Dante’s Inferno isn’t a terrible game nor is it another shameless clone of God of War. It’s just an odd mish-mash of thematic elements which is bookend by combat that fails to get the blood pumping. The team at Visceral Games should be applauded for taking on a project like this but Dante’s Inferno is far from being the next big action game let alone a hit on the same level as Dead Space.
The art design is amazing and it really sets the tone that Hell is a place you don’t want to visit. For a game that is a dramatic mish-mash the voice acting is its one saving grace as the performances from the cast are just terrific. The combat is easy to get into and some may like the good and evil paths players can take.
Combat is a bit uninspiring and there aren’t a whole lot of cool scenarios. The puzzles and platforming sections are rather lame. Visuals are a bit inconsistent at times. The story and the game as a whole never really finds the right tone.
From the moment it debut at the Spike Video Game Awards two years ago there has always been some form of controversy surrounding EA’s adaptation of the classic poem Dante’s inferno. The first sticking point about the game many had was that it’s based on an amazing piece of literature that was seemingly being diluted into a standard hack and slash action game. Turning a poem of Dante’s Inferno caliber into a game seemed like one of those sacred things that simply shouldn’t be done. Besides that the other problem people had about the game was that it looked like it almost made no qualms about how it was aping the success of Sony’s God of War franchise. But after playing Dante’s Inferno I can safely say that it isn’t the complete mess or God of War clone many thought it would be but the game is still far from being the action and dramatic masterpiece it sought out to be.
First let’s get this out of the way: Dante’s Inferno won’t be remembered for how well it adapted Dante Alighieri’s classic poem nor will it be winning any video game awards for its amazing story or writing. The game does an admirable job of setting things up with how Dante was a soldier in the Crusades trying to spread the word of God but upon returning home not only is his father dead but so is his beloved Beatrice. Of course from there Lucifer for some reason decides that Beatrice should be his and drags her soul to Hell. Being the lover that he is, Dante decides to fight through the depths of Hell so that he can be reunited with his love and so begins the truncated and almost Cliff Notes version that is EA’s Dante’s Inferno.
Despite the short comings the story has, which there are a few of, I found that the story for the game was ok at best. The first problem, or at least issue I had, was that at times it tries a bit too hard to try to be serious in an attempt to match its source material. There are times when this works as you truly get a sense that Dante loves Beatrice and is tormented over how his actions resulted in her being in her current predicament, but aside from that things are a bit spotty at best. It’s not that the game ever hammers certain points over your head but it just has a certain air of self importance at times which doesn’t exactly work that well when you see a giant version of Cleopatra call Beatrice a bitch.
At times it almost seems like the game has an identity crisis. It simply doesn’t know if it should be a crazy over-the-top action game featuring gore, shocking images and tons of nudity or if it should be a serious dramatic tale that takes players through a gripping trip through Hell. At times the core identity of how the world is presented also doesn’t make that much sense either. So one minute you’re battling Muslims and then the next you’re fighting the Grim Reaper and ultimately somehow Dante, who’s a mere mortal, kills death incarnate by splitting the dude in two. And if that wasn’t enough Dante isn’t that surprised when he sees a shadowy Lucifer take Beatrice away nor is there an incredible level of shock when he finds himself at the gates of Hell. For this noble warrior of the Crusades it’s almost second nature to fight demonic beasts and use his magical cross to unleash the holy power of God. Yes, that is as silly as it sounds and the whole magical cross thing isn’t explained that well either.
Thematically the breakdown for the different gates of Hell is done rather well as the game doesn’t do the obvious and shout out “hey everyone, this is the Greed level” and so on. Instead players are greeted with a simple text pop-up identifying the specific area and then are greeted with a usually solid depiction, both in terms of art design and visuals, of the various circles of Hell. Probably the one thing that you can’t knock the game on is that it has really solid art design. Things start off a bit slow though as the first few sections such as Limbo and Lust aren’t much to look at outside of a few nice scenic locations but as you continue your trek through Hell you’ll come across some highly original visuals like the City of Dis which is executed perfectly.
The color palette for Hell may have a few too many dark sections (yeah I know that sounds silly since it’s Hell) but when the game expands from its dark and demonic trapping it’s hard not to be impressed when you see massive cauldrons spewing fiery hot gold lava, walls with intricate engravings and the flesh surfaced world that is Gluttony, which is place that almost seems like you're walking through a massive living being at times.
Some of the visuals may be a tad inconsistent since there are a few spotty textures and the visual fidelity of some enemies leave a bit to be desired but when the game is at its highest point it really pushes some amazing visuals and it just nails the atmosphere of Hell perfectly. For every iffy and slightly low-res special effect or low detailed character model there’s always something to make up for it such as the Cerberus battle, which while lacking a bit in the gameplay department, is one of the best battles in the game due to the scale and how the model for Cerberus just oozes quality through it’s perfectly captured flesh textures and animation which includes the all important drool and spit effect which sells the character.
Things like seeing seas of people walk through a cavern while you stand and watch on a platform from afar all while the wind is blowing sparks from the nearby flames is pretty damn breathtaking. The game still doesn’t quite have that grand epic scale that other games have (mainly God of War 3) but it still does an admirable job of establishing the setting of Hell and trying to make it like a visual experience you haven’t experienced before.
Each stage of course hits the notes that you would expect such as tormented souls shouting out along with having enemies that reflect the stage such as a massive fat beast in the Gluttony stage. But aside from that the game almost doesn’t try hard enough to incorporate certain elements of a particular circle into gameplay scenarios or level design. I mean c’mon, climbing the first wall of damned souls shouting out was cool but it doesn’t exactly have the same impact when I do it for the 10th time.
I also couldn’t help but be surprised at how many pull or push the lever puzzles exist in Hell. I guess those are common things to stumble across as it makes perfect sense to have one just lying around that manages to make a series of platforms raise in order to jump onto a nearby statue. I know that it probably sounds like I’m coming down on the game too hard but this is Hell, a place that really isn’t tied to anything specific nor is it bound to a series of rules thus the developers at Visceral Games could’ve done whatever the hell they wanted and probably gotten away with it. So instead of getting a series of cool puzzles or just completely mind blowing levels (in terms of design) we get pretty standard and rudimentary fare that at times is a bit disappointing since it’s pretty much the stuff we get in other games.
Even keeping mind the depiction of Hell that Dante Alighieri established in his novel what we get in the game is almost a bordering on the verge of being cookie cutter at times. Aside from the art design, small visual touches and unique locales such as the amazing Gluttony and City of Dis stages the game doesn’t really offer game design or progression that is really inspiring or captivating. As I said before the puzzles are mostly standard fare with the exception of one stage that is like a M.C. Escher drawing done Hell style.
The platforming segments will make you literally feel like you’re in Hell due to how spotty and frustrating they can be. Generally the game isn’t that platform centric as you’re slicing and dicing most of the time but when it’s time for the platforming the game throws it at you in spades to the point where it’s almost disconcerting since it almost feels like the developers just threw in a bunch of platforming sections just to have them instead of it being a logical inclusion in the game.
For the majority of the games’ platforming exploits you’re often swinging from one rope to another and just barely double jumping onto another rope since Dante’s jump skills are weak at best. Dante’s weakness when double jumping isn’t the only problem the game has in its attempt to add some variety as the camera is also responsible for some of issues as well. Generally the camera isn’t too bad but there are a few occasions when it’s a bit difficult to fully gauge Dante’s position to a platform or rope which will often result in you falling into a black abyss only to be greeted with a somewhat sarcastic line from Dante Alighieri's poem. And if you’re expecting anything besides climbing ropes or moving platforms then you better buckle in as that’s all the game has to offer.
While imitation is usually the sincerest form of flattery when most of us saw the first gameplay footage of Dante’s Inferno almost a year ago we all thought “Wow, so this is EA’s God of War clone.” You can’t deny that the team at Visceral Games was partly inspired by violent goodness that is the God of War series but in reality the two games are rather different when it comes to combat, something that could be a good or bad thing depending on what you wanted out of Dante’s Inferno. Comparing the combat of Dante’s Inferno to God of War is a bit hard since the two are radically different but they still share the same core base and you can clearly see that Dante’s is trying to hit some of the same notes as GOW right down to the special QTE moves and finishers.
Ultimately the combat in Dante’s is slightly uninspiring despite the things it does differently in an attempt to separate and perhaps exceed God of War. The addition of magical based attacks which can be enhanced by special items you find in the world is nice but it’s just kind of there and the moves set and actual visual representation for the moves aren’t that exciting. The option of either being Holy or Unholy based on the moves you do is a nice touch as it offers two separate moves lists but at times that almost hinders the game slightly. Yeah, it’s a nice option to have and players can somewhat lightly choose the path they wish to go on but I think most of us would rather cut a demonic enemy in half instead of absolving them for their sins. Yes, somehow Dante has the power of a Priest and with the power of his mighty magical cross he can absolve the sins of enemies and the damned he encounters. If you choose to Absolve enemies you get Holy points while if you choose to punish them for the bastards that they are you get Unholy points since we all know it’s better to be righteous than judgmental right?
The combat in Dante’s Inferno seems like it’s just kind of there and it doesn’t really feel that satisfying nor does it have that crazed visceral and epic flair that most of us love in God of War. The enemies you battle against in your quest to fight Lucifer are nice and have varied attacks but they really don’t present a level of challenge and most don’t require a special move or tactic to fight. It’s just wave after wave of the same goat dudes, naked women and giant beasts all of which can be disposed through the same methods. And instead of the combat getting crazier as you progress with the addition of new enemies and due to the fact that you’re delving deeper into Hell everything mostly remains the same and to be honest things kind of regressed for me to the point where I was honestly bored.
Constantly going into rooms and having a gate come up that won’t disappear until I’ve dispatched of all my enemies gets boring quickly and the only thing the game ever throws at you to change things up is a series of challenge rooms that are required to beat in order to continue. Most of them aren’t too bad but to me being required to do a 100 hit combo or stay in the air for eight seconds almost feels like game design filler material. That’s the best the developers could come up with? This is Hell and we’re being required to do a 100 hit combo in order to prove Dante’s motivation. Are you serious? Stuff like the challenge rooms, the general so-so moves set and abilities of Dante, and the simple hack and slash boss battles makes the game look like a mere distant shadow compared to God of War and other action games on the market.
By now I’m probably sounding like an overly critical game nerd but the one part of Dante’s Inferno that absolutely shines is the sound design, soundtrack and voice acting. We all know that EA always brings it to the table with the production values of their games but listening to the haunting score of Dante’s Inferno almost makes me think the bar has been raised for future EA games. The soundtrack perfectly captures that grand feeling as you travel through Hell and each section of course has its own theme which at times can be quite chilling due to the string heavy orchestrations, especially when you hear an almost gothic choir track start playing as you walk by a massive structure or descend into a place that you know is filled to the brim with things that want to kill you.
With a game like Dante’s Inferno it could’ve been rather easy to perhaps over-do certain themes which would’ve resulted in a bloated score but throughout the game the soundtrack never once over plays a key dramatic moment or action scenario and at times it can be rather subtle, something that you might not have expected from a game that takes place in Hell.
Even though the story is a bit of a dramatic mish-mash at times that tries too hard to be serious, the voice acting certainly helps things be a bit bearable. Dante may not have the immediate rage and overall bad-ass vibe as Kratos and instead he’s more of a tormented soul who deeply regrets how his past indiscretions and the sins of his father have gotten him to the point where his beloved Beatrice is now Lucifer’s lady. Dante’s voice actor Graham McTavish does a terrific job in showing the inner anguish Dante has and the performance really has some subtle moments especially when you hear Dante say a send-off to a soul he’s absolved as McTavish’s performance has a certain emotional resonance to it that I honestly wasn’t expecting. McTavish also perfectly sells Dante’s love for Beatrice and his performance, along with the voice actors for Beatrice and Lucifer, help maintain a cohesive dramatic feeling despite all the craziness and absurd action that is happening.
The main problem with Dante’s Inferno is that it just didn’t know what it wanted to be and at times things just don’t make a whole lot of sense, especially in some of the game design choices and set-ups which honestly seem a bit stupid. The game almost never once seems to find its tone or true voice since it’s trying desperately hard to be taken seriously and elevate itself to another level since it’s based on one of the most respected poems ever written. For what it’s worth as a God of War fan I wasn’t that appalled by the game with what it tried to do. Instead I was appalled by the somewhat dull combat, unsatisfying level progression and goofy story. Dante’s Inferno isn’t a hellish game to play through but instead it almost feels like it’s in game design purgatory.