One of the most annoying things when games get turned into movies is the way things are inevitably lost in the transitions. It is often a case of characters being added for no reason, romantic subplots being thrown into the mix and large parts of the original story getting ignored conveniently. I imagine that is how fans of the “Divine Comedy,” an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri in the 1300’s, must feel.
Dante’s Inferno, based on the first part of the three-part poem, is definitely a “Hollywood” style interpretation of the classic. If you are not familiar with the original work, this is fine, but classic literature fans will have plenty of reasons to raise an eyebrow. Dante is now a Templar Knight, who, after returning from a crusade in the Holy Land, finds the love of his life has been murdered and dragged to hell as a consequence of his sins. Having already cheated (and literally defeated!) death, stealing his (its?) soul reaping scythe in the process, Dante sets off to claim back his love. It is the typical “save the helpless girl” style plot that is favoured by the game medium. With his super powerful weapon sorted and his motivation sufficiently fired up, Dante makes a tour of the nine circles of hell.
If there’s one thing this game thrives on, it is shock and controversy. While the subject matter is already very sensitive and potentially offensive, the developers have gone out of their way to earn an 18 certificate. Besides the over the top blood and gore, there’s nudity galore and some pretty disturbing imagery. Letting a child play this game would be tantamount to child abuse. Any game that throws unbaptized babies with blades instead of arms at you and then gives you an achievement (bad nanny) for killing it, is clearly not worried about the censors.
Gameplay wise Dante’s Inferno is a pretty standard, by the numbers third person hack & slash. Imagine an unholy union between Devil May Cry and God of War, and you will know what I am talking about. Everyone that’s played either of those games will feel right at home here. You’ve got your fast but weak attack, as well as a slow and powerful one. Then there’s your ranged attack in the form of a cross. Quicktime events pop up all the time where you have to match the onscreen button prompts in order to perform some impressive feats. Magical attacks also make an appearance. Then you have relics that can be equipped to bestow you with all kinds of special abilities. Then of course every enemy you encounter literally gives up the ghost and allows you to gather their souls for your own nefarious purposes. In this case it is to level up your holy or unholy skill tree.
Dante has the unique ability to either judge or absolve enemies (or lost souls) thereby opening up new move sets. Judging enemies usually involves tearing them apart and spending souls on this skill tree will increase the effectiveness of the scythe. Absolving enemies will give them a close encounter with your holy cross and will make your ranged attacks more deadly. Trapped souls are famous figures found throughout the nine circles and you can control what happens to their souls. Absolving them opens a mini game where you have to “catch sins” to gain more souls. Judgment usually just involves a lot of pain for them. Beyond leveling up your moves, there are no consequences to your actions, which is somewhat disappointing.
The real star of the game is the environments and Visceral Games have done a great job of creating and disturbing a surreal vision of hell. Each of the nine circles has their own themes with Lust and Greed being standouts. The sheer size of your surroundings is also awe inspiring at times and gives the illusion of a much larger world than there really is. You are confined to a pretty straight forward and linear path at all times with very little backtracking. It all looks very impressive, however with sequences like seeing and hearing Minnos bellow out judgments in the background, or a giant Cleopatra ascending the tower of lust in pursuit of you. It all falls apart in the last two levels unfortunately with recycled enemies, and out of place arena-based challenges. Someone, please explain to me why I can only progress if I stay in the air for eight seconds or defeat all enemies without blocking? The whole sequence of challenges feels way more suited for a separate challenge mode than as the final part of the game. It all smacks of laziness which is doubly annoying, seeing as the game is already criminally short. Maybe next time Visceral will spend more time on new environments and less on “dangly” bits of characters (you’ll see what I mean after playing the game).
You have no control over the camera in this game, which is sure to annoy some people, but I honestly didn’t have any issues. The controls are responsive, with the combo’s flowing freely. It is not all just hacking and slashing either. Dante takes a few breaks from all the bloodletting to solve some puzzles as well. Most of these involve pushing blocks around or other mundane tasks, but the Esheresque mirror section was quite impressive. Less impressive is the instant death-sections which occur every now and then. These usually result from a miss-timed jump or touching something you shouldn’t have. You’ll be placed back at the last checkpoint, which is always annoyingly behind a door that requires button mashing to open or in a room where you have to redo mundane things that just waste time. Dante can’t use any other weapons apart from his scythe and cross, but these are more than powerful enough in any case.
The soundtrack was recorded at Abbey Road, which should be familiar to all Beatle fans. The large recording space has resulted in some suitably epic arrangements. It’s not your typical orchestral score, but it fits the game nicely with chanting, big booming sounds and wailing instruments. The people who handled sound effects like the tortured souls really put a lot of effort into their work. The voice acting isn’t half bad, either with some excellent animated flashbacks that reveals Dante’s fall from grace. The in-game cut-scenes are a bit less impressive, but still well acted considering the subject matter.
Dante’s Inferno is quite a good game, but there’s definitely room for improvement. The battle arena that’s unlocked upon the game’s completion doesn’t add much more than an hour’s playtime, although you can restart the game with all your skills intact to mop up the last few achievements. The “Death” edition of the game not only comes with a snazzy holographic cover, but also a bonus DVD and new costume for Dante. If you want the Dark Forrest and Trails of St. Lucia DLC, you will have to splash out for it separately. Electronic Arts have done their best to stir up hype and controversy around the game, which might have caused unrealistic expectations. Having said that, I definitely enjoyed the experience, even though the source lent itself to so much more. The next chapter should be interesting however, and I look forward to see how it will be interpreted.
*Review originally published 2010.