Dante's Inferno Review

   08/02/2010 at 08:43       Phil May       3 COMMENTS. - Score 2/5
 - Dante's Inferno, Visceral Studios, EA, Sin, Knockers
Visceral Studios sure love living up to their name. Enjoying a semi-successful outing already with the superb Dead Space, the studio next turned their attention to classic literature, Dante Alighieri's epic prose "The Divine Comedy" - a work which weaved a complex and fantastic vision of hell and damnation itself.

Ten seconds into your first platform / acrobatic section in Dante's Inferno - the game, and you'll wonder if Visceral aren't being all post-modern and ironic, because these sections certainly are hellish - but probably not in a way the developers intended.

Dante's Inferno tells the tale of a holy crusader, Dante. Steeped in blood and violence while laying waste to Saladin's armies, Dante is seemingly killed on the battlefield by an unknown assailant. Dante somehow cheats and defeats death himself, and returns home to his father and beautiful wife Beatrice, only to find both slain. From there, Dante embarks on a quest to rescue Beatrice from eternal damnation, unravelling a tale of lust, betrayal and just about every deadly sin you could throw into the mix.

The initial problem with Dante's Inferno is the main character. Saying he's a bit of an unlikeable cove is a bit like saying John Terry likes the company of ladies (other people's ladies, preferably). Dante is a whining pewling angry angst-raddled mess of a man, and because it's so impossible to sympathise with him even early in the game, it's impossible to find the motivation to see the game through to the bitter end. But we did. So you don't have to.

Dante's Inferno steals most of the core gameplay from God of War wholesale. The button mashing quick time events are ridiculously in-your-face and annoying. The good old tricolour chests are in Dante's Inferno, charging up your health, magic power and holy manna accordingly. Even the big bosses feel distinctly like those in God of War, down to having virtually the same weak points. Lastly Dante might well forego a pair of nasty looking chain swords for a scythe but again the weapon works in a virtually identical fashion to Kratos' favoured armaments. A pity then that Visceral did nothing to expand the gameplay and core ideas in God of War, a PS2-era game due for an update this year.

That's part of the other problem with Dante's Inferno. It enters a packed market of melee fighters all vying for your coin in the same quarter. Darksiders, Bayonetta and of course God of War III are all scrapping it out for your attention and if you're lucky enough to be able to grab them all you'll quickly see that Dante's Inferno slowly turns to compost at the bottom of the pile, lacking the solid impact of Darksiders, the stylish sexy tongue-in-cheek surrealism of Bayonetta, and playing second fiddle to its inspiration, God of War III.

There are some nice touches in the game but they're extremely few and far between. Cinematic cut scenes are lush and amazing looking, but they're punctuated by EA's by-now trademark cheap looking 2D animation, done by the work experience kid in Flash on a lazy Friday afternoon. The superb backdrops of hell are amazing eye candy but levels are stuck together like a badly moulded airfix kit, and themes are often repeated where the developers just plain ran out of inspiration (and probably lost the will to live part way through the development cycle).

In fact, for an 18-rated game based on the blackest most soul-destroying themes you could possibly draw from, Dante's Inferno packs a vision of hell that isn't really dark and twisted enough, and though the developers are proud of mo-capping the Producer's 18th month old kid to come up with one particularly nasty enemy you'll battle (the unbaptised children, with nasty little spiky arms and pewling cries), the game is more about titillation than anything dark and harrowing (and there's a lot of tittage in it, if you're turned on by acres of wibbling polygon norks).

The fixed-camera point of view doesn't do the game any favours either, and many a life will be lost trying to pan a non-existent moveable camera around, hitting the dodge controls instead.

Last but by no means least, Dante's Inferno once again unjustly punishes the player for swaying towards the side of evil rather than good. Your powers can be finely balanced between virtuous and sinful, the more souls you damn the more your dark side emerges. The more you save for Jebus, the more your happy-go-lucky godly side emerges, and of course if you choose to be a good little Dante your trip through the layers of hell is made all the more easy.

5 hours and you're done, wondering exactly what you'd just paid 40 quid for - and secretly wondering if the upcoming DLC pack "The Trials of St Lucia" should've been included in the original release rather than sold on as a separate money-spinner to try and prop up the cash this title will inevitably lose out on in sales. The DLC brings co-op multiplayer combat dungeons (boo hiss) and "level designs" (slapping enemies into pre-built scenarios from the main game to make multiplayer challenges - whoop de doo).

Perhaps Dead Space 2 might go some way to redressing the balance, but when you reach the end of Dante's Inferno and see what happens, you'll probably be hoping that EA firmly pull the rug out from under any future plans to produce sequels or more IP based on the characters. Dante's Inferno leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, the sour metallic tang of the worst sin of all - that of never realising the full potential of its source material.
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NewYork - on 08/02/2010 at 11:13 wrote:
Interesting question (if I do say so myself): does the nature of videogame stories--that you technically are the main character--mean that the main character must always be someone the player can sympathise with?

I quite liked the cartoon cutscenes. Reminiscent of an old BBC Macbeth cartoon I watched as a kid, and with a bit of Bible cartoon style thrown in, too. I think it worked.

As for DLC, well, seeing as you happily bought the game without the DLC included, I guess there's your answer: they didn't need to include it. :)

Dead Space is overrated. :O

peej - on 08/02/2010 at 11:20 wrote:
It's an interesting question regarding the central character - and it might've helped you "bond" with the game a bit more, perhaps, if Dante wasn't such a selfish brattish self-serving bastard.

The cartoon cutscenes sort of fit but they do cheapen the excellent cinematic cut scenes a fair bit.

You're probably right about the DLC. I think it might've felt like less of a sting if they hadn't had the link for the DLC on the main screen from day one, then trailered a preview of the DLC once you'd finished the game.


peej - on 09/02/2010 at 08:48 wrote:
Just to add insult to injury, the extremely short main game does look like it's been asset farmed for DLC heavily. As well as the "Trials of St Lucia" DLC EA are also offering up alternative costume packs for the game (does anyone really give a stuff about virtual clobber for their in-game characters? If so, you're weird), a prequel level - and a bunch of new in-game abilities along with the St Lucia pack in April.

TBH I can understand the need to "artificially" recover revenue from a title that is so obviously going to be a bomb - but EA do take it to pisstaking levels.

(incidentally even before you dive into the game you're also told you can buy souls from the marketplace for points, to give you a head start in the game).

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