by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PS3
Dante's Inferno is a game that has had to suffer a lot of criticism throughout its development. From EA's scandalous staged protest at E3 2009 to INA's boycott of the game, there seems no end to the controversy surrounding the game. This does not stop developer Visceral Games from moving onward however. Their game, a video game adaptation of a medieval poem called The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, is making good progress. The poem is regarded as one of the greatest pieces of literature this world has ever seen and the pressure is really on Visceral Games to be as true to the story as they possibly can. But how does one make an interactive experience from a non-interactive medium without tweaking a few things and changing a few others? High time to take a look at the game and see what is so terribly shocking about it.
The opening cinematic shows you Dante sitting by a camp fire in the middle of a dark forest. He is sewing a linen cross into his chest and screaming in pain as he does so. The scene then switches to showing you some of the atrocities committed on innocent civilians of the holy land by the armies that occupied it during the times of the crusades.
The player assumes control of Dante as he fights his way through the city of Acre. The controls are fairly standard, square for a light attack, triangle for a heavy attack, X for jump and L2 to block. The ragged clothed citizens you fight are too many and too fast for heavy attacks to be of any use to you so mashing the square button repeatedly seems to be the best strategy. The camera is fixed so the right analogue button is used to swiftly dodge in any direction and the left one is used to control Dante's movements. Once finished disbanding this group of knife wielding civilians you try to get out of the city only be stabbed in the back by an assassin (a little anti-climatic but it drives the story forward). Death shows up - punctual as always - and tells you that your fate is sealed. You are going to hell for the sins you have committed. With a stunned expression on his face Dante replies: "But that's not possible. The Bishop assured us." Death explains that Dante's going to hell and all the souls he has damned are going with him. Dante's not having any of that and decides to fight Death.
The in-game graphics are pretty much what we have come to expect from games these days and won't leave you drooling in awe over the spectacle taking place on your TV screen. The art design however is something that amazed me and the gritty dark atmosphere created later in the game is first apparent in the fight with Death. The cutscenes however are where the artists at Visceral Games excelled and the level of detail put into some of the videos is simply astounding.
The fight with Death serves to teach you how to use the dodge and block features to your advantage. If you don't use them, you will surely die. The Dodge feature is especially handy and will help you a lot when you are surrounded by minions on all sides and just can't seem to get them of your back. Just quickly dodge out of the crowd and bring the fight to them. All of Deaths attacks can be blocked and Dante has very little trouble beating him, using good timing and swift combos as well as the standard QTE finisher. After Death begs you for mercy and you split his head in twain, it is time to find out what Death meant when he said that "soon you shall be joined by the ones whose lives you have ruined, whose souls you have damned".
Up until that point Dante had been fighting with his standard crusaders halberd. Big as though it may have seemed, it was nothing compared to the huge scythe you now have earned yourself by defeating Death. Dante looks ever so much more bad-ass as a result. The scythe also gives you the power to collect souls. The souls can then be used to upgrade your holy and unholy powers, depending on what style of gameplay you want. The unholy upgrade ladder focuses on Dante's newly acquired scythe and allows you to purchase more damaging attacks and more complex combos for the measly price of a few of your collected souls. Beatrice's cross, which you will acquire later in the game, acts as your ranged weapon. The upgrades range from "Impaler" (which allows you to stab your enemy immediately after doing a heavy attack resulting in a good amount of damage) to "Martyrdom" (which lets Dante sacrifice Health and Mana to do massive damage to all surrounding enemies). This serves to make the combat more and more complex as you play through the game and Visceral Games have told the press that it is unlikely that a player will be able to fully upgrade both the Unholy and the Holy powers in a single play through. Luckily for us they have also announced that the upgrades you have earned in your first play through will be inherited to the next.