Dante's Inferno Review
Electronic Arts' Dante's Inferno is a bloody and frenzied action game first, and a literary lesson last. Why last? Well, as you're about to find out, the game and book share very little in common, apart from a few names and scenarios. In fact, EA has taken liberties in writing their own version of the story, and thus we have the game. Now, before we continue, do note that Dante's Inferno isn't a game that brings anything new to the table. It is a God of War clone, a decent one, but a clone nonetheless, and one that doesn't add a whole lot of its own pizazz. So, here's Ben to tell you about the gameplay, and I'll jump back in with the visuals, sound and conclusion.
Dante’s Inferno may be based on Dante Alighieri’s classic, “The Divine Comedy,” but not surprisingly, it has little to do with the actual story. Essentially, they focus on one aspect of the novel, which is the fact that Dante initially enters Hell in order to save his beloved, Beatrice, but in the book, he also moves forward through Purgatory and Heaven, learning great lessons along the way. In the 600-year-old story, there is never a single battle of any kind and Dante never holds a weapon…but that doesn’t make for a fun video game, right? Here, you still have the Nine Circles of Hell to negotiate but there are plenty of freakish nasties blocking your progress, and Dante has his bad-ass Scythe and even a long-range Cross attack. You kill them all, absorbing their souls and then using those acquired souls to purchase new abilities and skills, which of course sounds a lot like God of War or most any other straight-up, hack ‘n slash title. It works very well and it’s plenty of fun, but it’s far from perfect.
First of all, it should be mentioned that the majority of the enemies you face in this game can be dealt with quite easily; the simple press of the Square button (your fast attack) will eliminate most, although you could always mix it up with the Triangle button (power attack) and the Circle button (long-range Cross attack). The problem is that because of this setup, the game feels a little repetitive and furthermore, when you do decide to launch into more complicated combos, it’s almost as if the game doesn’t want you to. I never felt all that rewarded after attempting one; they don’t seem to do significantly more damage than a basic combo and I felt I could too easily be knocked out of the sequencing. The animations of the enemy attacks are quick and often difficult to spot (especially for the smaller enemies) and this usually means you have to dispose of them ASAP, without trying to get all fancy. The magic, while certainly helpful, also feels a little unbalanced and once again, a little unfulfilling.
It just doesn’t feel like a complete, well-rounded, intricate combat package. However, you probably won’t notice any of this if all you plan to do is mash a few buttons, which isn’t an altogether unattractive proposition for some. Besides, the game design really is very impressive; each stage is meticulously designed and downright formidable in its own way. There’s good diversity in the different enemies you’ll fight and the environment is almost always mesmerizing…well, mesmerizing in a, “holy crap, this place is nuts” sort of way. You’ll often take a few moments to gaze at your hellish surroundings, and when a game makes you do that, I consider it a solid accomplishment. Besides, there’s one other element to the gameplay that really helps to increase your interest in Dante’s advancement: the Holy or Unholy skill sets. Those familiar with a game like inFamous will understand what I mean; you can allocate your souls to either the Holy or Unholy category, which will result in different abilities. This may add to the replayability of the game; you might want to see the other skills and see which site offers cooler options.
There is also the option to absolve or punish any of the enemies you come across, but this feels more like a gimmick than anything else because it doesn’t add much to the experience. It’s always fan to grab enemies and sling ‘em about, though. And in the end, I think that’s the operative word, here: fun. Despite the flaws and shortcomings, Dante’s Inferno is a fun, intensely atmospheric title that will keep you playing. It’s smooth, there’s no variation in frame rate as far as I could see, some of the bosses are just plain awesome, and I honestly found my time with this game to be very entertaining. Isn’t that the reason we play games in the first place? It’s not worthy of an elite score because of the aforementioned issues; the inconsistencies, repetitiveness and balance issues range from very minor to significant, and that can’t be ignored. But the Scythe never fails to deliver the goods, Hell is a place you really have to experience, and there’s a sizable amount of polish applied to the aesthetics. So in short, EA has created a good experience that you’ll likely enjoy if you’re into these types of games.
Moving on to the picture, Dante's Inferno is the type of game that needed nothing but superb art direction, and I'd say that great art direction this game does have. The environments, whether in-game or cut-scene are very nicely designed, as are the characters. But that is not to say that the overall visual package is nice too, because in many ways it's actually quite bland. While the environments may be well designed, the textures certainly could've used a lot of work. And so many times you'll spot washed out texture detail that really detracts from the atmosphere.
Character detail is also not the highest, as the textures there aren't anything special, either. On the other hand, and this is what makes the game playable, the framerate is pretty consistent, allowing you to actually enjoy the action without a disruptive image rendering as if it were in slow-motion, like many other games do. In this instance, EA did the right thing by sacrificing overall visual quality for smoothness, the gameplay is much better off for it. Though, I will say that this particular graphics engine isn't up to par with what our hardware is capable of. Not by any means.
The audio is certainly an immersive experience. For one, the voice acting is very well done. Again, as we mentioned before, the game and book are barely connected together, so don't expect to hear word-for-word bits of dialogue ripped out of the pages. A full orchestra accompanies you in the background with gothic and tense tones to keep the ambiance of the game on point. Furthermore, sound effects, such as the slash of your weapons, the crumbling of environments, the destruction of the rotting corpses you defeat all sound great, they really do. In fact, I got quite a bit of a kick from just having the volume turned up, there's just so much audio going on at all times, it truly does make the game feel epic. I love that.
As a whole, Dante's Inferno is a good game for the action junkie that enjoys playing every beat 'em up in the vein of God of War or Devil May Cry. Is this a standout package? Not really. And it's also not worth the full $60. But give this a few months to deflate in price, and for $30-40, you'll find yourself an enjoyable game out of Dante's Inferno, albeit one that doesn't really offer anything special to the gamer. With God of War III about to drop in a matter of days, there's no reason for a PS3 owner to go and buy Dante's Inferno right now. An enjoyable game. But a forgettable game.
2/20/2010 Arnold K. & Ben D.