Gaming review: To hell and back in Dante's Inferno
Dante's Inferno is the video game adaptation of Dante Alighieri's literary epic the Divine Comedy. You play as Dante, who must venture through the nine circles of hell, facing minions, demons and tormented souls on the way, to rescue his wife Beatrice, who is being held captive by Lucifer. It plays out as a combat-heavy hack-n-slash action game with small amounts of platforming and puzzle-solving thrown in for gameplay variety.
On the surface, there's not much technically wrong with Dante's Inferno, but the things you earlier overlooked as slight niggles, slowly gnaw at you the longer you play, which eventually sucks the enjoyment out of it. While the first few hours of the game are fun and engaging, the game fails to keep the experience fresh much longer than that. For most of the game, you'll be fighting the same enemies again and again in small arena battles. And that would have been fine if the combat worked flawlessly, which it doesn't. It's competent for most part, but does get exposed against certain enemies. More than that, combat becomes a chore because the game chooses to challenge you by throwing more and more enemies at you rather than varying the enemy types.
There is a morality system in the game, and you have the option to either punish or absolve enemies after defeating them. This either increases your holy or unholy status, and there are a set of combos and powers to be unlocked on both holy and unholy sides. Dante's primary weapon is a scythe with which you can perform light, heavy and grab attacks, and you can later unlock focussed and special attacks. You also unlock four unique limited-use attacks in the form of magic at various points in the game. These are powered by purple orbs of Mana which you collect by opening chests and killing enemies. On the whole the combat, while sufficiently deep, does not feel satisfactory enough thanks to a slight lack of responsiveness and some unbalanced enemy AI.
Cutscenes and cameras
The story is told through a mix of in-engine, 2D and CG cutscenes. While the latter are gorgeous and an absolute treat to watch, the in-engine cutscenes don't leave much of an impression. It's through the 2D cutscenes that a lot of Dante's past is revealed and his character built up. But while the animation itself is brilliant, the 2D nature creates a disconnect between the story and the game, so you're not really able to relate those incidents to the character you're playing, and the impact of some of the rather important revelations is lost because of the fact that it's done in 2D.
Like God of War, this game takes a fixed camera approach, which means you have no control over how the camera moves. At times, poor implementation of camera animations can get you killed, like when the camera changes angle in the middle of a big double-jump, causing you to change direction and plummet to an untimely demise, or when the camera zooms way back to accommodate a large enemy, only to often have Dante hidden behind it, forcing you play blind.
Controls and graphics
There are puzzles too, but they're the kind that require trial and error, more than logical thinking. They mostly deal with pulling levers and moving platforms, and none of them pose any sort of challenge. Since you're mostly travelling downwards into the lower levels of hell, there is lots of rappelling, sliding and rope-swinging to be done, but these mechanics don't work as well as expected either, and here again, the controls and changing camera angles can often lead to cheap deaths.
Dante's Inferno doesn't look as good as the best in the genre, but it definitely has its moments. Hell doesn't really give you a lot to work with in terms of environments, but the developers have done a fine job in making each circle of hell look and feel different. A lot of this is also down to the sound effects, particularly the constant screams and moans of all the souls trapped in hell, which can get a little unnerving after a while. What the game lacks in sharp graphics, it certainly makes up in its art style and a well-created atmosphere.
'Not enough to keep you hooked'
What I haven't mentioned in this review is how similar Dante's Inferno is to God of War in terms of design and gameplay. That's because, while that may irk some, none of the real issues with Dante's Inferno have anything to do with its similarities to God of War, but more to do with the fact that it just doesn't do enough to keep you hooked.
After a promising start, the quality plateaus a couple of hours in and stays there till the end. It starts to feel like a grind, which is further compounded by its various gameplay and level design issues. Dante's Inferno is a well-designed game that simply ran out of ideas.
(+) Great art style and atmosphere
(+) Simple, but well implemented morality system
(-) Combat lacks fluidity
(-) Camera issues
(-) Boring puzzles
(-) 2D cutscenes hold the story back
My rating: 6/10
Developer: Visceral Games
Age rating: 18
Platforms: PS3 (Rs 2,499), Xbox 360 (Rs 2,499)