Epic action games seem to be the theme for 2010 and so far things are good. EA and Visceral Games are back with yet another entry to the genre, this time with a game that borrows from two ends of the spectrum. Dante’s Inferno is a balls-to-the-wall action game that pits an unlikely hero against the forces of Hell in order to retrieve the love of his life. While it may borrow heavily from another action title we will try to refrain from mentioning there is a lot to like about Visceral’s latest. The action is intense, the visuals are stunning, and anyone interested in action games will be guaranteed to have a ton of fun with this one.
Dante’s Inferno is loosely based on the fourteenth century poem. When I say loosely I use that term, well loosely. The core concept is there, but so much has been changed that comparing the two is simply a lost cause. You play Dante in his quest to venture through the circles of Hell in order to save the soul of his beloved Beatrice. The quintessential save the girl storyline is definitely worn out, but the game does a nice job of pushing the player forward, giving them good reason to keep moving. This is in large part thanks to the intriguing storyline that will test your comfort levels more often than not. This is Hell after all so things are certainly not of the pleasant variety.
This really was what made each area interesting to me. As you traverse through the various circles such as gluttony, lust and anger, each one is represented by a unique approach to level design. For example the greed level feels like a giant gold melting plant where souls are tortured by being boiled in large vats of liquid gold. The set pieces are disturbing to say the least and outright disgusting in some cases. There are un-baptized babies, people screaming from the walls, and the sheer surroundings will make you cringe a time or two. Overall the setting of the game is really what helps it stand out in the crowd.
The core combat mechanic is very similar to Sony’s first-party action outing. OK that may be a bit of hyperbole; the game damn near mimics every action Kratos and company has performed before it. This is honestly why the game is facing so much criticism. For me it was an entirely different story, I took the game for what it was, and found myself really meshing with the familiar combat. You have two main attack types: the scythe and your cross. The scythe is great for ripping enemies apart at close range while the cross is more of a distance weapon. Combos come easy and quick and stringing them together can rack up some serious hits if you can keep the chain going.
The upgrade system also borrows heavily from other titles by allowing you to collect souls. The real variance though is the two paths you can opt for. The Holy Path focuses more on your cross and sustaining damage, while the Unholy Path spends more focus on combos and scythe attacks. Deciding which to level up depends entirely on your play style. Throughout the game you also have the option to absolve or punish certain foes. Doing this awards you experience points towards either side. Leveling up these paths is the only way to unlock some of the more expensive and rewarding powers.
The palette of enemies is excellent. Everything from your traditional grunts to hulking boss characters that are more intimidating than they are challenging. Some bosses in particular tend to have weaknesses and exploiting uninterruptible combos is certainly an option. As you play the game you will feel the amount of depth that the game offers, it just never requires it to advance. You can simply button mash your way through the majority of the game, but this isn’t always a bad thing. I found myself trying out new methods to take down enemies both for earning Achievements/Trophies, and because it spiced up the combat quite a bit.
The main course of Dante’s Inferno is a short ride, but exhilarating. You can probably blast through the core game in under eight hours. Once complete you can go back through with all of your powers, which makes playing on the insane difficulties a bit more manageable. However, there really isn’t much reason to head back to the main game. After you complete the game though you open up the Gates of Hell mode, which is essentially wave after wave of enemy. There are 50 total waves and yeah it can be fun, but the tedium will begin to wear thin after a while. The promise of online co-op and other future DLC is intriguing, but also agitating as you feel like it should have been in the initial package.
Now onto the parts that simply failed to deliver for me. For starters collecting items is obviously around to stay. That said when I collect an item right before a difficult checkpoint, could you at least save it for me? I don’t know how many items I missed because I died right after the checkpoint and forgot to grab the relic or fountain before moving on. Secondly some of the platforming segments are downright infuriating. The biggest offenders are the ropes and spine slides as I like to call them, in between circles. These things are nearly as frustrating at times as the spinning columns of Hades in God of War. When you combine both of these elements things become even more frustrating, and there were times where I wanted to toss my controller at the screen when I would miss a jump.
Visually the game looks fantastic. I love the level design as I mentioned and the frame rate is a rock solid 60 fps. The enemy designs are varied, but some of them are definitely more colorful than others. The boss battles are monstrous if not ridiculously easy and rarely does the preset camera become a hindrance. The one exception being the mirror puzzle, trust me you will know it when you get there. I was also impressed at the lack of much loading throughout the game minus the times you died. It’s a small feat nowadays, but one I appreciate when I notice it. The sound is hit or miss with some truly inspiring music, but some of the voice work could have been better. Not to discredit it though, the story is compelling and delivered well enough to keep you interested throughout the entire game.
There is no doubting that Dante’s Inferno owes a lot of what it does right to a certain other franchise, but honestly who cares? The game is an action thrill-ride that will entertain anyone who enjoys action games at all. I think a lot of criticism is coming from the idea that originality really escapes this title, and to be fair this could have easily been called Dante of War. However, if you ignore it based solely on this fact you are depriving yourself one hell of an action experience. Dante’s Inferno is truly the definition of a popcorn game; mindless, pretty to look at, and full of epic moments that make you glad you are a gamer. If you like action titles in the least this is one ride you won’t want to miss.
Review copy provided by publisher.