Dante's Inferno Review

By Patrick Klepek - Posted Feb 03, 2010

Though Dante's Inferno doesn't change the landscape of the action game, I won't fault it for doing something so many other games have obviously failed at. Visceral Games identified gameplay we love, successfully transplanted it to somewhere new, added a few welcomed wrinkles to the formula and delivered it before Kratos's return. Dante's Inferno helps supports the theory that sometimes, same is good.

The Pros
  • Properly executes the best parts of God of War's combat
  • Utilizes its literary roots without beating you over the head
  • Good vs. evil skill trees encourage multiple playthroughs
The Cons
  • Glitches suggest a slightly rushed product
  • Game's end battles make God of War's same mistakes
  • Once you strip away the inspirations, it's not very unique

If you were to follow the roots of Dante's Inferno, it'd lead you to many different places. The setting and the characters are directly pulled from the first part of Dante Alighieri's epic poem, The Divine Comedy. The gameplay was shamelessly plucked from Kratos's blades in God of War. The distinctively fleshy look was lifted from the personal art books of twisted artist Wayne Barlowe. It's a mad mashup of numerous influences.

Dante's Inferno

The Challenge of Imitation

Is imitation necessarily a bad thing? On one hand, the use of the word suggests imitation is easy. I assume most developers who tried to make a game like Halo, Modern Warfare or World of Warcraft will quickly tell you that's not necessarily the case. Good imitation isn't an easy task.

Dante's Inferno is a very well crafted action game, largely because it succeeds at using its inspirations effectively. While the game lifts significant pieces of what makes God of War's gameplay tick and emulates them to an astonishingly capable degree, Dead Space developer Visceral Games made at least two key changes that help Dante's Inferno stand out: a skill tree that forces players to pick one side over the other (on their first playthrough, anyway) and numerous options for air combat.

The good vs. evil skill tree comes down to a distinction of offense vs. defense. If you're a player interested in having a litany of different moves available to you at any one time, especially ones that can aid in your ability to chain massive combos, evil is the way to go. If you're less versed in this style of action game and could use a little more help in the way of health and ways to fend off attacks, good is a better route. You cannot come close to filling both sides of the skill tree the first time you play through Dante's Inferno, a forced decision that now seems entrenched within Visceral Games' DNA (Dead Space, for example, forced players to make key decisions about what weapons they wanted to use and upgrade).

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Despite not being someone who would consider themselves "good" at this type of games, I headed down the path of evil for a simple reason: it was easier. In Dante's Inferno, players have an opportunity to condemn or save enemies and, well, it's simpler (and quite literally faster) to condemn them. More points means more skills, which meant I went evil. While an interesting design choice, I question leaving so many desirable skills, such as the ability to heal yourself with magic, on the tougher side of the Good Samaritan.

But I kept returning to the question of imitation while searching for the bottom of Hell. What makes God of War so satisfying to play? For me, it feels tangibly powerful. Even though you're just pressing buttons on a controller, the combat in God of War exudes an energy that's unmatched elsewhere in video games. When Kratos smashes his fists into an enemy's face, you clench up. The combat feeds from the screen to your hands. Somehow, you can honestly feel Kratos's anger. Now, replace Kratos with Dante and God of War with Dante's Inferno and that is Visceral Games's biggest accomplishment. You feel like a part of the combat in Dante's Inferno and when Dante smashes an enemy down to the concrete with his scythe, you feel it. When the game works, it’s not because it’s a rip-off, it’s because it re-executes already well-established ideas.

Dante's Inferno

Lessons Not Learned

Not everything about God of War deserves to be imitated, however. Remember how the final boss battle in the original God of War did nothing to capitalize on the hours players spent learning and understanding the combat system, favoring a flashy, titan-sized battle over meaningful application of your drafted skills? Dante’s Inferno’s end game makes the same unfortunate miscalculation, compounded by a final boss whose multiple forms are not so much challenging to defeat as they are a test of your stamina for avoiding purposely frustrating attack patterns. I ratcheted the difficulty down to “classic” (aka “easy”) and felt no regrets. It’s poorly designed and ends the game on a low note.

There are also signs that Dante's Inferno was rushed to release ahead of its fiercest competitor, God of War III. There are glitches throughout Dante's Inferno, ranging from minor (e.g. mid-combat QTE events missing the QTE buttons) to absolutely frustrating  (e.g. Dante can fall through the floor or the screen will simply disappear entirely before loading the game over screen). These issues cropped up about three or four times during my nearly ten hours spent in Hell on our retail Xbox 360 copy.

Dante's Inferno

Reading Isn’t Fundamental

In hindsight, Electronic Arts made a mistake by turning people's attention to Dante's literary roots. Inspiration, a common thread throughout much of Dante's Inferno, is what took place here, not adaptation. EA should have emphasized what makes a game interwoven with elements from The Divine Comedy a potentially bad-ass video game: you get to fight through Hell and tackle Lucifer himself. That's exactly what Dante's Inferno leverages successfully. It takes the best playable elements from The Divine Comedy and transplants them into a playable video game. Case closed.

Though Dante's Inferno doesn't change the landscape of the action game, I won't fault it for doing something so many other games have obviously failed at. Visceral Games identified gameplay we love, successfully transplanted it somewhere new and added a few welcomed wrinkles to the formula. Admittedly, it also borrows one of the worst elements of God of War in its use of the anticlimactic final boss battle. It also feels like EA rushed it to stores at the expense of some extra bug squashing. As someone who's very much a fan of the God of War series, I wasn't sure what to expect from Dante's Inferno, but the game helps prove a pet theory of mine: sometimes, same is good…if it’s done well.

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Instead of shelling out the big bucks, why not give Dante's Inferno a try by renting it from Gamefly?