First Impressions: Dante’s Inferno

February 8, 2010

The first few hours of Dante’s descent into the nine circles of Hell are certainly a visceral experience (geddit?), with the wailing of lost souls and the impaled corpses setting a dark, twisted tone for what is to follow; but the game’s fixed camera (another slavish tribute to God Of War) doesn’t allow you to soak it in as much as you would wish. It would be nice to write about a game on this blog that doesn’t involve references to Sony Santa Monica’s mythological slash-em-up, but it is impossible to ignore just how much Dante’s Inferno lifts directly from the famous series. Two circles out of nine in, I’m hoping that the game starts to throw at least some original elements of its own into the hellish mix.

With the originality (in terms of mechanics rather than setting) of Dead Space under its belt, and a raft of critical acclaim to match, developer Visceral Games had the chance to produce something extraordinary here. The setting of Hell is, to my knowledge, fairly unique to gaming and the disparate sins of each circle provide ample opportunity. In fairness, the thick, viscous mass of Gluttony is beautifully, albeit revoltingly, realised; huge glistening demons with mouths for hands and worms that ooze from the muck intent on taking down Dante. But Lust, the 2nd circle, doesn’t convey its sin nearly as well. Does a knight wielding a massive sword and shield and plenty of electricity communicate sins of the flesh to you?

Puzzle-solving elements, even this early in the game, are awful. Object-pulling again makes an unwanted appearance (will that idea ever die?) and every other room is navigated by switching yet another lever. Some puzzles feel loose and illogical, and never prove satisfying. Others are hampered by insane timing windows, causing innumerable spiky deaths. Although such rage-inducing puzzles might provide an ironic twist for the Anger circle of hell, I’m praying that these puzzles get better instead of, more likely, becoming worse.

Despite the constant rumblings of dissent that this was a God Of War clone throughout development, I still snapped this up on its day of release, thinking that its setting, story and basis on one of videogaming’s greatest series would still make it a very enjoyable experience. Each downward step through the nine circles is compounding my disappointment further, however. It’s going to take some very special moments in order to absolve this particular God Of War clone of its cardinal sins.

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