit more time Dante’s Inferno could have been a really great game, but the repetition that plagues the game down the stretch coupled with a lack of any real original ideas makes Dante’s Inferno a hellish take on good ideas.