Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: Q1 2010
Inexplicable and sudden licensed titles are a longstanding video game tradition. There were "Addam's Family" and "Thunderbirds" games on the NES, EA's "Godfather" games recreate a 30-year-old classic crime drama as sandbox action, and you could probably mention half of Acclaim's back catalog here. Anything that's ever been enjoyed has probably got somebody wanting to make a game about it.
This is pretty strange, though. The Dead Space development team has been working hard on their next project: an action game based on the first volume of Dante Aligheri's Divine Comedy, one of the most influential poems in the history of Western literature. The Inferno follows Dante himself, guided by the shade of the Greek poet Virgil, as he explores the nine circles of Hell. Along the way, he encounters the lost and the damned, which Dante took as an opportunity for vicious satire of both religion and then-current politics, with an entire high floor of Hell inhabited by great men and women who had the misfortune to be born and to have died before the birth of Christ.
As a video game, Dante's Inferno is … not that.
The Dante of EA's Dante's Inferno is a warrior, wielding a double-ended polearm made of bone as he travels throughout the realms of Hell. There's no such thing as over the top in Dante's Inferno, and if it doesn't involve buckets of blood, it's not worth doing. The bosses are enormous and the environment is epic, with Dante scaling walls, racing across collapsing bridges, and tearing enemies in half. Dante also makes use of a context-sensitive grappling hook, which enables him to cling to designated points in space.
One fight that EA made sure to show off recently in San Francisco involved taking control of an enemy minotaur, used as a sort of living tank by Hell's forces, and making it stomp all over lesser demons. On his own, Dante is fast and powerful, delivering rapid combos on the ground and in the air, with weakened enemies left vulnerable to a quick-time-triggered finishing move.
The demo included a battle royal against one of the earliest bosses: King Minas, the gatekeeper of Hell. Minas took up most of the screen, attacking Dante with both tentacles from the floor and a host of skeleton warriors. Dante could cling to the walls using his grappling hook, waiting for the chance to dash in and slash at Minas when he was vulnerable.
I've been dancing around this for a few paragraphs now. Dante's Inferno is the same kind of game as God of War, down to wrenching monsters apart via Quick Time Events, platforming elements, scaling walls, and bloodily murdering creatures of legend. It is an attempt to beat Sony at its own game and to one-up the God of War franchise, and to pretend otherwise is to deny the blatantly obvious.
Of course, that's not an inherently bad thing. God of War can be improved upon, and even in pre-alpha, Dante's Inferno controls well and runs very smoothly. It's just troubling that, from what I've seen, it's almost a point-for-point imitation that also happens to be ostensibly based upon one of the great works of Western literature. There's still plenty of time for it to distinguish itself before Dante's Inferno comes out early next year, but for right now, it's a truly weird, oddly derivative game.
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