On paper, adapting Dante Alighieri's language-shaping epic poem into a button-mashing action video game sounds destined for failure, but in motion the game has a surprising amount going for it.
Visceral Games' decision to focus on the vivid imagery of hell in Dante's Inferno and rework the story is the only way a developer could create a game based on the literature.
And it's Dante's beautiful, flowing descriptions of horrific places and almost unimaginable punishment that makes Inferno such a powerful work. His victims in the poem, the personal political enemies, the infamous historic figures, aren't what drive readers through the work. It's those scenes of torment. And Visceral's animated adaptations of Lust, of Anger, of Gluttony are as chilling as Dante's.
Each of the rings of hell are played out as video game levels packed with unique creatures, lost souls corrupted by their sins.
The first level I played took place on the back of a reimagined Charon. (Although the game just hit Alpha, I played through an E3 build) In Greek mythology Charon is the boatman that shepherds the souls of the recently dead across the rive Styx. In Dante's Inferno, Charon is a boat of bones, muscle and taut skin.
During the journey, Dante, wearing a light armour and iron wreath as helm, is attacked by the souls of the damned and some lesser demons. Dante's two weapons are Satan's scythe and the cross of his unrequited love, Beatrice.
Fighting does feel a lot like God of War. You have a light and heavy attack. The ability to grab creatures smaller than you with your scythe and can even use the scythe to grapple objects or enemies. Beatrice's cross shoots out rays of light that stun and knock back, but don't kill.
The developers tell me that your decisions to punish or save some of the lost souls you come upon in the game allows you to either power up the scythe attack or the cross.
Players will also rely heavily on injuring and then riding much larger creatures to clear areas and access otherwise unattainable locations.
For instance, after clearing Charon's back of creatures Dante has to mount a large fire-breathing, bull-like creature and use it to snap the neck of Charon.
While the combat feels familiar the look of the game, and specifically the enemies you face, certainly doesn't.
Each ring of hell, for instance, has it's own boss of sorts. In Limbo, the first ring, that's King Minos, who acts as judge of the damned. The blind King's upper body fills much of the screen as you first try to avoid the king's serpentine tail and scaled arms, and then deliver enough attacks to jump into a quick time event.
Completing these cinematic moments twice ends with a bloody death of the king and a quick trip to the next ring of Hell.
In the demo I played the death of Minos ended one segment and jumped me ahead to the fifth ring of Hell: Wrath, where I was confronted by Phlegyas, another giant who tried to crush me with his flaming fists.
While I didn't get to see the creatures designed specifically for this level, I did see some of the creatures from other rings. That's because, I was told, the denizens of rings can appear in any level after you've seen them once.
That means I had to once more battle the unbaptized babies of Limbo, creatures with spider's bodies formed of scythes, and a creature from Gluttony. The Gluttony creation was particularly horrific: A nearly-shapeless nude woman who had mouths on either side of her head and in the place of hands.
The creature appeared from a puddle of brownish green liquid that fell from the sky and waddled toward my Dante. When she got close enough she opened her mouth and shot the vile liquid at the poet, leaving behind a pool of the damaging liquid. If I tried to sneak around behind the gluttony creature she would expel more of the liquid from her fleshy back.
If I got too close she'd grab Dante and lift him toward her mouth. Tapping the circle button on the Playstation 3 controller was supposed to free me, but it didn't once. Glutton raised Dante, biting off his head, then his torso and finally tucking the rest of his body neatly into her mouth. Game over.
These are the moments, shocking, almost obscene at times, that gamers will most vividly remember. And Hell has countless ways to die, staggering backdrops, disturbing detail.
You'll find yourself climbing down walls of writhing bodies, riding ruin through the walled city of Dis, remembering the momentary look of horror that slides across the face of a demon moments before you decapitate it.
If the devil is in the detail, then Date's Inferno is going to give the devil his due.