His fiery blades slice through the tattered, rotting flesh of his savage adversary, just another body in the increasingly large pile. As the enemy’s blood begins to dry on the base of his neck, he ponders as to why he’s in this mess: the sins that he committed against his beloved, and how he must now brave the circles of Hell for a chance at redemption. As the next skyscraper-sized menace bursts through a nearby wall, he hesitates for a brief moment before scaling the back of the mighty beast, beginning a ride that the reanimated corpses surrounding him won’t soon forget.
The God of War series has always been known for epic moments like this, but believe it or not, you’re not reading a God of War 3 review. The above also describes Dante’s Inferno, a third-person hack and slasher that does its best to remind you of the gore-soaked splendor found within Sony’s epic Spartan saga. Unfortunately, while the flaming chain attacks, blood-spewing limbs, and inexplicably naked demons have been faithfully duplicated en masse, the spark of ingenuity that propelled Kratos’ epic adventures has sadly been left in ancient Greece.
The story of Dante’s Inferno is loosely based on The Divine Comedy, but the word ‘loose’ can only be stretched so far. You play as Dante, a crusader tasked to traverse the nine circles of Hell in search of his beloved Beatrice, a woman whose soul was stolen away following Dante’s war-time infidelities. The story hints at some rather deep themes, but tragically seems more concerned with showing us the main characters’ naughty bits than it does in questioning morality. Since the majority of Dante’s dialogue involves him yelling “BEATRICE!” like a farmer trying to track down a missing pig, the plot ends up feeling like an overstretched piece of duct tape attempting to hold together a broken glass vase.
Each circle of Hell is based on one of the deadly sins, from Lust’s phallic pillars, unclothed tentacle-shooting harpies, and homicidal unbaptized babies, to the grossly over-gorged assassins of the entrail-encrusted Gluttony. Some of the boss fights that take place within these circles are truly breathtaking, most notably a hulking Cerberus and a topless Lust demon with a penchant for expelling knife-wielding goblin children out of her nipples. While a handful of these unsettling locales are a joy to explore due to their gruesome garnish, most of the circles are much less engaging. Greed, for instance, is set in a generic cave adorned with golden statues and lava pits, while Anger’s dark, dingy swamp is maddeningly dull throughout. Expect to spend most of your time with Dante’s Inferno exploring a monotonous assortment of drab hallways, demon-filled arenas, and rocky cliffs with climbable intestine vines.
Combat in Dante’s Inferno is equally as bland. The sinful hero’s powerful chain-scythe, devastating magical attacks, bone-cracking combos, and hellishly holy cross-erangs never evolve. The action is frequently fast-paced, as Dante almost always faces multiple demon types in each battle. Unfortunately, enemy types are limited, and the game’s propensity to lock the player in contained combat arenas housing countless waves of foes leads to some rather mundane stretches of play. Cheap deaths and infrequent save points add to the frustration factor, as each enemy possesses an array of unblockable attacks that will force lengthy replays of certain key level segments.
In addition to bland combat, Dante’s Inferno also includes a half-hearted, morality-based upgrade system with a host of combos to unlock, allowing Dante to empower his attacks and defenses using the energy of fallen souls. While all of this is fun for a while, and—unsurprisingly—very similar to God of War, developer Visceral Games did a poor job of keeping things interesting as you descend further into the mouth of madness. While new combos and magic attacks do become available, Dante’s Scythe is irreplaceable, meaning that the player is forced to use the same primary weapon throughout the entire ten hour game.
The real problem here is an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Every stab, slash, throw, roll, and magic power bears a striking resemblance to something in Kratos’ wickedly violent arsenal, be it the enemy launching ground-pound, the quick-time-event finishing moves, or the ability to ride on the back of gargantuan beasties. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been as noticeable if the game didn’t overstay its welcome, but Dante’s Inferno loses its momentum by the half-way point, and concludes with one of the worst final hours of any game in recent memory.
All complaints aside, there is still some fun to be had in this descent into Hell. Visceral Games did a decent job at capturing what makes God of War’s core combat system so intensely satisfying, and a few of the circles pack some sinfully satisfying action sequences, epic boss fights, and creative visual design. It’s just a true shame that they chose not to build on what other, similar, games have done before, as doing so might have elevated Dante’s Inferno into more than just a pseudo-sequel to a four year old PS2 game.