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Dante’s Inferno – The PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Monday, 22 March 2010One Comment

As source material goes, 14th century prose written in Italian that rambles on for hundreds of pages (14,000 lines in fact) is understandably not often found at the top of many game producers’ lists.

When said material has been instrumental in forging modern society’s perception of Hell, however, suddenly Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy shakes off the funk of a few hundred years and starts to look more and more like a candidate for a rip-roaring adventure.

Not that everyone was all too pleased when Visceral Games, the makers of Dead Space, announced their upcoming treatment of the legendary and beloved canticle. After all, when you see a guy dressed in a futuristic mining suit lopping off the limbs of space-creatures willy-nilly, it hardly inspires confidence that the captain at the helm of the good ship Divina Commedia is going to treat the source material with any degree of discretion or, heaven forbid, authenticity.

Plucking the core concepts from the ancient ode, Visceral have wisely focused on the poem’s locations, level-inspiring structure and colourful inhabitants rather than the admittedly pedestrian and action-light events of the actual text. You embody Dante, a soldier of the crusades who, after some less than knightly indiscretions during one of the period’s many wars, has returned home to find the woman he loves murdered and subsequently whisked into the bowels of perdition. Cue Dante following.

The power of Christ repels you ... literally.

What follows over the next dozen or so hours is a wanton tale of debauchery and relentless action. Dante, indicating some personal issues with fanaticism, has chosen to embroider a St. George’s cross right into his own flesh. This act of self-mutilation – while fitting with the overall themes of piousness and religious extremism – also allows us to envision the righteous knight as a man of intensity; someone who wouldn’t have any issues facing down Death himself and questioning his own fate if he so happens to think he’s getting a bum deal. Question (and face down) he does. This petulance actually follows Dante throughout the nine layers of Hell he must traverse in order to find and save his beloved Beatrice. In fact, as a protagonist, Dante is paradoxically a simple person with normal desires, while also being the paragon of what is essentially a wronged man in a despotic world; an antihero in the wrong place at the wrong time. But is he treated unjustly? Is he even a hero? Quite poignantly, Visceral have created a flawed main character; someone we at one moment may admire for his bravado and determinedness, yet at the next feel quite a disconnect toward; a man we might always want to win, but not one we may unremittingly like as he’s doing so.

Hence, and somewhat unfortunately, we never really relate to Dante on the same level as we do with a Snake or a Nathan Drake type character. Sure, he’s an everyman with human trials and challenges, but let’s not forget that he also murders people in the name of God and tackles denizens of the Underworld without batting an eyelid. It’s all so fantastical and relentless that the scale of what has befallen our tarnished hero is somewhat diminished by the lack of gravity shown to his situation. Yes, it’s a fantasy action title with outlandish imagery and confrontations, but at times a break from the unabated smiting may have made the times when Dante is engaged with numerous enemies a little more engaging. The puzzles, though fitting, rarely break up the furiousness of the fighting adequately.

Master Blaster was none too pleased having gone from one hell-hole to another.

Dante’s Inferno stands out in its design and execution. The further you descend into the pit each strata of Hell is depicted with an almost increasingly malevolent flair of debauchery from its cackling designers. What’s also prevalent in the game’s depictions of the iconic characters and environs (Death, Virgil, Charon, and the various locales within Hell’s layers itself) is Wayne Barlowe’s signature (and often graphic) interpretation of the subject matter. The stamp of the influential artist, who worked as a consultant on the game, can be seen almost around every charred and gory corner. It’s stomach-churning at times; vile and irreverent as much as inhumanly possible. Of course, you’re not sojourning in the Hamptons. This is Hell; it’s supposed to be replete with abhorrent creatures and depictions of suffering and punishment.

Where Dante’s Inferno falls down, and make no mistake about it, despite its abundance of charms, it does have its faults, is in the inevitable grind of repetitiveness on offer. Yes, it’s enjoyable laying waste to the netherworld’s inhabitants with an increasingly flamboyant and grotesquely unethical array of attacks, but as wave after wave of Underworld scum are dispensed with, and despite the gamut of upgrades, combos and finishing moves on offer, the fighting does get samey. Boss characters are bountiful and imaginative, but these interludes don’t save the game from what is essentially a non-stop button-bashing slog-a-thon.

Another issue, quite obvious to anyone who has been around gaming’s legend-inspired block a few times, is that Dante’s Inferno is quite patently a complete rehash of the God of War games. If it was a pastiche to the series we could probably be a smidgen more forgiving, but it’s its aping of the aforementioned god-slaying games as if what’s on offer here is novel and innovative which smacks somewhat of smugness. Ultimately, Dante’s Inferno, while competent, is epigonic, and like all inferior copies, though they usually have their own virtues and, in some but not this case, can even surpass their inspiration, you can’t help but feel that after yet another QTE take-down or boundary-blocking area, Dante’s Inferno has stepped over the line from being simply inspired by another game, and into the weird, uneasy world of mimicry.

A special place in Hell was reserved for all the chiropractors.

Focusing on its similarities with other titles, however, would also be a disservice to what is admittedly an enjoyable and well-wrought game. Like the friend who turns up with a new girl/boyfriend who just so happens to look exactly like their last one, you try to look past it. After all, everyone – and every game – deserves to be judged on their own merit. And it’s not that the game doesn’t impress both visually and aurally. It does, the fact that the frame-rate is locked at a consistent 60 frames-per-second in particular a feat that Visceral must be applauded for.

Allegorically, Alighieri’s poem represents a journey toward salvation and, to some degree, atonement. Likewise, Visceral’s digital manifestation is on a similar path. Instead of absolution of the soul, however, the game’s journey is an attempt to literally convince players that it has one of its own. Upon final judgment, the question is simply: is it absolved of its sins of plagiary and worthy of entrance to gaming nirvana? It’s close, but ultimately a spell in limbo must be decreed for some venial misdeeds before the game can finally ascend to its rightful place, at the foot of its Greek father, Kratos.