TEH. BEST. GAMES. EVAR.
PSN ID: lordgodalming
Dante's InfernoDeveloper: Visceral Games
Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360Rating: M for Mature
Similar games: God of War, Devil May Cry
I find it very interesting that many reviewers panned Dante's Inferno for its "gratuitous" nudity and sexuality, while at the same praising the "creative," extreme, and often misogynistic violence. Apparently, shoving a scythe through the face of a pleading sinner is great entertainment, but the presence of nude men and women crosses some line of good taste.
Not that I am advocating Dante's Inferno's depictions of nudity any more than I am advocating its use of violence. In my opinion, MOST of this game is in poor taste. Not because of the mature content, but because of the decidedly immature manner in which that content is presented. Despite its high production values and reasonable level of polish, this game feels like it was made by a group of snickering high school boys.
The game's premise rises from a fourteenth century Italian poem, The Divine Comedy. Its author, Dante Alighieri, chronicled his vision of the afterlife in three connected stories called Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Unsurprisingly, generations of readers have found Inferno to be the most interesting by far-it's no coincidence that Stephen King has penned more than 40 worldwide bestsellers-and Alighieri's vision of Hell seems almost tailor-made for a video game.
There are nine levels of Hell in the story, and the game does a faithful (if rather more gruesome) job of recreating Alighieri's ideas. In addition to the visuals, descriptions of each level's inhabitants are delivered by a talkative spirit named Virgil, a Roman poet who seems to reside in Hell but can travel between its levels without suffering any of the tortures within them.
The levels themselves are supposedly built in concentric circles (you will run through the game in a straight line) and named after the sinners who reside there. The topmost circles punish the least severe sinners, and so on downward in the following order: Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed (translated as "Avarice" in the book), Anger (translated as "Wrath" in the book), Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery (translated as "Betrayal" in the book).
Satan himself lies in Treachery, encrusted in a sheet of ice formed by his own tears. In the book, Satan's three mouths chew eternally on the souls of Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius. Judas is, of course, the man who betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver, and you'll know the latter two by their names and sins if you've read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. These three ultimate sinners of humanity (in Dante Alighieri's reckoning, anyway) have almost no role in the game, though Judas's 30 silver coins are scattered throughout the game as collectible items.
As you may imagine, the artists at Visceral Games had a rip-roaring good time creating the visual landscape of Hell, and the art design is the game's strongest aspect. From the boiling pits of stomach acid in Gluttony, to the *ahem* towers in Lust, to the charred and moaning walls of souls in Anger, Hell is an uncomfortable, rather disgusting place to visit, as it should be. The art design alone is incentive enough to keep trucking through toward the game's final confrontation.
But Dante's Inferno is a game, not a slideshow, and the gameplay simply isn't great. If there were a special level of Hell for games that could be damned with faint praise, Dante's Inferno would be smack in the middle of it, wailing along with the likes of Armed & Dangerous, Eternal Sonata, Knights of the Old Republic II, Heroes IV, and Killzone 2 (yeah, I said it).
The main character is named Dante-a soldier of the crusades rather than the poet who wrote the story-and at the beginning of the game he is traveling home from the war, angry and disillusioned. Determined to atone for his war crimes, he sews a cloth crucifix into the skin of his chest. You see him doing it in the opening scene, and it's as gross as it sounds.
When he finally gets back home, he finds his father and his wife Beatrice slain (a quick scene reveals that Beatrice randomly lost her top while fleeing her attacker-another clue that the game designers are a little too eager to start dishing out that M-Rated content). Even worse for Dante, Beatrice apparently made a pointless wager with Satan that Dante would remain faithful to her while fighting his war. But Dante cheated on her, so now Satan gets her soul.
And right there is one of the game's glaring issues. Dante is an unlikable jerk. As he chases Beatrice and her captor through each level of Hell, you learn that he is guilty of every sin represented there. But Dante is determined to redeem himself. He kills Death with its own scythe, which he then uses to re-kill all of the attacking souls and demons who impede his progress toward a final showdown with Satan.
The control scheme openly and proudly plagiarizes another M-Rated marvel of gore, God of War. Unfortunately, due to repetition and profoundly stupid AI, Dante's Inferno isn't terribly fun. The ability to absolve or punish any souls you come across could have been a neat addition to the formula, but absolution requires you to mash the Circle button over and over, making battles tiresome and even painful after an hour or more. The fact that you also have to mash the Circle button to open every door and health/manna fountain is just another layer of tedium.
But by far the most consistently irritating gripe about level design is the developers' handling of ledges and pits. As you can imagine, there are many of these in Hell, and most of them have invisible walls around them, keeping you safely on the path while you run toward the next objective. But occasionally, at seeming random, you can fall off of ledges. Usually right BEFORE a checkpoint. Ha ha! Great depiction of Hell, guys!
If you're wondering why I've written over a thousand words about a game I seemingly didn't care for, it's because Dante's Inferno had so many chances to explore culture, philosophy, and the human condition in general. Instead the developers went for the shock value of relentless (often woman-hating) images of violence and nudity. A missed opportunity on all fronts.