Dante’s Inferno places you in the shoes of Dante, reimagined as a warrior from the Crusades instead of the author of the Divine Comedy (why they didn’t just rename the character…?) on which the game is loosely based. He commits several sins in his while he is out fighting with the others, chief among them the act of adultery. This mistake causes his wife Beatrice to be killed, and her soul to be condemned to Hell. I guess this is due to a promise he made her, but it’s never really made clear. Dante won’t let this stand and ventures into Hell himself to recover her innocent soul.
Now, if you’ve read the Inferno, this may not match up with your remembrance of the story. Of course, the developer had to take some creative liberties with the concept in order to make a game out of it (since all games need violence, right?). The poem was all about the journey, Dante learning the true nature of human sin through the various circles of Hell. The game is more about the combat. Many of the characters are from the poem at least, just portrayed differently. For example, Beatrice does play a part in the poem, but her nature is changed entirely, giving Dante someone to rescue and a constant goal throughout the game.
This story plays out pretty simply, with very few moments of actual plot development between the very beginning and the very end. Occasionally you will run into Beatrice or Lucifer for a minute or two of exposition, usually ending with Dante shouting Beatrice’s name as she is taken away from him yet again. The plot shifts gears near the conclusion, but the “twist” doesn’t make much sense and just serves as a way to get the player to the final boss fight. The ending also kinda bothered me, for reasons I can’t really get into without venturing into spoiler territory. Let me just say that it doesn’t really feel earned by the game’s events. I can nearly guarantee that you won’t give two shits about the story – and I don’t think this should bother you. The story isn’t what makes Dante’s Inferno an interesting experience.
Let’s talk about the combat, easily the most important part of a character action game. I’m not going to try and tell you that Dante’s Inferno does anything particularly revolutionary or groundbreaking. It’s your typical God of War-clone, something you’ve probably played a dozen times or more by now. To the game’s credit, it at least manages to make the combat feel tight and responsive. You have your typical light and heavy melee attacks, which can be combined into various combos of varying effectiveness. Not long into the game, you are also given a ranged attack that shoots glowing crosses at your enemies. Various spells are granted to you over the course of the game, most of these pretty standard for the genre as well. I know that I’m making this sound awfully boring, but I actually had a good time with the combat in Dante’s Inferno. Something about it was engaging and enjoyable enough to keep me playing pretty consistently until the end.
The most unique mechanic of Dante’s Inferno is probably the “judgement” system. Some enemies can be grabbed near death and given judgement by the player. You can choose to either punish them, damning them to Hell for eternity (even though they are already there?), or absolve them in the eyes of the Lord (what give Dante this right? I don’t know). These executions give points in one of the two talent trees: punishing gives Unholy experience and absolving gives Holy experience. Higher levels in one of the trees unlocks new abilities to be bought with souls, given by killing enemies. Each tree focuses on a specific aspect of combat. Holy trends towards the Cross attack and the more protective magic spells, while the Unholy tree focuses on the scythe attacks and offensive spells. It’s the most binary form I’ve ever seen a “moral system” take in a game, though it doesn’t really affect anything in the story. The new abilities aren’t very creative, but they are effective at making you feel more powerful and badass.
Unfortunately, the combat has a few problems, related to the enemies themselves. Some of the creature design is clever (unbaptized babies with blade arms in particular), but the variety is where the main issue lies. Several of the later game enemies are just reskinned, tougher versions of the enemies from the beginning of the game. New enemies do pop up every so often, but they aren’t really that different to fight from any of the earlier enemies. The lack of variety probably stems from the somewhat short length of the game (about 6-8 hours). This isn’t an uncommon trend in this genre, but I think that Dante’s Inferno is one of the worst offenders of this I’ve seen. The encounters never get particularly interesting; they just throw more and more fodder at you to hack and slash to pieces.
Even more annoying are the boss fights. I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, but I really hate boss fights in video games nowadays. Dante’s Inferno doesn’t have the most terrible boss fights I’ve encountered, but they are pretty damn bad. Simplistic patterns that make no sense in the reality of the game world? Check. New abilities popping up as the stages progress? Check. Quick time events that cause the boss to heal if failed? Check. Thankfully, there aren’t that many of these fights, and they are mostly pretty short. Still, I would have preferred them to simply be gone instead. I understand why the developer felt the need to include them, but they simply aren’t fun.
Now, let’s talk about my favorite part of Dante’s Inferno. Surprisingly, it comes from the art design. The Inferno is a story that I’ve always thought was particularly interesting, how each circle of Hell is tailored to the different sins of those inhabiting it. I think that the developer did a pretty nice job capturing this in their environments. Gluttony, for example, is fleshy and slimy, filled with stomach acid and worms that try to eat you. In the seventh circle (Violence), there is a forest of those who committed suicide. They are transformed into gnarled trees and bushes. Some of these trees drop fruits that cause either you or your enemies to kill themselves if not moved out of quickly enough. They are some pretty clever ideas. In general, there is a bit of blandness here and there, but I really enjoyed reaching a new circle to see just what the developer had come up with. It’s a really creative setting and I think they do it justice.
I also feel I should mention the CG scenes, even though this game now came out about two years ago. They are surprisingly sharp, coming close to resembling real people here and there. Unfortunately, these scenes are much too infrequent (as to be expected for such quality of detail), especially when compared to the not-so-great in-engine cutscenes that often take their place.
Musically, the game is pretty stock. If you can imagine something not quite as interesting as God of War’s soundtrack, you probably have a good idea of what to expect. The voice acting isn’t terrible, really, but there isn’t enough of it to even care.
I can’t really explain why I enjoyed Dante’s Inferno as much as I did. I know that it is just a poor man’s God of War, but I had a legitimately good time playing through it. The combat worked well enough for what I wanted, giving me a fun, slightly challenging experience. The story may have been nonsensical and pointless, but it just served to get me deeper into Hell so I could see the fantastical designs. Did it really need to exist? Probably not. There are much better versions of this style of game out there. I still think credit is due to the developer for taking such a strange idea and turning it into a perfectly acceptable, yet not particularly enthralling, character action game.