- Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
- Rating: M for Mature
- Content Descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Content
- (They aren’t kidding when they say M for Mature folks! This isn’t for kids under 17.)
If you like God of War but own an Xbox 360, then “hold onto your butts,” because EA has come out with their answer to the Sony exclusive game that has thrilled gamers for the past 5 years. Unfortunately, Visceral Games seemed to think that in order to make Dante’s Inferno better – to make it one louder and give it that extra push over the cliff – they needed to take it “up to eleven” with explicit and shocking visuals. Yep, prepare for the most disturbing depictions of naked bodies that you have probably ever seen in a video game to date.
We’ll get to the graphic stuff at the end of the review. Dante’s Inferno is loosely (and let me say again, loosely) based on the first part of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Basically, Visceral’s Dante is a hardened warrior coming back from the crusades to find that his wife has been murdered. He watches as her soul is dragged into Hell, and decides to fight his way through every dark and increasingly formidable realm of the underworld to save her. Along the way you encounter Virgil, who acts like a poetic herald of Hell’s Handbook for the Recently Deceased, giving you insight on what lies ahead. Dante takes on scores of baddies, decides the fate of sinners, and battles his own personal demons as he fights his way down to Lucifer himself to free his wife from the Devil’s clutches.
Maneuvering through Hell is a time consuming but not unfathomable task. The path to the fiery depths is laid out for you clearly, and the combat is fairly straight forward. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Dante’s Inferno covers all the God of War bases except for two things: we’re given skill trees that force you to choose a good or evil path, and much more gratuitous nudity and sexual situations.
You are given a scythe to slash at your enemies, as well as a shining cross that throws an unending arsenal of cross-shaped holy energy at everything you come across. Like God of War, the camera angle is fixed per the director’s choice for each scene. Sometimes it can offer a truly unique perspective on the combat, but most often it is just annoying. Quite a few times you will misjudge the distance and timing of a jump between platforms, and secret areas that contain collectibles are so well hidden even the most trained eyes will miss them. For the most part though, it won’t interfere with the best part of this game: ripping apart demons and laying waste to tons of enemies. Let me tell you, the combat is FUN. It’s not exactly mind-boggling, but you are able to purchase new combos and magical “mana” maneuvers that are easy to use and seamlessly flow together to create enormous chains of death-wielding delight.
Combos and special magical perks can be purchased at any time by entering the menu screen. You use souls that you collect from enemies and from fountains sprinkled about the maps as your currency. (Certain fountains will replenish both your health bar and your mana meter as well.) While you really only get 2 basic weapons to use throughout the game, the mana using maneuvers become a really important part of your gameplay. You have to use them wisely, but they can make all the difference in cutting down the time spent in a large battle. This brings me to one of the great grievances I have with Dante’s Inferno. While the combat was fun and the combos were plenty, most of the battles weigh more on the side of outlasting your enemies instead of outwitting them. At times, hordes of simple enemies will come at you for so long that you think there might be a glitch, and you just keep hacking and slashing and praying for it to end without the game freezing or Red Ring-ing your system. Also, in the course of following suit with God of War, the boss fights (including the final boss) don’t require you to use all your newly learned and earned maneuvers. Hacking, slashing, and action buttons are all that are required to prevail. Overall, the combat in Dante’s Inferno is still very engaging and puts real gravity behind every slash of Dante’s scythe.
Remember how it felt getting to ride the Brumak in Gears of War 2? While not quite as epic, you do get a chance to ride a couple of very large beasts throughout this game. It was a nice change of pace from the usual hack and slash, offering you a chance to maul and stamp the baddies into dust, or light them up in a blast of fiery breath. The skill trees also add that little extra something to Dante’s Inferno. While it is far from being as in-depth as say, Mass Effect 2‘s dialog changing choices between being a Renegade or Paragon, it does affect what kind of powers and upgrades are available to you. You earn ranks as being Holy or Unholy by either punishing or absolving a select few of the enemies you come across. Some enemies have higher ranking XP than others, and there are a few more important souls for you to deal with throughout each level of Hell. They are set up as collectibles rather than enemies and offer up a little back story into their crimes, as well as a much higher reward for determining their fate. Punishing all your enemies is usually much easier and requires just a couple of action button sequences, where as absolving them can lead to a Guitar Hero-esque mini-game.
Collectibles are fairly typical. There are 30 Pieces of Silver (Judas Coins) scattered all over Hell, which don’t do much other than earn you a few achievements. There are also Relics that can be found, but these are actually useful, as they can be applied 2 at a time to Dante like little revolving perks that help with soul collecting, combat, powers, and defenses. Depending on how Holy or Unholy your Dante has become will determine which relics you are able to use. This also ups the replay value of this game, since it will allow for a different play-through the second time around as well as an achievement or two.
There are puzzles that require your attention in quite a few areas of the game, but this leads to another downfall of this action game. The puzzles are by no means consistent in difficulty, nor do they become more intricate the longer you play. Each puzzle is either mind-numbingly easy, or the answer is so misdirected that you are left shaking your head at it for a long time. Really, the puzzles just felt like little distractions, prolonging your time between combat sequences.
If you have actually read The Divine Comedy, then you will be pretty taken aback at all the liberties that EA and Visceral Games have taken with this classic piece of literature. Basically, the only similarities are that your name is Dante, Virgil is present, and you travel through the different realms of Hell. In this variation, Dante is driven by revenge and a desperate effort to bring his wife back from Hell. Unfortunately, it is his fault that she had to go there, adding fuel to the fire. At first this story is intriguing, but after the first few layers of Hell, you feel like you are being lead around by the nose, knowing that there are quite a few layers yet to penetrate before you get to any real meat in the story.
The music and background noises were haunting, and at times the scariest part of the whole thing. Hearing the moaning of sinners begging for your help as you climb across their prison walls, blood-curdling screams, and the gnashing of teeth really puts you in an uneasy mood. The landscapes are just as off-putting. It’s hard to take this game lightly when you are jogging past twitching corpses that are speared along a path that winds over a river of boiling blood, only to then encounter big naked enemies that want to harm you in the worst way — and all the while having your dead wife dangled in front of you like a carrot on a stick. Yikes.
The graphics during game play were surprisingly well done. It wasn’t too dark, but also not brightly colored. The graphics were fairly realistic, but not so much that they were really scary. The execution was perfectly balanced for this kind of a game. The real gem was the cut-scenes. Sometimes they were done using the in-game graphics, which was fine, but other times we would be led through the story with actual cartoon animations that are entirely creepy. Best of all, there are some beautifully rendered scenes that rival the movie Beowulf.
WARNING: Graphic Descriptions of Game Sexuality and Spoilers
Dante’s Inferno is a good action game. It may be a near carbon copy of God of War, but hey, if it’s not broke don’t fix it, right? It definitely has it’s own twists thrown into the mix, but there has to come a time when we start wondering if it’s really good for game companies to push the envelope with their content to this extreme. It’s that age old dispute between what is acceptable and what is taboo. I don’t mind taboo-bending games, but this one crossed enough lines to even make a hardened and desensitized critic like me feel a little dirty and uncomfortable. The gross-out factor had a hand in bringing the score of this game down a bit.
I give Dante’s Inferno 3.5 “Antidotes to this game” out of 5.
by Rachael Edwards Hite, Staff Writer