As far as pitches go, a videogame adaptation of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy is a bit of a stretch. Italian poetry hasn't exactly thrived on consoles, and if we truly do consider Bioshock the greatest form of videogame literature, we're a bit behind the curve. But you can't fault EA's bravery, as they've obtained the rights to Alighieri's epic and developed a hellish action-adventure game to match the likes of Devil May Cry and God of War. But can Dante's Inferno withstand the heat?
Poets Can Fight, Too, You Know?
Dante's Inferno isn't a like-for-like translation of the Divine Comedy, shaping the venerable poem to a videogame's unique architecture. Dante is now a Templar Knight, waging war for King Richard I during the Crusades. This Dante is now slouch, either. In fact, he's a bit of a badass, vanquishing Death himself when he is stabbed, quite literally, in the back. Dante retrieves Death's scythe and returns home, only to find his wife, Beatrice, has been murdered and taken by Lucifer to the deepest depths of Hell. Dante, having recently stitched a red cross into his flesh and anointed his cross with heavenly power, hops down a chasm into the first circle of Hell in pursuit of his dead wife's soul. As you do.
It's a pretty fantastic opening, and the combat is solid enough for it to be enjoyable. Death's scythe can sweep multiple enemies' in one stroke, and like most hack-and-slash adventures following God of War, it can extend and lengthen at will to reach far-off critters. Dante is also armed with his cross, which can expel bolts of devastating magic. Both the scythe and the cross can be upgraded, as Dante collects souls to fill his Holy and Unholy meters.
The Holy and Unholy concept is pretty undercooked, although I suppose pretty applicable to a game set in Hell. Along his descending adventure, Dante will encounter actual figures from the Divine Comedy, who he can either absolve or punish with his cross. Brief mini-games ensure when you meet these characters, which feel a little odd in context, but serve a larger function as choosing to absolve or punish will reward you with different finishers and abilities.
A Ring Of Fire...
Like the poem, Dante's Inferno is set in the seven circles of Hell, and its quite the vision of the sinner's afterlife, indeed. Whether its molten rivers of gold in the circle of Greed, or your escort, Charon, re-imagined as a colossal, skeletal ferry. EA hired a number of prominent artists to help bring Hell to life, and it's paid off in spades. It's a truly hellish nightmare of imagery, from the stunning vistas to the deranged demons slavering for your flesh.
And it's not just all hacking and slashing. Dante is a rather adept acrobat, too, as numerous stages in his adventure require him to navigate or pass crumbling or hazardous areas. Don't expect Prince of Persia-levels of excellence here, and the rudimentary puzzling is more Devil May Cry than Zelda. But to their credit, EA has crafted breathless experiences from their platforming, as the stages are often moving or collapsing, often as enormous demonic visages watch on and swipe out at your fleeting form.
Dante's Inferno doesn't skimp on the boss-battles, either. Multi-stage encounters often play out against titanic foes. Cerberus is a particularly stunning bout, the great three-headed beast re-imagined as a slavering, multi-mouthed monstrosity. However, as Dante delves deeper into Hell, you can't help but sense a bit of development fatigue, as the epic moment-to-moment action is whittled down to staged, gladiatorial bouts of attrition.
Dante of War
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Kratos is blushing wildly somewhere, as Dante's Inferno doesn't so much as mimic Sony's blood-stained Greek tragedy as it does copy it shamelessly. The combat feels so similar it's as if EA stole God of War code and retrofitted it into their engine. The boss-battles, which play out against enormous, stage-bound creatures you vanquish with a QTE finisher, are so obviously inspired by Kratos' bloody brawls it almost evokes some strange, counterfeit nostalgia.
A lot of Dante's Inferno does feel like EA trying to prove itself equally capable of delivering a God of War experience. And while that was obviously an intention, it does mean Dante's Inferno is somewhat devoid of even novel originality. You've seen it all before, and Dante isn't a strong enough protagonist to carry the game. Even his design, the red-and-white patterned physique, is reminiscent of Kratos.
But it can't be denied that Dante's Inferno is a well-crafted, polished experience. It's often beautiful, at times epic and exhilarating, and the hellish imagery is suitably disturbing. It lacks the hack-and-slash grace of, say, Devil May Cry, and even its most epic moments pale in comparison to God of War's blockbuster moments. It also sags in the latter stages, and makes finishing the game feel more like a test of endurance than enjoyment.
- An original take on The Divine Comedy
- Brutal, visceral combat and boss-battles
- Truly epic and hellish visuals
- It begins better than it ends
- The story and characters are poor
- It tries, but fails, to be as good as God of War
The Short Version: While Dante's Inferno wears its inspirations too shamelessly on its bloody sleeve, there's a fun, action-packed experience to be found. It's lacking in originality, and the story and characters pale in comparison to the strong imagery and visuals, but the combat is solid enough the first half of the game is a joy.