Dante's Inferno review
If it's not God of War, it's no good


God of War clone” was the phrase that summarised the backlash Dante's Inferno received for its style of play – a very standard hack 'n slash affair – but carried with it a lot of negative connotations. I too, on the utmost surface, would agree with this conclusion: as much as there's been hack 'n slash titles before it, and will be more past it, of all there is it's quite clear Dante's Inferno takes a lot of influence from Krato's pilgrimages. However, I wouldn't at all say it's a bad thing. Dante's Inferno indeed borrows, but it brings along with it too a very detailed and stylistic setting and context; an engaging and emotional drive; some unique twists on the combat; and a morality system that influences how you progress through the game.

The plot for the story is loosely based (read: extremely loosely) on Inferno, the first canticle of the epic poem Divine Comedy, though not much remains beside character and setting. Our protagonist, unsurprisingly, is the titular Dante, instead imagined as a Templar Knight who is the culprit of numerous, unthinkable sins on his crusade in the belief that all would be absolved. His tirade ends short, however, when he is stabbed attempting to quell a group of prisoners. Deciding, like the badass he is, that he doesn't feel like dying yet, he looks Death square, tells him so, destroys him and steals his scythe – which makes for your main weapon in the game. Returning home, tired and worn, Dante finds his wife, Beatrice, and father murdered. Beatrice's soul appears before him, but little can be said before Lucifer reclaims her. Dante hurries to a nearby chapel, blessing a cross that was once a wedding present from Beatrice, and after asking for protection, descends through the chapel into Hell. This makes for the introductory and training segments of the game, and what follows is Dante's continuous descent through the Nine Circles of Hell, all the while guided by the poet Virgil. In each circle, Dante is forced to relive and make amends for the tragedies and sins of his life, from committing adultery, to the nameless slaughter of hundreds which his brother-in-law would take the blame for. Through regular taunts he persists, despite his love growing closer and closer to Lucifer's call, disgusted of her husbands choices.

What gives this game a great emotional connection and drive in comparison to the God of War series is its tale of love and self-sacrifice. While Kratos' journeys are more overly-dramatic, cinematic-clashes of titans and continuous sources of adrenaline, this game focuses quite strongly on depth and motive. Each circle of Hell represents one relevant segment of Dante's life and of the sins he has commit, and it is a gradual and expanding learning experience of which both we and Dante learn the consequences of his actions; indirectly causing the death of Beatrice himself and likewise finding out suspicious details of his mother's death. Dante starts arrogant, brash, and certainly not very righteous; however, he is uncompromising in his determination to rescue Beatrice from Lucifer and to save her from eternal damnation.

Alongside your standard fast and heavy scythe attacks, as (a little disappointingly) you don't unlock further weapons, Dante utilises a Holy Cross attack to battle his foes, the same blessed cross from earlier in the game. It works as a ranged weapon to counter what his melee can't reach, though this mainly can be attributed to simply one group of flying enemies which are fairly weak, though incredibly annoying, regardless. The player can slip this attack into combos as a self-defence mechanism; while also a ranged attack, it can be used to push approaching enemies backwards and when upgraded, protect Dante from almost all angles. The main drawback to this attack is it's strictly based in the Holy tree of levelling up; players that choose instead to play purely Unholy will never be able to evolve the attack from a single, weak cross, and this matters quite considerably when the game throws an abundance of enemies at you in later stages, including ranged ones. Likewise, those playing in a Holy style are equally hindered by a lack of increasing combos and scythe strength. While this doesn't play out to be as much of a necessity as the cross, some battles and boss fights in particular when the magic of your cross is disabled turn into an elongated nuisance rather than a real challenge as the heavy attack default combo is simply inadequate. This forces the player, for the best experience, to play both sides of the field, which is compromising: there is no neutral path and choosing to Absolve or Punish becomes a case of which is more useful at the time.

It is with this entire system that the game falls back somewhat. To earn experience on either side of the spectrum, you are not required to make context altering decisions. Instead, of each creature of hell you face, you are given the option to either Absolve – where you seemingly blind the monsters to good with the light of your cross, or Punish them, where you obviously dismember and mutilate their bodies. These take place in an invincible cutscene after grabbing an enemy with what might as well be infinite range, and can be executed (and will immediately kill) at any point on everything but the later creatures of the game, those of which are beaten down into a grabbable (and immediately killable) state relatively quickly. The real villain in all this is the compulsory QTEs that more often require that you simply mash your Cross button continually. The only other real example of this specific experience gain, besides the boss battles, is the discovery of famous sinners also of Inferno fame. Here is the only real time this morality system has any real involvement or dignity, requiring you to listen to their sins and judge appropriately their fate. Even these occurrences seem short-sighted gimmicks, as choosing to Absolve the sinner will enter an incredibly tedious Guitar Hero-esque minigame that is necessary for maximum experience; and in curious opposites, picking to instead Punish actually involves...nothing. It all has a nice foundation with great themes, but ultimately amounts to nothing of real significance.

Separating the standard hacking, slashing, and general quick-time button mashing, Dante's Inferno too dedicates a lot of its time to slowing the pace with puzzles, platforming sections and a fair amount of collectibles. The puzzles typically offer multiple paths to take, with a more experimental route rewarding with a selection of the collectibles or experience. None are overly rage-causing but they can require enough thinking. The collectibles are for the most part useful; while some only give experience the relics in particular are a great help, giving select abilities or enhancements. My personal favourite was actually the ability to skip the Absolve QTE events: an attachment that lets you avoid playing the game, prioritised. Dante often too finds himself swinging on rods of what only appears to be Lucifer's excrement, and while the physics in terms of momentum and jumping are adequate for the most part (though iffy in general), in some examples the leniency so was tight it'd be a better case of brick-walling me than any boss, including the last. Fortunately it's a rare occurrence, and otherwise the travelling is succinct enough as not to drag or annoy.

It's obvious the games regains its confidence with violence, and the enemies you gradually encounter represent the games strongest point: its aesthetic. The graphics are average at best, but it's stylistically unique and fantastically grotesque. You're assaulted by unborn babies; overwhelmed by adulterous mothers; and it all drew a constant smile to my face, however wrong that may be. One major issue the game gains flak for though is its stray from the source material and overt sexualisation of women involved, especially of Beatrice who appears nude oft and unashamed. There's no real defence in this regard, and simply you've got to be willing to overlook it to enjoy the game. Dante's Inferno in all truths is nothing great, but nor is it bad; for the completionist there's a fair amount to do with at least two playthroughs required for maxed out abilities and challenge mode too, but the second playthrough certainly dragged for me and the challenges were easily exploited, though I never tried the hardest difficulty. The DLC is passable and this definitely isn't a game you need in your collection, but if you get the chance it's definitely worth at least a run through the campaign.

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