Dante's Inferno Review - PS3
Visceral Games' latest release, Dante's Inferno, is most certainly a work of inspiration and borrowed ideas. The plot of the game, based loosely on the 14th century poem of the same name, sees Dante descend through the nine circles of hell in search of his lover Beatrice. Though Visceral's interpretation of the poem won't be winning any awards for literary excellence, it does provide us with believable motivation for Dante, and remains intriguing enough to hold our attention until the end.
The story is mostly told through in-game cutscenes, though there are also a handful of beautifully rendered CG cinematics along the way, and a number of animated flashbacks depicting Dante's sinful actions that lead to his journey through hell. I cannot stress enough just how good the CG cinematics look. They are amazing - easily some of the best I've ever seen in a game. The cartoon-style flashbacks are no slouch either, adding favourably to the variety of art styles in Dante's Inferno, and to the depth and uniqueness of the character of the game.
However, the brilliant and varied art style is not limited to the cutscenes. Graphically, Dante's Inferno is a gorgeous (albeit often stylistically grotesque) looking game - both in terms of environments and character design. Each of the nine circles you pass through, and the characters you come across therein, are designed in keeping with their specific theme. Unfortunately, however, during the later circles in the game, you will start to see enemies from previous circles cropping up to fight you again. Not only does it make little sense to see, for example, Lust demons showing up in the circle of Violence, it also feels a bit lazy on behalf of the developers to recycle so many characters, while introducing very few new ones. This laziness culminates in the circle of Fraud near the end of the game, where you are pitted against all the demons you fought against in the previous circles in a series of ten arena based challenges. For what it is, the circle of Fraud is not a game-breaker by any means, but it comes across as an obvious attempt to artificially lengthen the game.
Thankfully, the core combat mechanics of the game are extremely satisfying and fun to play. Dante wields a giant bone scythe (taken from Death after defeating him early on in the game) as his primary melee weapon, and Beatrice's holy cross for ranged attacks. You start the game with a few basic light and heavy attack moves, along with the ability to block and grab enemies. If you've played any of the God of War games, you'll feel right at home with the combat controls here. As you progress and start earning souls (the game's upgrade currency), you can start purchasing and upgrading new abilities, allowing you to perform more complex and devastating attack combinations. The upgrades are divided into two skill trees - holy and unholy. During combat, you will have the chance to either absolve or punish enemies, by grabbing them and pressing the appropriate button shown on screen. Absolving enemies will result in earning holy experience, while punishing them will yield unholy experience. As you earn more experience throughout the game, you unlock higher tiers of the skill tree, giving way to more upgrades. There are also twenty seven famous damned souls to be found throughout the game, each of which can be either punished or absolved for an experience bonus. In addition to your weapons, you also have a few powerful magical abilities at your disposal, that require a certain amount of mana to perform.
Along your journey, apart from the usual groups of enemies you encounter, you will also face off against a few boss characters. This is where the character design really shines, as you take on the likes of Death, King Minos, and Cleopatra in some tough and epic battles.
The structure of each circle involves a mix of platforming and puzzle solving. The platforming is fairly standard swinging, climbing and double-jumping fare, and the puzzles are rather simplistic in nature. This is both a blessing and a curse as it keeps the game moving at a steady pace, but can feel a little underwhelming for those looking for a deeper challenge. There are also a number of hidden collectibles scattered throughout hell waiting to be found. Among these collectibles are the game's "relics", which can be equipped to gain certain bonuses and abilities - such as increased attack damage, or gaining an additional percentage of experience. A total of two relics can be equipped at any time, though another two slots can be opened up through skill tree upgrades. Finding all the collectibles in the game is a tough, but rewarding challenge that may require you to play through the game more than once.
However, that's not the only incentive on offer to replay the game - the obvious one being the upgrades. It will take you one full playthrough to unlock all the upgrades for one skill tree, so replaying the game is necessary if you want to fully unlock both the holy and unholy paths. Also, once you complete your first playthrough, you unlock "redemption" mode, which allows you to start a new game at any difficulty with all your upgrades carried over.
It's probably worth noting at this point, that Dante's Inferno is not a particularly long game. Playing on the Zealot (Normal) difficulty, a typical first playthrough will last you around seven or eight hours. I dropped it down to the Classic (Easy) difficulty for my third playthrough, to find a few remaining collectibles I had missed, and I blew through the game in a little under three hours.
Visceral haven't really brought any significantly innovative ideas to the table with Dante's Inferno, but that doesn't matter. Behind the derivative mechanics lies a well executed, brutal, action-adventure that should be judged solely on its own merits. It is a thoroughly entertaining and atmospheric game from start to finish, and a worthy addition to any gamer's collection.