"So here’s what happened. Someone at EA noticed that the God of War games are incredibly successful, both commercially and critically. They noticed that those games are rife with excessive gore and nudity, that they unfold in busy set pieces accompanied by shrieking choirs and wailing strings on the soundtrack, and that they’re chock full of very angry men making very loud exclamations. Let’s do that, they said. People seem to like that. "
So here’s what happened. Someone at EA noticed that the God of War games are incredibly successful, both commercially and critically. They noticed that those games are rife with excessive gore and nudity, that they unfold in busy set pieces accompanied by shrieking choirs and wailing strings on the soundtrack, and that they’re chock full of very angry men making very loud exclamations. Let’s do that, they said. People seem to like that.
They needed a historical context, of course. Sony had them there: Greek mythology is rather conveniently a franchise with no trademarks, full of familiar stories and characters that can easily be exploited without having to pay royalty charges. EA then surmised that Renaissance-era Italian literature isn’t copyrighted, either, and thus settled on Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, which – what do you know – contains numerous allusions to Greek mythology! I’ve never understood that, since the poem itself is grounded in Christian beliefs, but here we are.
Dante’s Inferno, the game that resulted (and is based on the “cool” part of the classic poem), is a game in which its title character – who, I’ll remind you, actually existed and was a poet – storms through the gates of hell, confronts Charon and offers his life and his soul for his loved one’s return, to which Charon responds, “Fool! Those belong to us already!” I guess you play a game like Dante’s Inferno for lines like that. The game is loaded with such chest-thumping bravado; it is calculated, rather transparently, to make you feel masculine. At the very beginning of the game, Dante is supposedly murdered, but makes it out alive because he manages to slay the Grim Reaper with his own scythe. That’s how much of a badass this guy is: The first thing he does is kill Death. I didn’t know writers had the potential to do that; I've just received a tremendous boost in self-esteem.
What’s that, you say? The Grim Reaper is unfitting for a modern adaptation of 14th century literature, because the image of Death as a hooded figure with a scythe wasn’t invented until the 15th century? Shut up, you! I hope you honestly weren’t coming into this expecting developer Visceral to, heaven forbid, honor the original text. As an English major myself, I’m almost compelled to point out the thousand or so ways in which the Dante’s Inferno video game bastardizes its source material, but I know just as well as you that the sorts of people this kind of product attracts probably aren’t going to care.
Let’s harp on something else, instead. When you fight Lucifer at the end of the game, his junk is out. Why is his junk out? Because someone at Visceral thought it would be mature and edgy for Satan’s junk to be out, clearly. I’m forced to surmise that some artist at Visceral was made to spend a good chunk of his time rendering and animating this penis to perfection, and he is to be commended for a job well done, as it is easily the most convincing feature of the character model. Satan is represented here as a tall, hairy beast with hooves and antlers, but Visceral’s penis physics man made absolutely sure that these aren’t the first attributes to catch your eye.
The game tries too hard, is what I'm saying. But I am straying from the point. Dante’s Inferno is as shameless a rip-off of God of War as you’re ever likely to see. The controls are identical, even going so far as to employ the right analog stick for dodges, thus leaving players at the mercy of an automated camera system that often provides a decent view of the action but occasionally would rather show off a few overachieving set pieces instead. Cinematic finishers are engaged via quick-time events, and Dante’s scythe even bewilderingly wiggles, wobbles and extends as if he’s swinging around a blade on the end of a chain. The game makes no attempts to hide the source of its inspiration. It is, as I said, shameless.
A God of War clone isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because even a blatant rip-off still has the potential to copy what that game did well. Dante’s Inferno, however, has very little in the way of actual depth, and most of your combos are delivered in the form of mindless button mashing. You launch into a frenzy of quick attacks by slamming on the square button repeatedly, and then, when you realize that your weak attacks are getting you nowhere, you try hammering your opponents with the triangle button instead. Then your combos keep getting interrupted because Dante’s power attack is entirely too slow, so you switch back to weak attacks, and so on and so forth.
There is a skill tree – two of them, in fact, unlocked by either punishing or absolving enemies and damned souls – but while I hate it when action games force me to "purchase depth," Dante’s Inferno can’t even manage that, offering situational attacks that you’ll forget you have and magical spells that you’ll occasionally spam until your meter is empty then neglect to use for the proceeding hour. Dante does have this one move where holding the square button causes him to do a quick hop back and then lunge forward with a strike of his own. It’s so intuitive it hurts, and Dante’s Inferno needed more innovation like that. Visceral instead seemed to believe that hacking and slashing are the only prerequisites to being a successful hack-and-slash action romp.
The lack of initiative where creativity is concerned carries over to the design itself, which is needlessly padded out ad nauseum. Enemies have ludicrous amounts of health, and Visceral often pulls the old trick where they lock you in a room and won’t let you out until you clear waves upon waves of identical respawning baddies. This isn’t good level design; this is just a sequence of mock-Endurance modes. By the game’s finale in Fraud, Visceral has given up offering legitimate level progression, opting instead for a set of bland challenge rooms with objectives like “stay in the air for eight seconds” or “get a 100-hit combo in 30 seconds.” Bayonetta and the Devil May Cry games had similar challenges, but they were optional and evenly spaced throughout the entireties of those games. Here, they feel like a last-ditch effort to extend a game that still feels too short.
Dante’s Inferno can be credited with an abundance of atmosphere, as this is probably the one area of the game that does justice to Alighieri’s poem. Dante’s vision of hell saw its victims punished ironically for their sins, and that’s captured perfectly here. The Lust level will make you about as averse to female body parts as you’ll ever recall being (exemplified by a boss battle against Cleopatra, who has tongues coming out of her nipples), and the blubbery, greasy, disgusting Gluttony chapter is a quick way to lose an appetite, especially when you’re matched with a plethora of fat, naked men who – I swear – vomit feces. The poem itself functioned primarily as a tour through hell, and to that end, the video game is a success. An unpleasant success, but a success nonetheless.
I do want to briefly discuss Visceral’s take on the actual story, though, and why their depiction of Dante’s journey is such an insult. According to Visceral, Dante was a soldier in the Crusades (no he wasn’t, but okay) who did some nasty things in the war, broke a truce with his lover, and arrives home to find her dead and topless. When the game begins, Beatrice, who’s now completely naked for some reason, is abducted by Lucifer. Dante is angry and wants her back, ignoring the fact that this is all his fault. Dante is portrayed as a dishonest bastard, which wouldn’t be awful if he were a fictitious character but is appalling when you realize that EA is soiling the reputation of an actual person, a visionary poet who didn’t actually do any of this. Thank Christ he’s not around to see himself portrayed this way. He’s also not around to see himself naked; I am not so fortunate.
You know the worst thing about it, though? I was at a bookstore the other day and I saw a copy of Dante’s Inferno – the poem – with the game’s box art on the cover, saying something to the effect of, “Now an epic video game by EA.” I mean, really? It’s bad enough that they blatantly copied and pasted everything from God of War except for the depth, the relevance and the fun, but on top of that, they forever desecrated a classic piece of literature in the process. Shame on them. Satan’s penis.
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