Dante’s Inferno: The Video Game: The Demo: The Review

I've decided to display images from various illuminated texts, rather than screens from the actual game. Gustave Dore, Canto 31

Last night, my bro informed me that the Dante’s Inferno demo was available on the PSN, and while I’m not a big fan of game demos, I decided to grab it.

I guess Visceral Games loved the PS3 enough that they released the demo to us weeks ahead of the 360. Additionally they announced the other day that the Sony version would be essentially the definitive version, with tons of Special Edition like extras (artbook,soundtrack, even a digital copy of the epic poem) all in the normal ed of the game – no need to preorder or to shell out extra dough for it. The 360 version lacks these frills completely, bummer.

So with that much Sony love, I thought I should at least give the demo a go. After watching two movies (The Prince of Tides and The Four Feathers) I was good to go on EA/Visceral Games action epic.

Broadly speaking, I’ll say that I enjoyed the demo, having played it twice now, but I do have some concerns…

First of all, lets get this out of the way, the game is nearly straight out plagiarizing God of War. I don’t know if they had access to the source code or anything, but everything from the control set up, to the opening of treasure chests (fonts in this game) and the red and green orbs is GOW.

I’ll try and leave it at that , as far as GOW comparisons to go ( and fail miserably, as you’ll soon see) – this is going to be discussed endlessly when the game comes out, and then brought back up again once GOWIII arrives. Instead lets talk about Dante’s Inferno.

Bottecelli - Map of Hell

Back at Sheridan, I was supposed to read the original poem, I didn’t. At least not thoroughly – so I can’t talk about how exact a representation this game is. My gut reaction is that it isn’t.

What I can talk about is the stylistic choices Visceral has made, many of them feel shallow, or at the very least, ill considered. Already, I find myself breaking my promise and thinking about that other game, where on the graphically limited PS2, legibility was a primary concern. Bad guys in DI are hard to discern amongst the murky browness of the stages, but as a rule of thumb, I simply starting attacking at the nearest thing that moved. Still, even the grand Boss of the demo, Death incarnate, seems to be an amorphous black shade, and not intentionally so.

I have a hard time trying describe the look of the titular character – he’s bare chested, yet his arms are heavily protected. He wields in one hand, Death’s scythe, and the other, a holy cross (that shoots out glowing crosses, like a divine care bear stare). On his head he has what seems to be a iron crown of thorns, and facially, he reminds me of my  barber.

Oh, and about that chest, he has some kind of magical tapestry stitched onto it, the art constantly shifting around – it’s bloody and makes squishy noises when he pokes at it, and I don’t really know why he should be this way.

Sometimes, the game goes into a 2D animated cinematic, which to me, evoked those McFarlane/Korn music videos from the years ago. I was later told that they were supposed to resemble stained glass windows, which I think missed it’s mark by a wide margin. Other times, the game uses CG cinemas, and other times, it uses in game graphics, and regardless of the style, you’ll frequently see bare breasts. All of this seems kind of inconsistent and poorly paced…but bear in mind we’re dealing with a demo here, so we’ll let that slide.

It’s as if Rob Leifeld, Todd McFarlane and an army of Metal album cover artists collaborated on this game, which is to say that it’s kind of cool in a hollow sort of way. Then again, that other game isn’t all that different – but DI has a weird image (Image?) within an image effect, as if a game was made through the lens of GOW and then filtered and distorted.

So basically, the game looks kind of stupid, but somehow I’m ok with this. You get a glimpse of further stages at the end of the demo (each one patterned after the “levels” of hell, and modeled after the deadly sins), and while it all looks kind of samey – I could see myself getting used to DI’s skulls and guts and blood aesthetic.

Gustave Dore - The Flaming Spirits of the Evil Counsellors

At the end of the day I want to just beat the shit out of hell’s minions, and on this, DI delivers.

The demo doles out a new set of abilities every few minutes, which interrupts the game-flow, but when you do get down to the berserker action, it is incredibly satisfying. Halfway through I found myself wailing on hordes of bad guys, sometimes grabbing and tossing them, other times jacking them up into the air, mixing in a magical ice dash attack or using my care-bear-crucifix-stare. The breadth of your moveset, even in this brief demo, is varied enough, and the controls solid enough, that you can creatively mix and match attacks and feel confident enough that you’ll connect with them. That’s a key ingredient in these types of games, and with the promise of tons more moves in the full game, I’m sure that at least in terms of combat, DI is a very solid effort.

Lastly I’ll mention that DI calls upon another gaming fixation that seems to have cropped up in many games in recent years, the morality system. You can choose to either “punish” or “absolve”, your foes, punishing them powers up Death’s Scythe, and saving them powers up your Care Bear powers. My main concern here, is that like inFAMOUS, it impacts your powers, but not necessarily the world or the story in any meaningful way.

If DI is an echo of GOW, I would hope that it copies one thing above all else, crucially, which is “that moment”. And I can’t really describe it more than that, but GOW I (and II in some ways) had “that moment” which elevated the game beyond a frivolous action romp, and actually gave you a moment of pause. “That moment”, which we often attribute to more artsy games, like Ico, or SOTC, or even something like Flower, and in some ways is expected for those games, was  a nice surprise in GOW. The dev’s at Visceral, if they’ve truly done their homework, would do well to keep that in mind, but I fear that emulating this aspect of GOW might be harder than the other more salient aspects.

Willian Blake - The Whirlwind of Lovers Canto V "The Carnal"

Willian Blake - The Whirlwind of Lovers Canto V "The Carnal"

Dante’s Inferno: The Game: The Demo feels like a guilty pleasure, perhaps that might be enough for some, and maybe even appropriate given it’s sin-filled content. When the full game comes out, we’ll know if the game aspires to be more – shouldn’t the Divine Comedy deserve that?

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One response to “Dante’s Inferno: The Video Game: The Demo: The Review

  1. You know, the only reason I have to play this game is the fact that those paintings are so utterly cool, that romping through such a world killing things, or just exploring it’s levels, is intriguing in and of itself. Too bad the game misses that potential totally.

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