7.5 / 10 Banzai!s
Since the Atari 2600, there have been games based on movies, TV shows, comic books, and even novels. Very few have been inspired by poetry. Dante’s Inferno fits that niche of rarity.
It’s been 700 years since Dante Alighieri wrote his Devine Comedy (or Divina Commedia, if you prefer original Italian). A massive poem which tells the story of Dante – the narrator – who gets lost in a forest and comes across the poet Virgil, sent by Dante’s wife Beatrice, to bring him to salvation. Along the way, Dante decides to witness Hell and Purgatory before entering Heaven, and so Virgil obliges, becoming his tour guide. So, it was only natural for Visceral Games – the makers of Dead Space – to say, “Yo, this poem would make an awesome game!”
The video game of Dante’s Inferno, like the title suggests, is based on the first canticas of The Devine Comedy, though with many liberties taken. Rather than a lost soul, Dante is a general in kights of the Third Crusade, sent out to conquer Jerusalem from Saladin, while believing that “all his sins have been forgiven” at the words of a priest. He’s stabbed in the back, and faced with Death. Rather than follow the Reaper to the other side, Dante kilsl him and steals his scythe (don’t fear the Reaper!) then heads home to his wife – only to find her being dragged to hell by Lucifer. Dante jumps in after him, and makes his way through circle after circle, determined to rescue Beatrice from the clutches of hell.
Interestingly enough, as a marketing strategy, EA staged a phony protest in which people were paid to march about Los Angeles with signs, demanding the game be banned and accusing EA of being the anti-Christ. It was later revealed by an EA spokesperson that the protest had been a hoax. Hey, if it worked for Dan Brown…
What I Liked:
As an avid reader and fan of literature, I could easily side with many University professors who have criticized the game for commercializing and bastardizing Dante’s poem. On the contrary, I thought the idea was interesting. Not only was the game – in a weird way – true to the source, but the added tidbits of the Crusade fit well with the game’s overall story arch.
Dante’s Inferno uses a combination of CG cutscenes to continue the story, and animated visuals to tell the backstory. For the most part, the plot is rather simple. But as we journey deeper into the circles of hell, we learn more about the character Dante – and that’s where the strength lies in the game’s storytelling.
The visuals are impressive, and everything just feels so alive. Walls keep moaning sinners at bay. To open doors, you must stab your weapon into the belly of a beast. Flames belch upwards and sideways. And pools of lava / blood /gold spit and bubble. There’s so much to look at, I often found myself wishing for control over the camera.
There’s a relatively good balance between the action, platforming, and puzzles, which prevent the game from getting boring. Each boss battle is different from the next, and in many ways are puzzles in themselves. I found myself fueled to continue playing, not only to learn more about Dante, but just to see what the next level had in store for me.
What I Didn’t Like:
While I found some of the earlier levels to be masterpieces, it felt as though the developers were getting tired as the game went on, and got lazy towards the end. For example, upon entering the realm of Gluttony, there were big gluttonous creatures with mouths for hands trying to devour you, and everywhere were fat, grotesque statues with wide open mouths and tongues. Just from the visuals, I knew this was the Circle of Gluttony. But when you reach Violence, it’s basically not much different from the first level – some fire shooting about, random enemies, and a river of blood. And in Fraud, all you’re doing is fighting waves of enemies in a cave. Maybe the developers had a harder time trying to come up with creative ways to flesh the later circles into levels, or maybe they ran out of time under EA’s set deadlines, I dunno. But it was disappointing, considering how well the earlier levels were designed.
And speaking of laziness / lack of time, the same enemies kept cropping up throughout the game. Each level seemed to introduce one new enemy, but otherwise you still fought unbaptized babies, demons, and damned crusade captains up until the end. Most of the time, the enemies didn’t fit the ring of hell – they were just recycled. Maybe this is nitpicking, but I felt the overuse of the same enemies subtracted from the feel of each level. And, since earlier I mentioned that the later levels didn’t really reflect the ring of hell it represented, the recycled enemies only diminished it further – until you wouldn’t know what circle you were in without Virgil telling you.
Finally – and I don’t know if this can justify a complaint – but Dante’s Inferno is EXTREMELY similar to the God of War series, so much so that I’m surprised lawsuits hadn’t been tried. Everything from the combo fights, to upgrades, to the way you open doors and grab power-ups by mashing buttons, to the overall gameplay is exactly like God of War. EA has a habit of taking games that are popular and producing their own versions. In this case, they basically took God of War and altered the Greek mythology to Christian. Yes, it was a creative idea to base a game on a poem, but damn! Couldn’t they have come up with a new style of gameplay?
Dante’s Inferno is a fun and entertaining title with some great visuals and interesting story. It’s a shame things mellowed down towards the end, because the first half of the game just blows you away. Yes, the gameplay is a rip-off of God of War, though that may be a good thing for fans who enjoyed playing as Cratos – though it doesn’t award points for Inferno’s originality.
One thing I will say, though. Dante’s Inferno has the credit (to my knowledge) of being the first video game adapted from a 14th Century Italian poem.
Next, I’d like to see T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems: The Video Game.