As a companion to an article I wrote last month regarding the seven deadly sins of Dante’s Inferno I thought it was only fair to balance it out with the elements of the games that were its saving grace, so to speak. While some of my gripes may have come off as nitpicking in spots and mostly comprised of elements that did not describe a detriment to the gameplay itself, it all added to my experience of the game. This does include a lot of really excellent moments and components that I think allow the game to stand out a bit and keep it from being a completely negative experience.
After spending some more time with the game coming up with some positives about the game felt only fair, as there were times when even having people around watching they were intrigued and entertained. Parts of the game actually feel true to the poem as strange as that sounds, and there are some very human moments in the story that seem to be rather absent in most of the over-the-top action games. There are pieces of the game that are easy to like and things that other developers can take note of for the genre.
Dante’s Inferno does a good job of resolving itself from the sins of the beginning. The game may have started poorly for me, as it progressed I felt more immersed in the environments, more aligned with the backgrounds and motivations of the characters and had a much better understanding of the morals that the game was attempting to communicate. This is especially present in the character Dante, as hidden behind all the violence is a semblance of self-discovery and absolution for the sins of the past. It was a surprising amount of poignant story telling that I did not expect and actually lifting my experience to a point where I wanted to see more.
One of the other elements that surprised me about the game, given the overtly sexual content in places, was that there was no interact sex scene or game element to that particular act. There was an element of taste in how it was handled in some of the animated cutscenes, so that was a welcome amount of restraint.
The pacing with the game is refreshing through most of the levels. There is a steady progression of difficulty as the descent into Hell becomes more intense and obviously moves well with the increase in powers that you will receive throughout the game. That and the gradual difficulty increase of the types of enemies and the amount you encounter down the line never feels like you are being pressed for the sake of pumping up the difficulty and feels like it continually offers a challenge where you can identify specific improvements. This is also enhanced by a constant wide vision of the environments that allow you to see more of the enemies you encounter and a lock-on system for ranged attacks (at least on Zealot mode) that will help you identify where your attacks must be directed outside of your view.
While Dante’s Inferno contains its fair share of quick-time events, it doesn’t intentionally throw you off with mixing up buttons for times when you miss one or cause you massive damage for enemies you failed to finish off. The button combination often make sense, and with some of the characters a finishing move is satisfying all the way up to the end of the game, utilizing quick shifts of the analog stick to dispatch demons. It never feels quite overwhelmed by moments where you must press a specific combination of buttons or die, either, and they ensure that a letterbox visual cue will let you know that you will likely need to have your fingers ready.
For those that may have missed an opportunity to hit a power by a small amount of souls, the developers have seen fit to provide a sampler of their downloadable content for the game with a taste of 500 souls. This can be a godsend for some of the later parts of the game where you would like just a few more to clear out an area of enemies more effectively, or for taking down a boss that you know a specific skill set would easily dispatch. You likely won’t need to worry too much about this, however, as most of the good attacks come in the middle of the road for each of the Holy and Unholy streams, and the game ensures that by the end your first play through you will have acquired more than enough to max out at least one of the sides.
Once completed, you are also welcome to play through a second time to grab any missed items and fill up your magic on the opposite side of your first play. They also unlock a bonus mode called The Gates of Hell that allow you to run through room after room of enemies, the challenge continually increasing and your time constantly ticking down. It’s a great bonus mode that I was not expecting and had a lot of fun playing through to really test the strength and endurance of my attacks and acquired skills.
Throughout my experience with the game, even through my second time through, I felt that I was being encouraged to carefully practice the techniques that I had learned. There is a lot to be said about the fundamentals of the game, and while it is not laden with a combo system for you to memorize, it does ensure that the basics of blocking and knowing when to work a ranged attack versus a close attack is valuable. Even in rooms with enemies you can easily handle, it is not difficult to be overwhelmed by specific enemy types that have special attacks meant to stop you from simply throwing around a single move. This means that knowing when to block and the timing of special enemies is critical even when the situation may not be dire. Without a steady stream of fonts in some areas to restore health, it is important to keep that in mind.
This is coupled with a surprising emphasis on hints rather than automatically suggesting an easier mode for difficult sections. Only once during the game was I prompted to try it at a lessened difficulty, and I chose to ignore that suggestion and rely on the tips I was getting upon each restart to help me progress. While these tutorials could have often come sooner, it is a relief to learn some of the tactics when they matter most.
Despite having a limitation on the amount of enemies that are on screen at any time due to the diligence of keeping it at 60 frames per second, I was still made to feel challenged and surrounded through many parts of the game. There are even some large scale bosses that handle just as smoothly, even while battles are commencing in the foreground. The game takes its time with the escalation of the battles, as well, as most encounters are broken into stages of enemies depending on how many you’ve already destroyed.
The concept of redemption is pretty heavy throughout the game and it is certainly a welcome addition. With a game that is set in Hell, it seems that it manages to push through a theme of forgiveness by enabling you to absolve the sins of the set-piece characters through each circle. It is mostly symbolic, but each time feels like a breath of air when you are smothered by so much angst, blood and gore. It is also the struggle of the protagonist in the game that emphasizes that theme, even if you chose to go the unholy route of punishment over redemption.
While this may not seem like a benefit to those more prone to a steep difficulty curve or significant amount of mastery required in a hack-and-slash style game, Dante’s Inferno does an excellent job of establishing the Zealot (or Normal) setting as one that is palatable throughout. Many games in this genre have a tendency to promote a certain difficulty level which can throw off even some of the most seasoned veterans and then suggest the lower levels. There are parts in the game that may seem tempting to subvert by dropping down to easy, but Normal feels like a standard experience and the higher levels offer a significantly greater challenge that can be easily offset by a single playthrough to get more familiar with the controls and gather more powers.
The control scheme also favours the player, keeping it simple throughout and offering a wide variety of attacks through simple button presses as modifiers. Light attack, heavy attack and ranged attack are all utilized individually for various powers and enhancements, and it doesn’t feel like a significant amount of memorization is required to find the right combo. Most of the work is done for you in that each attack has its own set of abilities associated to it and you can build upon whichever suits you most.
The character of Dante in the game initially feels a bit hollow and makes for a terrible first impression. While the demeanor of the character does not falter throughout most of the experience, he does demonstrate hubris and even elements of selflessness in his interactions with some of the folks he encounters in Hell. Devotion to Beatrice and disdain for the sins of others eventually lead to moments of clarity in which the character owns up to faults and actually seems a bit more human as a result. It’s at these times which the game feels like it is an adaptation of the poem rather than a game simply utilizing the name and setting.
I know English majors would like lose their lunch throughout the course of the game and maybe by the end of this sentence, but there are a lot of elements that feel very true to the poem by Dante Alighieri. The depictions of the various circles of Hell can actually be rather disturbing, and not in the traditional gross-out sense but rather the environments themselves, which often feel like a good visual realization of the descriptions in the various Cantos. There is even an accompanying Virgil, who spouts lines from the poem to describe the encounters throughout the circles and are a great enhancement to set the tone of what is to come each time. My favourite moments in the game were often just entering one of the circles and getting an eerie feeling knowing what was to come based on having read the poem. There is a lot of Inferno in this game, and they make sure that you know it quite regularly.
Dante’s Inferno was developed by Visceral Games and published by Electronic Arts. It is available for the Xbox 360 and the PS3 (version played). Game completed in roughly 8 hours with the Holy path maxed out.