Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dante's Inferno - Review

Dante's Inferno is one of the more polarizing games to be released lately. Some people have praised its art direction and willingness to meld gameplay with larger philosophical ideas. Others have derided it as a shameless God of War ripoff. Still others have condemned it as another example of the depravity of the gaming industry.

I'm not sure I embody any of those specific positions, but I can certainly give my impressions of the game. As we proceed, it's important to note that I never played God of War, so if you fall into the camp that dismisses Dante's Inferno for being a knock-off, you probably won't find this review very satisfying. Feel free to scream "God of War did it first!" after every sentence in which I praise the game if it will make you feel better.

DI's story loosely follows that of the Divine Comedy, an epic poem written in the 14th century about Dante's tour through Hell, Purgatory, and eventually Heaven. Like most classic works of literature, there's a lot of disagreement about the underlying themes, but most people seem to agree that much of the poem is a metaphor about how humans come to God over the course of their lifetimes, and there seems to be more than a little commentary on the prevailing organized religion of the time.

I didn't read the Divine Comedy, but I found the plot of the game to be reasonably entertaining. Dante returns from the Crusades (where he's been a bit of a naughty boy) to discover that his beloved Beatrice has been killed and (due to Dante's transgressions) has been claimed by the Devil. Unwilling to accept that Beatrice is lost to the darkness for his own failings, Dante chases after the Devil right into Hell itself in an attempt to save her. What follows is Dante kicking demonic ass through the many layers of Hell, occasionally punctuated with shameful memories of his misdeeds.

Man saves his one true love from an unstoppable evil force? Sounds like the plot to Donkey Kong to me. But for a game that seems to revel in violence to an almost disturbing degree, the plot manages to hit some surprisingly subtle and nuanced moments. I won't ruin any of them, but know that Dante's past choices have had great effects on the lives of those around him, and the game reveals over time how those decisions have led to his current trials.

The level design and presentation of DI go hand in hand with the strong story. Each layer of Hell is represented very differently, be it the rivers of gold running through Greed to the fiery lava of Anger. I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: this game is NOT for the faint of heart. It is not remotely bashful about depicting human suffering in the afterlife, and this is OLD TESTAMENT style stuff.

My only complaint concerning the story/presentation of DI is that I thought they started running out of ideas about two thirds of the way through the game. Or another possibility is that they were rushing to wrap things up, as it felt like some of the characters towards the end weren't receiving as much attention to their back stories and ultimate fates as ones in the early going. It doesn't bother me that the game is somewhat short (around 10 hours), but it does bother me a bit that it couldn't maintain its pace throughout.

Gameplay is solid and becomes pretty intuitive over time. Dante swings his scythe around using either quick or power attacks and shoots holy power out of his cross. There's some magic to fling about, a rage meter to unleash extra damage for a short time, and an upgrade tree that unlocks new combos and perks over time. It's a fairly deep combat system, especially given that the game isn't so long that you'll have exhausted it when you're done. Indeed, I still had a number of abilities yet to unlock by the time I had finished.

The game also features some very mild platforming, though nothing too terribly difficult. There's a smattering of puzzles, which are pretty much the same old block pushing busywork we've seen in a million other games. I wish that whole gaming chestnut would get retired. The larger issue is the difficulty curve - the first boss battle comes very early in DI and it's really difficult (to the point that I worried the game would be insanely hard), but in general the difficulty at the beginning was exactly the same as the difficulty at the end. There's a couple moments (a jumping puzzle here or a boss battle there) where I had to redo a short section (checkpoints come often - a big plus in favor of the game) but once you've figured out the controls, the game never got any more challenging.

Granted, DI is more story based and I didn't really want it to kill me off over and over. It just would have been nice if the early battles had been a bit easier and the late battles a little tougher so my skills could have developed a little more naturally. In any case, I enjoyed Dante's Inferno quite a bit and would recommend it to anyone who likes both hack-and-slash style games and plots with some interesting points to make. If they make a sequel (Dante chillin' in Purgatory?), I'll definitely give it a shot.


  1. I felt much the same way about many of the story aspects!

    I feel it would be remiss to not mention the nudie parts (my maturity rears its ugly head:)! Much like "The Rumor" I think there was a hint of a penis!

  2. Yep, there's a lot of nudity in this game. Breasts for sure, but also some rear end (male and female) and male frontal nudity as well.

    It's quite the assault on good taste. And yet, as mentioned in Rachel's post about Dante's Inferno on her blog, it's one of the more thought-provoking games I've played.