Dante’s Inferno, for those living under a rock or at the bottom of the sea, is a video game adaptation of the classic literature, Divine Comedy, from Dante Alighieri. Written in the early 14th century, Divine Comedy is a poem that documents Dante’s trip through the three areas of the afterlife and Dante’s Inferno looks to focus on the first of those three areas which takes place in Hell itself. Seeing as the original poem never really told a story per se, Visceral (formerly EA Redwood Shores, AKA Dead Space developer) had to exercise a little artistic license here by departing from the poem to add another layer on top; its story. As John Knight Executive Producer on the title put it, Dante’s Inferno is “more pissed off than the version of the poem.”
The story follows Dante on his relentless pursuit of his lifelong love, Beatrice, through the nine circles of Hell; limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud and treachery (two of which we saw at the show; limbo and anger). Each circle is a totally unique setting with new environments, characters and enemies, and as you get further into Hell, the darker it becomes. Visceral have promised that where possible, they will stay true to the roots of the poem by recreating the words of Alighieri as accurately as they can possibly do. So much so, Visceral even brought in Wayne Barlowe, who worked on the character design in the Hellboy films, to design the in-game characters and he seems a suitable addition to the team considering his Inferno paintings on a similar subject matter.
Dante’s Inferno is a traditional hack 'n' slash title of similar ilk to Devil May Cry and God of War. The main protagonist, Dante, is equipped with the traditional short range and long range weapons, in this case, Death’s very own scythe and a holy cross that acts as his range weapon. The game’s combat at times seemed more at par with Ninja Gaiden than anything else though as Dante used his scythe just like Ryu Hayabusa did in Ninja Gaiden 2.
Dante himself was a soldier who fought in the crusade wars and on his trip through Hell must face the demons and sins of his own past. The game is based heavily on its combat and action, with Dante himself becoming more of an action hero than he was in the original poem. The combat seemed intuitive enough allowing Dante to link a series of combos together easily enough, with the action being pretty fast paced and in your face. The overall pacing seemed to be a positive aspect of the title as the game moved from combat, to creature taming quite freely, with each aspect never outstaying its welcome. Knight noted that the title does that throughout and also throws in some puzzle and adventure aspects to keep the gameplay fresh.
The presentation kicked off with Dante on his approach to the first circle of Hell, limbo. Dante’s only way into limbo is to board the back of a giant boat, and when I say boat, I of course mean the half boat, half man called Charon, whose job is to ferry the damned across the river into limbo. Whilst crossing the river on Charon’s back, Dante was left to deal with a few of the more standard smaller demons, before, via the obvious quick time event, being able to tame the large creature that appears. The large creature stands at about 10 times the size of Dante, and is just the first of many tameable creatures that will appear in the title. Jumping ahead to the end of limbo, Dante comes up against the first boss fight, taking on King Minos, King of the Dead, who is a giant man with the tail of a snake. The battle was bit QTE heavy for our liking, but it did end in a pretty gory and formidable way ... but we won’t spoil that for you.
Like in the poem, Dante is guided by Virgil who is the game’s recurring narrator and is essentially the voice of the poem. He’s not the only character you can expect to see from the poem, Dante actually encounters plenty of secondary characters throughout. For instance, Dante meets Filippo Argenti just before he boards the boat to cross the River Styx in the fifth circle of Hell; anger. Here Dante got the chance to punish or absolve Filippo and depending on your choice will have a long term impact on how your abilities develop. After seeing Filippo brutally punished, Dante then is fazed with the task of taming the raging boatman of the River Styx, Phlegyas, to get into the city of Dis and gain entrance to the nether Hell and the next four circles. After taking out the Gluttony Minions who are like mini Jabba the Huts with a toxic vomit, your job, via QTE (again), is to tame Phlegyas to enter Dis. After successfully doing this, the camera will pan out and you’ll be left seeing Dante as a mere dot on the screen as you navigate Phlegyas towards Dis.
Dante’s Inferno on first inspection doesn’t look to be adding anything new to the hack 'n' slash genre. In fact, it seems to lend a lot from those that have come before it and sticks to the same traditional mechanics that we’ve come accustomed to over the years. That necessarily isn’t the end of the world or even a bad thing, as long as they can deliver an immersive and entertaining story that does the original poem justice, the title might just be able to stand on its own two feet. The environments and artistic direction, all inspired by the words of the Divine Comedy were dark, atmospheric, moody and right on the money. The action was over-the-top, fast and frenetic and if Visceral can tie the two together with a worthy narrative, then Dante’s Inferno might just escape from being classified as another God of War or Devil May Cry clone. At the moment, it’s looking like their half brother though and they certainly aren’t shy about steering away from the original narrative to replace it with over-the-top and elaborate action. It seems like a kick in the teeth for the literature itself but in the poem’s current form, you couldn’t make a game out of it. The foundations are there for a decent hack 'n' slash game at the moment, but those looking for an educational experience based on one of the greatest literary pieces known to man, may as well just turn and run for the hills now.
Dante’s Inferno will see the light of day on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC some time in 2010.