Dante’s Inferno Xbox 360, PS3
Biblically themed hack and slash games seem pretty popular at the moment. This year we’ve already been fighting angels in Bayonetta and defeating the devil in Darksiders. Now Electronic Arts have thrown their hat in to the ring with Dante’s Inferno, a game loosely based on the fourteenth century poem The Divine Comedy. It may be a bit late to the party, but how does it compare to its competitors, both of which have distinguished themselves with honour?
For those unfamiliar with The Divine Comedy, the basic story is pretty simple. A knight away at the Crusades nearly dies, and when confronted with Death, the knight kills him and steals his scythe. Returning home from the Crusades, he finds his father and wife dead and is confronted with a vision of his wife, Beatrice, being taken by the devil. Then it’s a case of off you go in to the depths of hell to save your loved one; slaying demons along the way and absolving, or punishing, any sinners you come across – not to mention facing your own personal demons. It’s a simple story, but it’s told in the most epic manner, with production values through the roof in all departments. Great voice acting, an orchestral score, and a fantastic art style almost make you feel like you are in hell.
It doesn’t really matter how good a game looks or sounds though if it hasn’t got some decent gameplay to back it up. Dante’s Inferno has a pretty solid game hiding behind all the fancy bells and whistles. It’s your typical hack and slash game, very much in the God of War mould, with your primary weapon being the aforementioned scythe of death. Melee combat using the scythe is pretty standard, you have two buttons, for light and hard attacks, and mixing them up with control stick motions and the block move gives you access to a varied range of attacks. As well as the scythe you are also armed with Beatrice’s crucifix, which when in hell has the power to emit projectile attacks – very handy when you’re faced with a large crowd of demons. Both of these weapons are upgradeable, using souls, which you receive for killing enemies and achieving objectives. As you progress deeper into hell you’ll also collect relics and magical powers which can be used to boost your performance, and give you additional attacks. By the time you face Lucifer you’ll be well equipped for the battle.
There’s a little bit more to the game than just combat, as although it’s satisfying it would get tedious if that’s all there was. There are also numerous platforming elements incorporated: jumping gaps, climbing ladders, swinging on ropes and so on, even the odd bit of exploration. Some of the collectable objects will be quite well hidden, so it’s best to have a good look around when you get the chance, as the game is very linear you won’t be able to come back for them.
When you come across a sinner you are faced with a dilemma: either punish them, or absolve them of their sins so they can go to heaven. It’s something of a morality system, but the choices you make do not change the story in any way though, but will raise your holy or unholy meter, which in turn represent the power of Beatrice’s cross or Death’s scythe. There are also a small amount of puzzle solving to be done if you want to make it down to the very bottom of hell, nothing too complicated though, just enough to make you stop for a minute and think.
So, it’s nice looking, and plays pretty well, but sadly there are a couple of things about it that could be better. Most major of which is a lack of camera control. In a game like this it’s useful to be able to survey your surroundings, but that’s not the worst thing about it. With no camera control the right analogue stick has been given another use, and that is to dash in whatever direction you push the stick. The problem here is that it’s instinctive to use that to look around, and it’s hard to resist your instincts, which resulted in me falling to my death on more than a few occasions. In my book that is just bad design, and it’s not their only bad design decision either, the other, whilst not so bad, I just found annoying. The action button, to open doors, access health and magic points and so on, is the right shoulder button, nothing wrong in that in itself, but once you have pressed it you then have to hammer the B button to complete the action. Not terrible I know, I just thought it was a little unnecessary, making basic actions more effort than they needed to be.
And whilst we’re talking about bad design decisions, I don’t know what happened over at Visceral Games when it came to the end of the story, but it seems they must have run out of ideas. After the epic adventure of the first seven circles of hell, each exquisitely depicting sins such as greed, gluttony, lust and violence, with suitable demons and epic boss battles, the final two circles are something of a let down. Instead of some epic set piece or fantastic boss battle you are given a sequence of ten arena challenges with some ridiculous conditions in order to pass. Very tiresome to say the least. The final level is little more than an introduction to your final battle with Lucifer, but before you can take that challenge you have to cross a collapsing ice bridge, with your movement speed reduced to a snail’s pace. After falling in to the abyss below for the umpteenth time I noticed not all parts of the bridges shook as soon as you stepped on to them, and managed to navigate a safe path across the bridge, only to be rewarded with a somewhat lacklustre final boss battle, and a cut scene indicating that there will be a sequel.
Hopefully Visceral Games will take on board criticism in time for the sequel, as this could have been something special. You can see glimpses of what could have been, but it is spoilt by some bad choices and a sloppy ending. Dante’s Inferno is certainly worth a rental, but at only ten to twelve hours of gameplay, it’s hard to recommend splashing out forty quid on it, unless you have more money than sense.