Before sitting down to write this I wondered if it was possible to do so without mentioning God Of War – after a couple of drafts I decided it could be done, but it was pointless to do so. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, and if that’s true then Sony’s Santa Monica studio should be feeling very flattered indeed. However simply saying that this title is a carbon copy of Kratos’ adventures would be doing a huge disservice to what looks to be a hugely impressive and fun release from none other than Visceral Games, of Dead Space fame.
Making a game based on an Italian poem written in the 1300’s isn’t your everyday starting point for a game, especially these days when many studios and publishing houses want to play safe with established franchises or licensed tie-ins but Visceral have previously proved they’re up for the challenge of the ‘hard-sell’ by releasing brand new IP in the most crowded release period ever (Dead Space in the packed pre-Christmas 2008 period). For fans of facts; Commedia, later called La Davina Commedia or The Divine Comedy (the 14,000+ line poem which provides the subject matter) is one of the cornerstones of world literature which you could spend a life time studying and interpreting the meaning of. Written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and 1321 it tells the story of Dante’s journey through three realms; Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise) it is of course the first of these which is this title’s Raison d’être.
This demo of the game starts off in Acre during the crusades with Dante dispatching some easy minions, this serves little more than a tutorial level when you learn that □ is light and △ is heavy attack. Handily you’re also prompted that the right stick performs dodge moves and L2 blocks although it’s very doubtful you’ll need to use those this early on. It’s possible to combine attacks to perform combos, so by pressing □□, △△ or even □□□□ Dante will easily rip minions to shreds and severely dent the health metres of the later larger adversaries.
OK, so lets check back in with the elephant in the room – God Of War – yes Dante’s Inferno sits the same sub-genre of the third person action/adventure genre that has been dominated God Of War, but don’t be fooled into thinking GoW was the first of its kinds and wasn’t inspired by other games which were there before even it. Because GoW is such a fine example of the sub-genre what are Visceral to do? Obviously take inspiration from it, and look to make changes and improvements where they can, is that really any different from 99% of other videogames, no! The control scheme will feel immediately at home to GoW fans because it is practically identical which is great, for exactly the same reasons that Guerrilla Games Killzone2 included the same control scheme as that found in CoD4 – A scheme which is already seen as perfection shouldn’t be messed with as it will only alienate existing fans of the genre. The similarities don’t stop there however, as the game sees Dante hacking and slashing enemies limbs off, and tearing them in half in brutal finishing moves, in the same manner as we have become accustomed to with Kratos.
Yes, the games are similar, very similar but its not really any different to two rival FPS, racers or any other competing games that happen to be in the same genre. Who cares? Get over it! Surely all that matters is that its good/great, right?
The demo comprises of the entire opening section of the game including all the cinematics, after you’ve dispatched the sword fodder in Acre, you’re stabbed in the back by one of the villagers, this brings your first battle with a large foe, Death himself to be precise. Here you will need to master blocking (L2) and dodging (right stick) Taking the fight with Death to the err death sees you grabbing his scythe and after you’ve worn him down sufficiently and through the use of quick-time events cutting him clean in half. The combat and weaponry seem to have that perfect indescribable ‘feel’ about them, you can practically feel the weight of the swords and scythe and and cutting the enemies limb from limb is ultra-satisfying.
Once Death is dispatched with, the game switches to a cinematic showing Dante returning home to find Beatrice (his true love) murdered, and the devil himself snatching her and taking her down into hell. Then you’re off on the killing spree again as you fight your way to the gates of hell, but not before grabbing arming yourself with a Holy Cross. Hitting ‘circle’ results in a ranged attack which is great for keeping ground foes at bay, whilst it’s pretty much a necessity for winged creature or those out of your reach.
A key point of difference gameplay-wise between Dante’s Inferno and its similar rivals is that you are given the chance to perform ‘Punish or Absolve’ finishing moves, this mechanic not only adds variety but also helps reward you in different ways. The game features the two main weapons of Death’s scythe and the Holy Cross which each have their own upgrade path (which coincidently works similar to Dead Space’s) you get the chance to upgrade them by gathering souls (think red orbs) and you actually gain more souls if you perform stylish deaths using the Punish or Absolve mechanic, punishing comes in the form of you generally ripping them in half or something equally brutal, Absolving sees them disappear in a flash of white light as you use your Cross. Progressing further through the demo sees you coming across bigger bad guys which can only be finished with finishing moves in the form of QuickTime Events, after several playthroughs I’ve not seen the same button combination used whch again bodes well for variety in the full release. ‘Beast-jacking’ could well become one of 2010’s buzzwords, as Dante gets the chance to be dodge around clumsy, but unblockable strong attacks of giant beasts, whilst trying to weaken it with attacks of your own, again a QTE is used to enable you to gain control of it, and then you can use its awesome strength to dispatch of larger foes. then just as you’ve fought your way to the gates of hell, and using the giant beasts strength to open them the demo ends, leaving me wanting more.
It turns out Dante’s is quite a looker as well, outputting at 720p (none of your sub-HD nonsense here) and the framerate not only holds up incredibly well, but stays absolutely locked at the holy grail of 60fps, something not many (if any) blockbuster games have achieved. Looking for screen tearing? well you won’t find any here as its also V-synced, meaning the picture is always clear and has no artefacts displaying from the next or the last frame, good work all round and attention to detail by Visceral as this can’t be easy to do on multi-platform titles in these days of restricted budgets.
In Dante’s Inferno, Visceral Games have produced a game which obviously bares more than a passing similarity to the God Of War series – which of course it would be if it shares the same sub-genre but in actually playing it, and feeling its fantastically satisfying combat, great graphics, experiencing the beginnings of the dual path of Punish and Absolve, and the basic level of tactics needed in the weapons upgrade screen Visceral have done themselves proud. Seeing the potential of the full game, Dante’s Inferno deserves the right to be mentioned in the same sentence as the previosly mentioned classic, and for me will be a immediate launch day purchase when it’s released in early February, which even if your are a blinkered Kratos fanboy that’s almost two months before GoWIII’s release giving you plenty of time to enjoy both.