Trying to review Dante’s Inferno without mentioning Sony’s hallowed God Of War series is almost as difficult as trying to review it without mentioning the Dante Alighieri poem on which it is loosely based. Whilst Visceral Game’s new title doesn’t treat its literary inspiration with any great level of respect, its allegiance to God Of War is absolutely steadfast. That said, much like Sega’s tremendous Bayonetta, it is a loving tribute rather than some crude two-bob rip-off, and is frankly indispensable if you don’t own a Playstation 3.
The game’s high production values and distinctive art style are discernable from the opening cinematic, which marries extremely high-quality FMV with vibrant, comic-book style tapestry animations. A great indication of the calibre of these latter sequences is embodied in DC Comics’ recent decision to publish a series of them in print in the US.
As written by Will Rokos – an Oscar-nominated Hollywood scribe, no less – Dante’s allegorical poem about the author’s own slow descent into hell becomes an agreeably bawdy fable of a twelfth century knight, forced to peruse the inferno after being killed during the final days of the third Crusade. Rokos brings the zip of Hollywood formula to the table by making the whole thing about rescuing a damsel in distress, but the tale is executed with genuine punch and purpose. Dante’s odyssey is littered with instances of him being forced to face up to past indiscretions, including an act of adultery and a grimy, heinous war crime. Some of this stuff is mildly audacious and all of it is silly, but prolonged sections are genuinely adult and (whisper it) actually rather original.
Speaking of adult, more mature hardcore audiences will be very pleased by just how forceful and inventive Dante’s is in its rigid pursuit of an 18 certificate. There is some amazingly stark and queasy imagery here, the most eminent and effective example probably being the demonic babies who skip chillingly toward you in battle, utilising the bloody scythes that have rather grimly been used to replace their arms; a fate bestowed upon them for having never been baptized. The game may not do any of this with the demented wit that has always been the ace in God of War’s sleeve, but it is a coherent vision, and it isn’t every day that you are given a chance to traverse a level decked out to the nines in giant bronzed phalluses.
The combat is satisfyingly meaty, evoking both GOW and Bayonetta, although thankfully it is bereft of a levelling-up system as intimidatingly complex as Bayonetta’s. Dante’s ‘punish or absolve’ system is pretty throwaway but it hinges on a weaponry upgrade scheme that is efficient and easy to understand. God Of War has also never been known for its smart puzzling – something that Dante’s Inferno absolutely will be.
There is also an immensely intriguing DLC expansion pack upcoming (entitled ‘The Trials Of St. Lucia’) which not only adds multiplayer co-op, but allows you to customize and design your own enemies, and gives you the ability to create Horde-style trial challenges via an intricate looking ‘combat editor’. A preview video of this mode is immediately available at the bottom of Dante’s Inferno‘s main menu, and it is exciting not only because it represents such a savvy step in the right direction (prolonging and adding to the experience in a way that all DLC really should do) but also because the lead developer’s obsession with the literary source is articulate and infectious.
Two fresh double-whammy masterpieces like the first two God Of War games were always going to invite imitation, and most of those imitators have only ever been feeble examples of vulgar exploitation that dishonoured their sources every time. The bottom line is that unlike that multitude of lesser homages, Dante’s Inferno is pulled off in a way that emphasises real love and respect for God Of War, and anyone who is counting the days until the release of Sony’s much anticipated threequel, is whole-heartedly invited to get stuck into this immediately.
Watch the Dante’s Inferno trailer here…
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