Dante’s Inferno // PS3
February 20, 2010
If ‘Hell is other people’, then nobody told Visceral Games. To them, Hell is rivers of boiling blood. It’s enormous beasts with mouths for hands. It’s a clutch of babies with scythes for arms that have been birthed by a mouth-shaped nipple on an extremely large blue tit. To the players of their videogame adaption of Dante Aligheri’s 14th-century epic poem, Hell is illogical puzzles, cheap deaths, laughable voice acting and unlikeable characters.
God Of Hell
The best thing about standing on the shoulders of giants, is the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. But Dante’s Inferno forgets this, and instead copies God Of War so slavishly that it incorporates all that series’ bad mechanics as well as falling short of aping the good ones. Repeatedly mashing a button just to open a door, dozens and dozens of times over, wasn’t fun the first time round. A generation on, it’s still not fun. The fixed camera, although used sparingly in other games as a framing, cinematic device, here curtails an environment that should be explored and marvelled over. Players are used to moving their characters with the left-stick and controlling the camera with the right. Why change this? Why switch to an archaic mechanic that even felt odd with God Of War? And the resurrection of instant-death platforming with floaty double-jump controls frustrates, enrages even. We came for combat, not for platforming. If done well, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but Dante’s Inferno’s platforming elements are implemented badly, often with no indication of your next move before you are automatically plunged to your death.
In fairness, Dante’s Inferno does take a stab at implementing its own ideas, but they feel a little lightweight and don’t add much to the experience. Chief amongst these is the ability to earn both Unholy and Holy experience, which in turn allows you to unlock new moves for each. Buying Unholy skills, the currency being souls (of course), allows you to power up your ability with the scythe, the weapon you steal from Death himself in the opening moments of the game. Holy experience allows you to improve your Holy Cross, which flings out projectiles at flying foes. However, there are so many of these skills, unlocked at each level of the Unholy and Holy ladders – which feel like simplified versions of World Of Warcraft’s talent trees – that you lose track and soon become apathetic to each upgrade. I found myself amassing a huge pile of souls and very occasionally buying up every skill in the Unholy tree without even reading the descriptions. The reason for this? Dante’s Inferno can be successfully navigated using heavy scythe attacks and the Holy Cross alone. Enemies are not different enough to require any more complicated skills or tactics as you progress through the game
Throughout your descent into Hell, you will also come across various figures kneeling on the ground, head in hands. These are historic figures from throughout the ages, such as Pontius Pilate and Attila the Hun, wallowing in the circle in Hell that corresponds to their earthly sin. Dante has the option of punishing them or absolving them of their sins, similar to the way Little Sisters can be harvested or rescued in BioShock. Punishing the soul rewards Dante with Unholy experience, absolving awards Holy experience. Each figure also pops up a short description of their sin on screen, which fleshes out an otherwise straightforward adventure. The most inexplicable thing about these encounters is the minigame the player is subjected to should they choose to Absolve. Dante’s holy cross appears on the screen, with a corresponding button assigned to each arm of the cross. Small bubbles then fly in from the outside of the screen towards the centre of the cross, and the player has to press each button when each bubble passes over the corresponding graphic. It’s the same mechanic as used in Gitaroo Man, but there it makes sense as it creates notes in the melody; here, there is no music at all. It’s a rhythm-action minigame without music then, and it smacks of being a desperate, last-minute addition to the game.
The Devil’s in the detail
The biggest sin committed by Dante’s Inferno is its inability to take a compelling setting, classic source material and a heroic story and mould each of these into an exciting videogame narrative. The voice acting is some of the worst I’ve heard in the current generation. Nobody at all puts in a decent performance. Beatrice whines, the Devil is almost comical and Dante is the most unlikeable lead in videogame history. He seesaws between cocksure bravado and grovelling cowardice at a stroke, and his litany of sins (illustrated in admittedly excellent animated cutscene sequences) ensure that we are completely ambivalent to his quest for redemption. The Devil, which should be imagined as the most nightmarish, hideous, all-powerful being ever conceived is instead portrayed as a bald, floating humanoid made out of grey smoke that occasionally appears to paw at Beatrice’s naked flesh and giggle at Dante’s flaws.
All in all, then, Dante’s Inferno is a crushing disappointment. I rarely have the misfortune to play truly average games these days, but this is a very substandard effort. Borrowing from genius often yields good results; it’s rare indeed that a game manages to be truly original, after all; but Visceral Games insistence on such wholesale plagiarism produces an experience identical to God Of War without that series’ exceptional level design and epic story but with all its flaws, and makes Dante’s Inferno feel like a last generation game. And, ultimately, it should be left behind as a result.