Review: Go to Hell... and enjoy it?
We have already had our fair share of slashing this year, but why not indulge in a little bit of gluttony this month with Dante's Inferno, Visceral Games' take on the famous fourteenth century poem by Dante Alighieri? Think this game is a rip-off? Well I wouldn't say you're completely wrong, but I'll be damned if isn't a lot of fun. Its vision of Hell will suck you in and its wildly designed demons will spit you out like the rotten sinner you surely are. When it's all said and done, Dante's Inferno gives God of War a run for its money and delivers a disturbing and captivating experience that cannot simply be thrown aside as a clone.
Dante is a crusader we meet "at the midpoint of life's journey." After a close encounter with Death (who provides you with your trusty scythe), Dante returns home from the Crusades to find his wife Beatrice murdered. It turns out she made a deal with the devil that Dante would stay faithful and now is in the clutches of Lucifer, so Dante does what any caring husband would do ? break down the doors of Hell and fight through its nine circles to get her back.
Dante's Inferno is a pretty straightforward game. You'll traverse one circle to the next and kill everything that gets in the way. The story contains some minor twists but nothing especially shocking, and it is told well through both the game's animated cutscenes and more traditional CGI cutscenes. In each circle of Hell we learn more about Dante and the sins he committed during the Crusade. These in-game movies are quick and to the point, never taking us away from gameplay for very long.
Combat starts off pretty simple as well. The scythe has the standard light and heavy attacks and a grab attack. A short while into the game you get Beatrice's Crucifix which can be used for projectile attacks. Each enemy killed gives Dante a number of souls to upgrade his skills, but this is where it gets interesting. The crucifix embodies Dante's holy side while the scythe represents his unholy side. When finishing enemies with a grab attack Dante can choose whether to Punish or Absolve them. Punishing enemies adds experience to your unholy side while absolving gives you holy experience. With each holy and unholy level Dante gains, his crucifix or scythe is granted more overall power. On top of this, each level attained with either weapon unlocks more skills that Dante can purchase with the souls he gathers.
Similar games tend to give ranged weapons a back seat role to slicing and dicing melee attacks. Dante's Inferno, on the other hand, appropriately balances the use of the scythe and the crucifix, and this is the combat's best quality. Both are equally powerful and vital during certain fights, and it is up to the player to decide which he or she likes more and wants to invest more souls into. Beatrice's Crucifix is an awesome weapon and I found myself enjoying it more and more as I leveled it up. The charged shots and area of effect attacks you can purchase are incredible fun and can cause mass devastation to a group of enemies.
As you conquer the circles of Hell you will also come across a few damned souls begging for forgiveness. When you interact with them, Dante is informed of what their sin was and you can choose to punish or absolve them. Which option you choose gives a hefty amount of experience to either your holy or unholy side. These little moments are a nice addition to the lore and you might think twice before punishing someone guilty of a sin you might have committed yourself, even if you could use some unholy experience.
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.
Magic spells are also featured in a surprising number. By the end of the game you can have more spells than you can fit on the directional pad. Some of these are unlocked only by reaching a certain holy or unholy level and players can choose not to buy them if they wish. Most are useful any time while others come in handy in a specific pinch. They're varied but aren't exactly original in purpose.
The setting and art design is where Dante's Inferno really shines. The graphics aren't the most impressive from a technical standpoint, but this is a striking vision of Hell. It is a grotesque place filled with agony around every corner. You'll jump over lakes of people boiling in blood, hurry past sad souls trapped for eternity in the Wood of the Suicides, and confront gluttons being eaten alive by obese demons. It can be thought provoking and even shocking at times, but is downright fascinating for the bulk of the game. Only in the opening level and later in Fraud did I feel cheated out of some of the great visuals that most of the circles contained.
Because Hell is so fun to look at, the fixed camera movements start to become an annoyance, only because you want to see more. I just wanted to spin the camera around sometimes and take in the carnage around me. I understand the extra level design and resources this would need but I can't help bringing it up. To their credit the journey through Hell is completely seemless. There are no load times once you start playing, and as you climb further and further down you truly feel like you are descending further and further from the surface towards the lowest depths of Hell. Sound is top notch. Blades clang with satisfying punch. The wails and screams of the damned constantly echo around you. The soundtrack is comprised of haunting orchestral numbers, sometimes grand and other times eerie. It fits the game perfectly.
Dante's Inferno moves at a very quick pace. I found myself not wanting to leave circles when I had to, and wishing each was more fleshed out in gameplay. It's a pretty short game overall. I clocked in on normal difficulty at just under 8 hours. There is Resurrection Mode and The Gates of Hell endurance mode to keep you busy after you play it through but a longer main adventure would have been nice. The puzzles are quick for the most part, and none of them require a lot of thought to pass. You can expect to be busy the entire way through Hell, as the game will constantly throw enemies, puzzles, and platforming bits at you in rapid succession, but you'll be out of Hell before you know it.