Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem The Divine Comedy, is an allegorical commentary on the nature of sin and the path one must follow to reach God. It details the journeys of Dante and the poet Virgil through nine circles of Hell, each representative of a more vile sin until the duo encounter Lucifer himself trapped in an icy prison, forever gnawing at history’s three worst sinners as his punishment for the ultimate sin: treachery towards God.
Dante’s Inferno, the new game by Dead Space developer Visceral Games and publisher EA, is not this poem. The game itself holds on to the thematic elements of its source material, particularly the layout of Hell itself, but recasts former poet Dante as a muscle-bound knight in the Crusades with a taste for violence. As questionable as this may seem from an artistic standpoint, it makes perfect sense from a gameplay standpoint…I shudder at the thought of what could have been, with Dante walking around Limbo debating on the nature of sin with the lost souls of poets and philosophers.
Instead, the game is a near-perfect clone of Sony’s God of War series, with Dante acting as an analogue for Kratos, carving a bloody swath through Hell with the ultimate goal of saving the soul of his wife Beatrice from eternal damnation. Dante is a surprisingly impulsive and angry character, whose usual response when characters don’t let him get his way is to mutilate them horribly. It becomes almost comedic at times just how violent Dante gets when the rules of Hell are paraded out. Death comes to collect your damned soul? Split him up the middle with his own bone scythe! Not happy when Hell’s ferryman won’t take you where you want? Decapitate him and crash the boat into a building! Displeased with the judgment passed down by King Minos? Tear his face off with a spinning wheel of spikes! Dante must be a delight at restaurants when they bring him cold soup.
In spite of the inherent ridiculousness of the story and Dante’s actions (with Death gone, Earth will become overpopulated to the point of oversaturation…thanks, Dante!), the game plays like an absolute dream. Controls are responsive and tight, with upgradable moves and combos for Dante to learn. Split into Holy and Unholy varieties, the upgrade system also adds an interesting wrinkle, powering up your energy-blasting crucifix and bone scythe respectively. Upgrades are doled out to each side based on your actions, particularly your choices when it comes to punishing or absolving the damned souls scattered around Hell.
Hell itself is truly the star of this game, with its distinctive circles and sin-based enemies. Visceral took great care in their crafting of the infernal hereafter, and the end result comes across like a brainstorm between Clive Barker and Todd McFarlane with Hieronymus Bosch throwing in his two cents. The end product is a relentless tableau of human suffering, where fire belches in every corner and even the walls themselves are packed with the writhing throngs of the damned. Each circle is packed with its own details, from the noose-festooned Suicide Woods of the circle of Violence to the gastric texturing of Gluttony. Lust, in particular, is especially well-executed with phallic spires, choruses of orgasmic moans, and demonic harlots who attack you with their venomous vulvas. Just like college!
If there’s one complaint that can truly be leveled against Dante’s Inferno it would be its length. My final save game clocked in at one minute over six hours, which is criminally short for a sixty dollar title. There is some added longevity once you finish the game the first time, with the ability to replay the game keeping all of your upgraded abilities, new difficulty levels, and The Gates of Hell Arena, where you face waves of enemies while trying to stay one step ahead of the rapidly depleting timer. There is also the future release of The Trials of St. Lucia, a DLC pack that promises cooperative multiplayer and a game editor, but that won’t be out until April. Caveat emptor.
Ultimately, if you have the sixty bucks and don’t mind some liberal artistic license being taken with classic literature, Dante’s Inferno proves to be one hell of a good time.