Review: Dante’s Inferno (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Dante’s Inferno
Publisher: Visceral Games
Developer: EA Games
Genre: Action
Release Date: 02/09/2010

English professors are probably shaking their heads right now. After decades of difficulty in getting students to read the classics, along comes Beowulf and Dante’s Inferno in a few short years. Suddenly those giant, dusty tomes are flashy movies and video games. Visceral Games and EA have offered up Dante’s Inferno, a game inspired by the first book of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Want to go to Hell?

1. Story
Dante’s Inferno takes place in the middle ages, shortly after the Third Crusade. Dante himself had been placed in charge of guarding some prisoners in the city of Acre, but they were able to stage a breakout. During the fight, Dante is stabbed in the back and the Grim Reaper shows up to collect his soul. Apparently Death is something of a wuss, because Dante kills him and takes his vertebrae-handled scythe as a trophy. He then wanders home, and for some reason sews a scarf into his chest in the symbol of a cross. When Dante arrives home, he finds his father dead with a crucifix through the eye, and his wife Beatrice half-naked and stabbed to death in the back yard. Satan himself arrives to taunt Dante and then drags Beatrice’s soul down to hell via a church. From there, Dante begins the descent into Hell and the never-ending quest to save his girlfriend.

Once Dante takes the plunge, the game turns to journey through the circles of hell. You meet Virgil the poet, who acts as something of a guide, but mostly is there to spout lines from the Inferno poem. The quest to retake Beatrice from Lucifer doesn’t itself offer too many twists, but the series of former friends and family that are now inhabitants of Hell is nicely done. Each time a new sin is presented, a simplistic animation featuring that sin in action is shown. For instance, Greed features Dante’s father heartlessly collecting taxes from some simple farmers. Likewise in Gluttony, you see Dante as a child while his father and his father’s friends are gorging themselves on meat and wine. This helps the story immensely, as it otherwise would lack any punch or connection aside from the story of a guy running through Hell. On the bad side, most of the characters in Dante’s life are real jerks. Between the fact that everyone you ever cared about deserved to go to Hell except for Beatrice, and she is being used by Satan for a one night stand, the tone of this game becomes very dark.

Story: Good

2. Graphics
Dante’s Inferno looks good, especially considering the main topic of the game is nightmarish landscapes and damned souls. Possibly the most fun I had was looking around and seeing the way the designers interpreted characters and levels of Hell. Charon is the boatman of the River Styx. In this game he is the boat as well. The prow extends to his monstrous head. In the Greed levels, souls are melted into gold and flow below you, occasionally reaching up to try to touch you. In Gluttony, there is a similar texture to the flowing rivers of human fat and waste that shows the souls trying to get out. The Lust level is not really a level so much as a huge, purple, thrusting tower with a naked Cleopatra on top. Yes, it is an M rated game, and yes, there are breasts on display all over the place. I’m not sure that nipples in a video game count as nudity if they are leaking demon babies and goo, though, so you don’t really ever feel like “wow, boobies.” Dante looks good also, and the massive, bone-handled scythe he swings have some cool effects, but the main attraction remains the Underworld. It really is too bad that the control scheme doesn’t let you track the camera around, because I’d have loved having more ability to take in the view.

Graphics: Great

3. Sound
If you like the screams of the Damned, you have come to the right place. The various levels of Hell feature some great voice work for the trapped souls. The screams change from level to level, as well. In Lust, you will hear voices that say “Pleasure me, now!” while in Greed, you will hear “I had it all, where did it go?” The change from level to level keeps the game interesting. Other voice work of note is Virgil and Lucifer. Virgil sounds about as depressed as possible through most of the game. Lucifer is portrayed as a sly old trickster for the most part, more suave than sinister. The voice for Dante started to drag after a few hours though. I don’t blame Graham McTavish, the actor, so much as the script for not giving him much to do. Shortly after the eighty-seventh time he yells for Beatrice in the first two hours of the game I started to not want to hear him ever again. It really starts to sound like a spoiled kid looking for his lost pacifier.

Sound: Good

4. Control and Gameplay:

Unless you are living under a rock, you probably already have a good idea how to play Dante’s Inferno. It picks up and uses the typical action game trappings. X is a light attack, Y is a heavy, A jumps, and B is a ranged attack. There are also grab and throw moves. The control scheme is nothing new, but it is mostly competent with a few questionable oversights. One thing I had a serious issue with: Dante has a ranged attack via a holy bolt from his crucifix. The animation makes him step forward, fire, then step forward twice and fire again. If he is near a ledge when he does this, he is going to fall off the edge and it’s back to the last checkpoint. This is sloppy and irritating, especially if you have to shoot on a platform that is only a few steps wide. You can also dodge with the right stick, but if you dodge towards a ledge, Dante doesn’t just stop when he is adjacent to the edge. He stops when he falls off and you start over. Just like in Too Human, you cannot look around with the right stick, you can only dodge. This really hurts the game as the scenery is usually really awesome.

There is also a bit of platforming that gets in the way of the fun. Every time Dante descends into a new level of Hell, he gets to rappel down the cliffs of Hell into a new region. Sadly, the controls for these sections are very sketchy and often will have you falling to your death. You have to hit the right shoulder button to grab onto a new rope, but this can only be done at the exact moment you are near to the cable. Quick time events show up with a vengeance, just like every other game of this genre. I had really hoped that after Darksiders showed an easier way we would start seeing one-button executions, but that is not the case. Replenish your health or mana? QTE. Kill an enemy? QTE. Absolve or damn a soul? QTE. Open a door, any door? QTE. My B button is about to fall off.

The controls for Dante are not horrible by any means; they just seem rushed and occasionally sloppy. You can battle enemies without fear of missing attacks and climb around like you’d expect, but if you don’t tap the correct button at the exact moment in the exact position, you are starting over. Lots of changes that would have made the game more forgiving are left out. Perhaps this is a design choice to make it more frustrating because you are in Hell, but I didn’t care for them.

Control/Gameplay: Above Average

5. Replayability:
There is something funny in games these days. You buy a new game; you wait for a few months to get the full game because of DLC. Dante’s Inferno is no different. There is a multiplayer version known as Trials of St. Lucia that sits in the menu as “Coming Soon.” Aside from that, there isn’t really a reason to play this game again. Most of the game is so heavy and joyless that there isn’t much fun to be had. Dante’s Inferno is a trudge through Hell to atone for something that you caused. It is at least quick, so if you have eight to ten hours you can play it again and swap the holy and unholy experience trees. Maybe if the DLC was already here and you could play it that would help, but as of the time of this review, that isn’t part of the product. No points for something that is on the way, EA.

Replayability: Mediocre

6. Balance:
I prefer action games to be challenging based on enemy patterns and tactics, not control issues and lousy save design. I’ve already mentioned how you can literally kill yourself by attacking if you don’t pay attention to where the floor ends and the pitfalls begin. Dante’s Inferno has a knack for setting up a long road to a boss fight and saving about halfway down that road. The Cleopatra fight is a great example. You are on a platform going up in the Tower of Lust, fighting wave after wave of she-demons and shambling souls. Eventually you get to the top and fight Cleopatra. She attacks by dropping demon-babies at you. The checkpoint for this sequence is about halfway up the platform ride, not just as you reach Cleopatra. You can’t gain health by killing enemies until you’ve racked up enough experience to purchase that ability, which comes about three-quarters into the game. Until you have that ability, your only way to regain health is to find a health fountain and do a quick-time event to absorb some of it. I admit that the game does up your health each time you die and come back, but if it would at least put a checkpoint at Cleopatra I wouldn’t have to replay the same ten-minute platform ride every time I died. This also ends up discouraging exploration, because if you have the chance to jump to a hidden platform to see if there is a new item back there but might die, you will tend to just move forward instead. After all, the progress of huge battles can be wiped out just because you thought “Oh, I wonder what’s back here.”

Balance: Mediocre

7. Originality:
Dante’s Inferno wears its progenitors on its bloody sleeves. This game is a pure God of War clone in every sense of the word. What keeps this game from flat out failing at originality is the level design. There is the now-typical climbing along walls. Here, they are webs holding back the damned souls. You will notice them reaching through occasionally, but they fortunately can’t touch you. It is fun to see all the detail that went into the various circles of Hell. Dante also has a two-sided experience system. When he kills most monsters, he is given the option to damn or absolve them. If you absolve them, you raise your holy level and increase the damage of your crucifix attacks. If you damn them, you increase your unholy level and do more damage with the scythe. Dante also has a series of magic attacks and artifacts that he can slot and power up over time. Most of the monsters are run of the mill, but the way you kill them is usually varied. The satyr-like monsters will either be ripped in half or beheaded, based on a random chance. Finally, I should mention the nudity. Where games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age treat subjects like sexuality, loss, and sacrifice with dignity and respect, Dante’s Inferno treats them like shocker cinema. Naked breasts are everywhere, especially in the Lust circle. Part of me feels like “Hey, good for you Visceral, for taking on the challenging and mature themes head on.” I felt that way right up until the lust demons assaulted me with their trained attack wombs. They literally lean back on all four limbs and fire a tentacle from their groin. It is vile, but it does make sense in context. I almost wish it didn’t.

Originality: Enjoyable

8. Addictiveness:
A funny thing happened on the way through Hell. I got bored. Oddly enough, despite the sheer volume of monsters and dizzying sights and sounds, I really had a hard time playing this game. I think it is because so much of the draw for this type of game, the characters themselves, is lacking. Bayonetta had that amazing self-confidence while she strutted around and killed things. War from Darksiders had that powerful sense of quiet menace. Even going back to the Ninja Gaiden series, Hayabusa was hardly ever shocked because he knew he was the master ninja. Dante is constantly confronted with maddening visions and just keeps plodding on demanding Beatrice. It doesn’t matter how massive your combos are or how many hell-monsters you can kill if you don’t feel any empathy or connection with the character. Action game die-hards who are just cooling their heels until Kratos makes his next appearance might find something to love here, but I didn’t.

Addictiveness: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor:
If you are an achievement hunter, you might want to pick this one up. Within the first twenty minutes, I had tacked on an easy 30 points to my gamerscore. Of course, there are more difficult ones to grab later, but you can ramp up in a hurry. The mechanical side of the game is competent, so action game fans will likely find something here worth playing. It really does throw a lot of questionable material out there that your average thirteen year old gamer who wants their parents to buy the M rated title really doesn’t need to see. Mature gamers should be able to handle it though, but if someone that isn’t so enlightened walks into the room while you are fighting Cleopatra, be prepared for a discussion on what is and isn’t appropriate in a video game. There is also the fact that Dante’s Inferno does stick relatively close to the source material whenever possible, and throws out some wonderfully haunting lines from the poem every time you see a load screen. You can also collect and unlock all of Virgil’s lines and play them back together. It’s a lot easier to just go to the library and track down a book version though, and that method doesn’t make you slog through Hell.

Appeal Factor: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous:
EA is going all out with a media blitz. Comic books, animated movies, and an updated version of The Divine Comedy with game-inspired cover are all probably at your local store now. Does any of that help? Well, the best parts of this game are some of the cutscenes showing Dante and his sins in a very basic animation style. If you fall in love with this setting then maybe you’ll want to track them down. However, this game isn’t going to become a cultural launching point like God of War or Devil May Cry. Dante’s Inferno is really coming out at a rough time. We have already seen a pair of very solid action games this year, and gamers all over are salivating about a certain PS3 exclusive coming out next month. EA is trying to keep Dante’s Inferno from being lost in the shuffle, but despite the classic source material, there just isn’t much here to keep you interested.

Miscellaneous: Enjoyable

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Great
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Enjoyable
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
FINAL SCORE: Above Average Game

Short Attention Span Summary

Dante’s Inferno is a well-made game from any mechanical standpoint. However, the depressing subject matter, occasionally annoying controls, and archaic reliance on quick time events turn what could have been an awesome game into just another God of War clone. There is nothing that breaks this game, but there isn’t much that makes it great either. Dante doesn’t seem to be having fun in Hell, and that makes it hard for the player to have any fun. The graphics are very good, the sound is exactly what you would expect from a game that takes place in Hell, and the action is constant and over the top. There is no reason-at the time of this review-to play the game again once it has been beaten. The design and inhabitants of the various levels of Hell make it fun to keep playing to see new things, but way too many instant death and long treks back to where you were cuts that interest in a hurry. Dante’s Inferno is a completely average action game with a great supernatural setting. You will be forgiven if you skip this one.



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