HIGH Pinning hordes of demons down under a merciless barrage of incandescent crucifixes.
LOW Slogging through the repetitious "trials" of Fraud.
WTF A draw between the giant flaming anuses of Gluttony and Lucifer's huge, physics enabled penis.
Immediately after EA revealed Dante's Inferno, a mighty lamentation arose from the internet. A video game based on Dante Aligheri's famous epic? The poet himself replaced with a scythe-wielding crusader? The considered observation of Hell's myriad torments replaced with wanton violence? Perverting Aligheri's work was a sin; brazenly cribbing its presentation from God of War—a work far more regarded in gamer circles—was beyond redemption.
After this narrative took root it became nearly impossible to find an audience willing to evaluate the game on its own terms. Everyone already knew what they thought of it; what was the point of actually playing it? It was in this atmosphere that my initial indifference gave way to nagging curiosity. Like the ripe fruit of the tree of knowledge, its forbidden quality proved an irresistible temptation.
My expectations for Dante's Inferno were incredibly low going in. I confess that as the launch date drew closer I found myself buying into the anti-hype. By the time I had gotten my hands on it, I wasn't hoping for much more than a few chuckles (or groans) from the over-the-top "interpretation" of the Inferno.
Visceral's cavalier attitude towards the offensive goes beyond the artistic liberties taken with the source material. Some noteworthy bonuses include infanticide, implied rape, and sexualized violence. That the whole affair is played completely straight might be cause for alarm, but the situations were presented here with such hamfisted density that they collapse into self-parody. Conversations with Virgil hint at a more thoughtful tone, but the intermittent philosophy is tightly restricted to those exchanges. A journey through Hell is fertile with potential for great storytelling (just ask Aligheri), and while it's hardly surprising that an action game opted for the low road, it's still disappointing.
The developers weren't satisfied squandering away only narrative potential; the action contents itself at being close enough to God of War to be recognizable without going much further. Anyone acquainted with that series will feel immediately comfortable here, as both games revolve around stylish, violent combos against legions of hopelessly outmatched foes. Dante's Inferno even shares the affinity for QTEs, with on-screen button prompts allowing Dante to finish off the minions of Hell in impossibly spectacular ways (or die trying). At times the two games felt so similar that it conjured up images of the Visceral team tracing over specific bits of code for their "new" game.
Attempts to deviate from the God of War paradigm have problems of their own. Dante has access to two imaginatively named skill trees, holy and unholy. The act of punishing and absolving the myriad denizens of Hell adds points to their respective trees. Perhaps appropriately, the game nudges players toward the holy tree by granting tons of bonus experience for successful absolution and those skills are predictably much more effective at annihilating demons than their unholy counterparts. This culminates in one set of skills being both easily accessible and incredibly useful, while the other is merely flashy. Visceral makes some small attempts to remedy this by giving some enemies resistance to holy attacks, but wearing kevlar in front of a gunship doesn't usually amount to much.
By the midpoint of the adventure, anything resembling a challenge had vanished, and the game switched focus to how utterly Dante could obliterate all comers. Hell's finest were reduced to misshapen, howling basketballs, mercilessly dribbled before evaporating into clouds of blood and ash. It was then that an insidious realization that had been snaking its way through my consciousness finally became too powerful to deny. I was enjoying Dante's Inferno. Blasting enemies around the vistas of Hell with the power of Christ Almighty was an experience that only became more delightful as Dante's powers increased. Of course the six hour completion time ensured that I wouldn't get too carried away with all that fun-having business.
For once gamers can honestly believe the hype. Dante's Inferno lives down to expectations in spectacular fashion. Setting aside the tasteless storytelling, there's (derivative) entertainment to be had here, but what's there is short-lived with no replay value to speak of. Being not entirely terrible might meet with success in the slow months of summer, but Dante's Inferno is up against some stiff competition, some of which are luminaries in the very genre from which it draws so much influence. Without much more than a unique amorality to call its own, Visceral's latest seems bound for a special kind of Hell: the bargain-bin.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to single-player mode (completed 1 time).
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, and sexual content, and received a rating of M for Mature. The ESRB ain't kiddin' here folks. Keep your kids far away from this one.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There are no significant auditory cues. All important information is clearly displayed onscreen. Hard of hearing gamers should have no problems.