Based on the first canticle of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, ‘The Divine Comedy’; Dante’s Inferno follows a Templar Knight (Dante) returning from the Crusades to find his beloved Beatrice murdered in their own home. Her soul is then captured by Satan and stolen down to the Underworld where it will remain for eternity, unless you as Dante can save her.
Despite Dante’s faith, his many crimes committed during war haunt him at every step; from lust to treachery, he has to fight for the soul of Beatrice as well as his own. As you navigate the twists and turns of the nine circles of Hell you face many demons and gatekeepers who would bar your way to your love, but with the help of Death’s condemning scythe and Beatrice’s redeeming Cross, you have the choice to punish them or absolve them.
Dante’s Inferno is a third person action-adventure game with many puzzle solving elements and an almost RPG style of levelling. The style of this game is beautifully macabre with wonderfully executed concepts that Clive Barker would be proud of; each of the realms of the Inferno containing its own unique creations based on the sins contained within it. From the blade-handed un-baptised children of Limbo to the obese behemoths of Gluttony, each creature offers a different combat style to contend with and a suitably horrific character. The only criticism of these enemies is that the originality seems to weaken the further you progress in the game with creatures from each realm mixing together only to overwhelm you with sheer number rather than evolving into more difficult, unique enemies.
Much praise can be made for the boss creatures who each guard their own little corners of Hell and combine action prowess, button bashing and puzzle solving into an often frustrating but ultimately fulfilling boss battle. The game is also oftentimes reminiscent of platformers with its emphasis of swinging rope puzzles, timing, moving platforms and even an M C Escher style puzzle which will have your head spinning. Overall, this game is very well rounded with a health mix of mental challenges as well as timing and action.
You gather experience to spend on weapons, health and mana upgrades by absolving or punishing creatures and collecting souls. There are also special souls to collect from characters from Biblical and Poetical mythology, each of whom have their own stories and sins which you can choose to forgive or punish them for. If you wish to absolve these special souls, however, you must play-through a mundane mini-game each time which requires you to catch the souls within Beatrice’s cross. Whilst you do tend to receive more souls for putting up with this annoying task, it hardly seems worth it unless you specifically prefer to level up your ranged weapon. For achievement farmers, however, a second play-through is essential as it is impossible to gather all the experience needed for many achievements otherwise. However, this is in no way a chore as there is so much to this rich world that you may miss it the first time around.
Before encountering Satan within the final circle Hell you are subject to a gauntlet of enemies and specific fight-based challenges in the Malebolge. This encounter is reminiscent of the Palantir of Sauron in Playstation 2’s Return of the King or the Fable Arena and allows a perfect time to farm souls before your final encounters. It is also a welcome break from the mental challenges of the game thus far. However, it may be considered a stylistic cop-out as each level is very similar and offers no real challenge by this point in the game when you have already leveled up so much and faced each of these enemies before.
The game play gears more towards the button basher than the combo encyclopedia, with most moves only being as complex as a two button combination in quick succession. However, such simple gameplay allows you to concentrate on the style, story and literary references which for a gory, action game, are extremely complex and well developed.
There has been much criticism of the game for its treatment of the original text; specifically in the form of Beatrice, who scholars would argue is the opposite of a damsel in distress and in fact acts as an agent of the Divine and saves Dante’s soul. However, as you delve deeper and deeper into the depths of EA’s Inferno you soon realize that by trying to save Beatrice you are in fact redeeming Dante’s own soul. As a ‘damsel in distress’ she is actually leading Dante through one of the hardest, most disturbing self realizations of his life and causing him to look at his own sin and atone by sacrificing himself for the preservation of purity and goodness. So, such scholars should be urged to finish the game before condemning it for it’s message.
The treatment of Virgil as a narrator and each of the special souls having their story told essentially educates the gamer to the original story of the Inferno whilst immersing them in the characters backstories and mythology. Such a game should be praised for making a deeply complex and beautiful text accessible to the average gamer.
A highly enjoyable game which, while placing a classic on steroids, still manages to give it the respect it deserves. Dante’s Inferno is the American McGee’s Alice of Epic Poetry.
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