We’ve had two hack and slash games already this year and it’s only the beginning of February and another has arrived. Surely it’s getting crowded in here, or perhaps gamers can’t seem to get enough of slicing up enemies into neat little chunks amidst the splattering of the good ol’ red stuff. Maybe it never gets old and appeals to our dark desire to see those crumble before our might, or maybe we just like the sight of severed limbs and heads in our video games? Well, it’s EA’s turn to provide the visceral thrills in Dante’s Inferno, a game based on the Italian ‘Divine Comedy’ (La Divina Commedia). However, is this game any good, what with two very cool games still fresh in our minds from January this year, does Dante’s Inferno stand out all heavenly, or should it sink back to the depths of hell it’s based on?
There’s really little to the gameplay to expand upon, because basically you travel through the 9 circles of hell in the most linear of fashions hitting the X and Y buttons for attack moves, and the odd A button to jump. You’ll face some repetitive foes, like flaming skeletons, or vile vixens with telescopic tentacles before encountering a larger than life boss character per level, who needs a good seeing to. In this regard Dante is the man as he enters hell to absolve his beloved Beatrice, who he betrayed by sleeping with a peasant girl. Ohh errr. Sounds like an episode of Eastenders (popular UK soap opera) and is every bit as gripping.
Dante can collect points to level up his character so to speak, which enables more attack moves. By grabbing hold of foes and either punishing them (unholy) or absolving them (holy) allows to spend points in two skill trees. It’s not very original but serves as a way for gamers to change Dante’s moves depending on how they want to play. There’s really very little in it, and to be frank, you could go either way and not notice much difference. The developers should have made the choices a lot more profound and game changing, to make the player think more about the choices they have made. Oh well, simplicity is the nature of the game, and in many regards it works.
The boss encounters are somewhat epic, but nowhere near clever enough. You’ll exploit weakness and then simply finish them off with some good ol’ quick time events. Again, not very original, but cinematic all the same. Sadly a number of boss encounters are simple toe to toe moments where you’ll hack and slash away until a health bar is depleted. Not very imaginative and somewhat boring compared to the bosses that offer more visual splendour, such as the three headed Cerberus battle early on in the game.
The game designers decided to throw a number of spanners in the works, because the game is rather easy, and so to break up the combat some bright spark decided to frustrate the action gamer and include some head scratching puzzles. In the right context, there’s nothing wrong with puzzles in action games, but sometimes it just doesn’t sit right, and here they feel contrived, included for the sake of adding some longevity to what is essentially a short game. Some puzzles are pretty easy to overcome, but others might leave you wondering what you’re doing for 10 minutes or more, which is really poor game design.
The other spanner that is thrown into the wheels of gameplay are those directed at the actual flow of the game, and far too often the game puts you into a situation where you have no chance to react; meaning you’re going to die and have to try again. It’s pure trial and error gaming, and feels utterly vindictive.
The depiction of Hell is good and although we all have preconceived ideas about what it would be like down below, the artists have done a good job in making hell the hellish place of nightmares. There’s a lot of background detail to marvel at, such as hands reaching out from blood pools as you pass, or the writhing bodies of the damned embedded into climbable surfaces. It’s atmospheric and does the job of putting you there. The combat is fluid and runs smoothly, but as already mentioned there is some repetition with the enemies, A few more hellish demons could have been imagined here rather than having to face the same killer bat like creatures throughout the game. Hell isn’t the most colourful place, as you can imagine, so expect to see the same colours used throughout, dark with a splattering of more dark just to drive the point across.
The audio is very good, and is probably the best part of the game. You’ve got some great voice performances from all involved and some clever use of audio as you traverse the hellish lands – such as the screams of the damned in the climbable walls. The music is chilling and epic in nature, and helps drive Dante onwards as he reaches deeper into the pits of depravity. This is certainly a game to annoy the neighbours if you’ve got a decent sound system, it really needs to be cranked up to 11 for full effect.
Now the sad part in the tale, as the game is quite short and can easily be beaten in 5 hours, a little longer if you’re going to go for collectibles, and maybe less if you play on the easiest difficulty. The sad thing is, once beaten there’s not really much incentive to play through the game again unless you’re an achievement hunter. The lure of downloadable co-op mode is strange because really the game needed it as part of the original package. This is not really a game worth hanging on to (especially for said extras), and for most, one play through will be enough.
Dante’s Inferno is a decent action hack and slasher, that is ultimately let down by a lack of vision with its gameplay. It’s really a ‘no-brainer’ apart from the few head scratching puzzles. Whilst the presentation is somewhat slick and refined (some clever use of animated cut scenes help drive the story along) the gameplay suffers at the hands of some poor design choices. Unforgiving trial and error gameplay irritates and frustrates, repetitive enemies blinker the art direction, and linear levels create a boxed in game that offers little room for manoeuvre. That said, if you can overlook these quibbles and go for the jugular, then you should get some enjoyment from the game, because frankly it’s not that bad. However, if only its length was as impressive as the penis length of the final boss the game might have been more memorable and worth hanging on to. As it stands, the game can only really be recommended as a rental.