GameCrank: Dante’s Inferno Review

Patrick

Describing “Dante’s Inferno”, rated M for mature, is probably the most difficult thing I’ll ever attempt while writing reviews on this site. This is because I can’t actually go into the detail I want to without having my entire review censored, plus I’d likely be suspended for three days, my parents would ground me for weeks, and Fox News would do an entire section based on how video games corrupt children. Why? Well, “Dante’s Inferno” is probably the most graphic and mature mainstream video game I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

If I could, I’d spend half of my time writing about “Dante’s Inferno’s” atmosphere and mood. A couple hours into this, and Hell will certainly never find its way on any future vacation list you may someday devise. This stuff is just gruesome and twisted with more gore and nudity than any game I’ve ever seen in my life. Based off the world-famous epic poem The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, this depiction of the underworld is one that will definitely appear difficult to look at for some. As a person who’s been desensitized by all of the violence in today’s media, I can say that this is one of the few pieces of entertainment I’ve ever seen that got me a little squeamish. “Dante’s Inferno” is definitely not for the faint of heart.

The story is technically original outside of its characters’ names, but other than that, it’s got little going for it.  The author of the Divine Comedy and Italian Poet of the Middle Ages, Dante Alighieri, is depicted as a sinned knight of the Crusades that’s not exactly an immediately likable guy. He’s killed hundreds of innocent people, cheated on his love Beatrice, betrayed her brother Francesco, and has committed just about every other Christian blasphemy know to man. His lady-love gets kidnapped by Satan (as a result of an idiotic wager) and off he goes on a little tour of the unhappiest place on, or under, Earth while trying to rescue her. Cliche: yes.  Riddled with plot-holes: yes.  Barely worth paying attention to: yes.  Still, there are plenty of decent cut-scenes  here and there as well as some fancy anime-inspired flashback scenes that show Dante’s past. It at least stays true to its source material, but anyone wishing to compare this to the Divine Comedy will quickly have their eyes flying out of their head. The writing and voice-acting is generally strong, but the aforementioned anime sequences are often placed smack-dab in the middle of levels, making them feel out of place and a bit obtrusive.

“Dante’s Inferno” was released in the beginning of 2010 and received a shockingly huge backlash. For the game community, this was mostly because the game was heavily inspired by the long-loved hack-and-slash God of War series. Typically, I detest the term “God-of-War Clone”. Just because a beat-‘um-up happens to have quick-time-event sequences doesn’t mean that the game is a complete rip-off. However, it’s really hard to deny it here–Dante’s Inferno is God of War. Controls, combat, bosses, level and upgrade progression, brutality, level design concepts, and just about everything else fall right in line. I still stand by my belief that nobody should write off a game just because it’s highly inspired by another, but I can’t blame anyone if they compare and contrast both God of War and Dante’s Inferno. Still, the developer, Visceral Games, proved with their prior Dead Space games that something can be a rip-off and still be great, so I went into this game with open eyes.

Back to the controversy–I don’t want to spend too much time talking about this since it does make me feel kind of ashamed of this game, but I think it just needs to be said. During the game’s development, Visceral Games’ publisher, EA, got this bright idea to create fake religious protests to give DI some marketing publicity. This led to actual protests from just about everybody, and the game’s sales were really hurt because of it. Really, to that, I say, “Darn you, EA.”  I have nothing against the company itself and I consider a lot of EA’s games to be great, but the marketing department really did shoot this game in the feet. Not to mention the story also got some heat as well, considering the fact that it’s basically nothing like the actual Divine Comedy.  To that, I say, “Well, of course.”

“Dante’s Inferno” starts off in a fantastic manner. Not just in terms of the graphics and atmosphere, because while those are some of this game’s defining characteristics, it isn’t the reason I got drawn in. The combat starts off slow, but quickly picks up after obtaining the scythe of the Grim Reaper and then you jump into the pits of Hell. Demons are all over the place and can be quite a challenge, but by the time I got a hold on the mechanics, I felt fantastic. I was wiping the floor with enemies that were previously giving me quite a bit of trouble, and I truly felt that there was a divine presence aiding me while battling my way though these vile hordes. Had the rest of the game been up to this level of quality, I would’ve probably given it at least a 9/10.

It’s kind of hard to pinpoint just when and why “Dante’s Inferno” starts to go downhill. Incredible bosses appear here and there, but by the time I reached the City of Dis, I felt like the game was over– like I had beaten the core of this game and that the rest was just the bonus challenge for the obsessive-compulsive. While the combat is a lot of fun and I never really got tired of it, the endless and repetitious baddies start to lose a little bit of their flair. You only get one melee weapon–the scythe–and one projectile weapon in the form of a projectile cross. Upgrading each takes a little bit more time than it seems like it should, and while I like the amount of attacks for each, I really wanted just a little bit more in the way of weapons.

Don’t get me wrong; your weapons are actually quite versatile. The scythe is a very likable weapon. It doubles as a spear, a grappling hook, a blunt-force hammer-like weapon, and more. This may sound stupid, but I had a lot of fun just practicing combos and swinging the scythe around–the sound effects are deliciously satisfying. The cross is generally used for stunning-attacks as well as for a projectile with unlimited ammo. Since you have unlimited energy for this attack, I found myself spamming the thing quite a bit and only had to use the scythe for enemies with specific immunities. There are also magic attacks, which are gained from defeated bosses and special story events. Most of them are just a novelty and take up far to much energy to be a game-changer, but there are a few that are extremely overpowered. This, coupled with certain relics that offer special stats and abilities, lets you see that “Dante’s Inferno” wasn’t meant to be the most balanced game in the world.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t extremely fun or satisfying, though.

“Dante’s Inferno” is also, for lack of a better phrase, a horrendously designed video game. The combat and main gameplay mechanics are fine, but it seems I spent half of the game struggling to get from point A to point B. Between rounds of beating the stupid out of demons, you take part in platforming segments that involve climbing ropes (made of God-knows-what), shimmying on walls, and so on. The problem is that it’s all extremely inconsistent and almost never fun. Some sections act as simple speed-bumps while others are overly frustrating thanks to poor mechanics and camera placement (over which you have no control whatsoever). After multiple playthroughs, I managed to get everything down easily enough and these parts do give the game a chance to show 0ff its repulsive scenery, but it’s a pretty huge hurtle for anyone trying to get into this game for the first time. I fail to recall a God of War-style game that had platforming and exploration that amounted to anything more than just roadblocks. I ended up dying five times more from bottomless pits than from losing in combat. It’s not like the platforming is particularly difficult–it’s just poorly executed and badly made. As a platformer, “Dante’s Inferno” is a terrible game.

There are also some things, besides the repetitive combat and platforming, that started to leech from my enjoyment. Dante’s Inferno uses the proud God of War-clone tradition of making you mash buttons to open doors and treasure chests. Whoever thought this would be an entertaining feature for a video game seriously needs to rethink things. It’s not that bad at the beginning, but it gets to feel extremely tiring and unnecessary after a while. Also, bosses use these same style of quick-time events, although they aren’t nearly as extraneous. Failing any of these will instantly kill you, and the game really loves to do this to you. Falling in bottomless pits kills you instantly, and the game-over screen is persistently irritating. It feels like someone on the development team got a little bit too into the concept of making you go to Hell. The second half of the game is riddled with small gripes like this, and I know that they don’t sound too bad on paper, but they do start to get pretty annoying. I had so much fun with this game at the beginning, which makes it all the more saddening to see Dante’s Inferno taper off.

The funny thing about all of this is that most of these problems practically disappear during the second playthrough. “Dante’s Inferno” really is an up, down, and up-again kind of game; it starts off great, starts to get stale and annoying later on, but playing through the entire game again is actually very satisfying. It’s kind of tragic–“Dante’s Inferno” is extremely short and not especially memorable, so people will usually only want to rent it, play though it, get sick of it, and move on with their lives and never touch this thing again. I can definitely see how “Dante’s Inferno” ended up with a lot of mediocre scores and a tiny amount of sales. This game really does get better with age. The platforming becomes much more bearable and facing old enemies with fully-upgraded weapons offers a fresh take on combat. The door and chest button-mashing is still unnecessary, but I eventually dealt with that too. “Dante’s Inferno” is a very solid game filled with dozens of trifling problems that do start to add up, but some disappear. If you do check this game out, I implore you not to be put-off; instead, give it a chance. “Dante’s Inferno” is damaged goods–but goods nonetheless.

GameCrank is written by Patrick Pontes

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