After going through a huge stack of reviews for our Dante's Inferno Frankenreview, I have determined that this game might have a few things in common with God of War. That, and Dante has no idea how to play Limbo.
Is it strange that a game revolving around a long, drawn-out philosophical exploration on the nature of hell be likened to a franchise that's essentially a long, drawn-out exploration of killing things in a bad-ass fashion? Kids, this is the video game industry, where developers make the impossible possible every single day.
But is it possible to write a review for Dante's Inferno without mentioning God of War? Probably not. Get under that stick, Dante!
Basing your game on a 14th century poem set in Hell has certain advantages. For starters, you don't have to pay copyright fees or worry about the author of the source material complaining you've bastardised his work. In fact you don't have to worry about anyone complaining as only 27 people in the world have bothered to read the thing, and half of them are lying. But there are risks too. You can't employ many of the most popular action-adventure staples such as guns, cars, aliens, Nazis, wisecracking sidekicks and love interests with buttocks like two basketballs in a pillowcase. You're limited by the types of enemies you can create and the environments they can inhabit. As is the case with any game set in Hell, you risk ending up with one big lava level. So what's a developer to do? Why, find another game with no guns, cars or aliens and rip it off, or so it would seem in the case of Dante's Inferno. In fact, this game has so many similarities to a certain other series it's hard to believe it wasn't originally called Dante's Infernof War.
Sadly, as far as Inferno's gameplay is concerned, far too much time is spent in Purgatorio. There are sections where it becomes difficult enough to be hellish, but very few moments (if any at all) where the level of gaming fulfilment reaches Paradiso. It's hard to think of any game on current-gen consoles that's quite as derivative as Dante's Inferno (and that's a long list of derivative games). By our estimates, Inferno is roughly 95% God of War, 3% Prince of Persia trilogy, and 2% original thinking. While the odd environmental puzzle section and some occasional rappelling makes Inferno mildly PoP in form, the amount of tricks that have been taken directly from Kratos' back-catalogue certainly books EA a second ticket to the fraudulent circle of hell.
Official Xbox Magazine UK
Unusually for a hack 'n' slash hero, Dante only has two weapons to choose from. There's a heavy scythe that used to belong to the Grim Reaper, and a crucifix that shoots out holy fireballs. Even at the start of the game when you haven't unlocked much, the combat still feels meaty. Your scythe hits home with a satisfying thud and showers of gore, and almost every combination of the X, Y and B buttons creates a new and exciting attack chain. It's empowering for the most part, but unfortunately, there are also times - particularly during boss battles - that the health system becomes a source of frustration. There are no storable health items, and very few enemies drop recovery orbs. If you pass a checkpoint with low health, you'll return there in a similar state if you die. It's only after repeated deaths that your health gradually increases.
The only problem with the combat is that a lot of the in-depth and complex moves you purchase aren't necessary to win most battles. On normal difficulty you could burn through most fights using the base combos you start with (Hellish is a pretty good challenge on the other hand). Spamming light scythe attacks and standard cross attacks can be your full arsenal if you wish, but where's the fun in that? It's up to the player to string together moves and build impressive combos, but doing so is a lot of fun. The boss fights are well done and in these one-on-one brawls some cunning is surely needed to be victorious.
Visually, Dante's Inferno is stunning, both from a technical and artistic standpoint. Visceral's vision of hell — based on Alighieri's text as well as a broad range of artists' interpretations (including its own) — is as impressive as it is morbid and twisted. As you move your way through the circles — from Limbo to Treachery — the distinctions are clear, in both enemy design as well as the environments, many of which feel alive: contorted bodies and moving are part of the terrain, and you can hear their screams and howls echoing in the air. When you think it can't get more f*cked up (the souls of aborted babies attack with you their razor blade arms), it does. As you dive deeper into hell, you're in for a real treat, as the level design becomes more jaw-droppingly morbid and perverse as you plunge towards the final Circle of Hell.
It should be clear by now that the story in the game has almost nothing to do with the story of the poem. There is no reason this game could not be set in any of the hundreds or thousands of generic hells that have hosted video games over the years. What Electronic Arts has done, quite transparently, is appropriate Dante's brand to use as a light marketing skin on top of the God of War clone the company so clearly wanted to make. And so images of Virgil spout lines from the poem at you once in a while, and Dante's ranged weapon appears as crosses of light, but there is no heavy religious imagery and never any real sense of horror or torment. There are, however, a lot of bare female breasts. There is even a giant Cleopatra demon who spurts knife-wielding unbaptized children out of her nipples. You would like to hope that after so many centuries, "The Divine Comedy" can withstand something as fleeting as being used to hawk a video game. As for Mr. Jaffe, sadly, he shouldn't hold his breath for those royalty checks.
I've come to understand that creating a game based on something revered doesn't mean it has to be a copy or endlessly quoted. To work, the byproduct has to just stay true to the intentions of that work. That's what Dante's Inferno does. You could fill a book about how hell doesn't have switches or big flashing symbols or life and mana, but those are just the trappings of gameplay and mechanic. Certainly, the developers could have done a better job of weaving those basics of play into the tapestry of their take on hell. But that shouldn't lessen the impact of all of the things they did right. Dante's Inferno the video game is a metaphysical journey though and an animated illumination of medieval hell. It deals with morality and existentialism as aptly as it delivers an engrossing experience. It is not without its issues, it most certainly won't be for everyone, but it does something that very few video games do: It opens the door for moral introspection.
Not one review I browsed failed to mention God of War