The End is Nigh...
February 25, 2010 - Dante's Inferno is a third-person action adventure title produced by the videogame industry's top grossing company, Electronic Arts. It is their 1st successful entry into the genre, accompanied by full fledged marketing campaigns, Super Bowl ads, pre-order extras, free downloadable content and so forth. The demo of the game is quite gripping, and it captures the actual start of the game as well. After beating the demo several times I decided I would put forth the effort to purchase this brand new game when it came out. I'm not the type of gamer who buys new games when they are released, in fact, last release date purchase I made was for the PS2's God of War II, back in March 2007. So I had reasonable expectations for this game being good based on the publisher, the low-key hype and obviously the demo itself. This game is clearly Electronic Arts 'answer' to the top third-person action adventure games of recent memory; God of War, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, Assassin's Creed & Prince of Persia.
Loosely based on the Divine Comedy, the story of the game is simple, you journey into hell to rescue the love of your life who was taken there as a token for the sins you committed. Her innocence and your guilt about it drives the main character, Dante, to hurl himself through all 9 levels of hell to battle Lucifer and free his betrothed, Beatrice, from his malicious grip. The game starts at some point after the crusades, you are in an island battling heretics and suffer a mortal wound that summons Death to come and claim your soul. You somehow survive the attack and engage in a battle with the Grim Reaper himself to save yourself. After his defeat you claim his Death Scythe as your main weapon. Upon returning home, Dante discovers his father dead and his wife murdered. Lucifer then appears and takes her soul away and the story begins.
PRESENTATION: High quality all through out. Rich production value is an appropriate phrase when describing this game because it is not cheap at all. The variety of presentations used in telling the story, live action, feature film style CGI, animated cutscenes, in-game graphics mixes it up frequently and the narration is excellent. Although some sections are gory and even grotesque, nudity a plenty and blood galores, they turn rather comical after seeing them over again and I am actually surprised they were able to get away with that here in the States whereas nudity and such is more of a staple for Japanese-based games.
GRAPHICS: Stellar looking game. Crisp atmospheres in dark environments work well for this title and their vision of hell is peculiar to say the least. The framerate is fantastic with no visible slowdowns even when battling hordes of enemies at a time. The cinematic feel of the game gears you up for battling the minions of hell and their representations in the different circles makes some of the enemies unique.
SOUND: Excellent. The sound effects are crisp, the voice acting is very good, and the environmental sounds are clean and none seem to cancel each other out. The music itself does not vary much through the whole game, or at least does not feel that way, so in some instances it will inspire you to keep forward and others let you know that it is time to relax.
GAMEPLAY: Very Good. Upon playing the demo I was rather concerned about playing a game that had both an evade maneuver one the right analog and a block button on the left side, but that turned out to be a minor nuisance after a couple of minutes through the actual game. Dante's main weapons are Death's Scythe for melee attacks and a Cross for long range attacks. Each represents the Holy & Unholy parameters the game focuses on with you deciding the outcome whether you want to 'Punish' or 'Absolve' the enemies you kill. Through the game you discover Relics that enhance your Holy or Unholy powers as well as magic items to add to your arsenal. The right combination of these as well as the correct use of souls you gather after dismantling foes to upgrade his abilities expands the gameplay further. Button reaction time is quick enough, although not Ninja Gaiden fast, but very good nonetheless.
LEVEL DESIGN: From the start of the game the level design is very good. Each level of hell represented a sin of some sort, Lust, Greed, etc, and was accompanied by a theme, vertical level, lots of platforming, etc. The secrets are well placed and the camera is only an issue in the Fraud circle of hell, which is the next to last level. In some instances you feel like the level is sub divided into sections, whereas you fight enemies in some areas and just explore in others. Wandering around is limited and the game makes sure you don't stray too far before coming across minions that want to end your journey early.
Considering the variety and execution of the level design for most of the game, it is a shame to state that the last two levels, Fraud & Treachery, is what causes a major setback for the game. The flow of the game is interrupted completely when you descend into Fraud, the level is completely monochromatic in feel, structure and environment. This level is the exact equivalent of Boss Rush Mode in any Castlevania game that allows it. You basically pummel through hordes of minions in different ways to get past 10, yes ten, identical versions of the same battle arena. I emphasize the #10 not only because the 10th version is the longest and most difficult part of the entire game but also because the number does not quantify with the circles of hell at all (9) and makes me wonder that here is where the wheels came off and the train fell off the tracks creatively...which gets you to the 'level' of Treachery. The final circle of hell, the last level of the game, is not a level at all. There's a couple of jumps, a platform, a decaying bridge of ice and then you fall into the pit to meet Lucifer.
That's it. I can only attribute this cataclysmic fall of the last two levels on a deadline crunch, Super Bowl Sunday, the urge to put it up against/before the release of God of War III and not close to the future release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow later this year. I guess as a new franchise they had to see certain goals met, but the product suffers greatly in the 'finishing touch' category.
BEASTIARY: Average. The different kinds of enemies to kill are not extensive, and does not offer much variety when venturing further down the abyss of hell. Some demons are uniquely themed per the circle of hell they originated from, yet you see them again over and over in other areas where you'd expect other types of minions to come and try to kill you. Right after beating the game I cannot remember more than 9 enemies in the entire game and that is not a good number. The Bosses though, fare better. It has become a trend recently to have larger than life bosses at the end of levels, and this game delivers a couple interesting ones. It mixes them up well in the sense that some are gigantic in size, others are more puzzled based to defeat, and there's even one that the environment is more of a threat to your death than the boss is. The setback of the bestiary is the same as the level design, Fraud & Treachery. After getting past the hardest part of the game, there is no Boss to block your path from getting into the last circle of hell, guarding the door to Lucifer's realm. The end Boss, the fallen angel from heaven, has basically 2 incarnations. In his 1st form he is a gargantuan demon hoping to smash you apart with his fists. After beating that version he gives birth to himself in a smaller version to which you fight some more in the same Arco arena as his super sized version. Once you beat him the story unfolds and the credits roll. The end. There is nothing epic about the last boss at all. First time seeing that the LAST boss in a game is actually a lot SMALLER than the FIRST one. In the Divine Comedy, Lucifer is encrusted halfway in a pool of ice, holding Brutus, Cassius and Judas in each of his three mouths. Judas, the biggest traitor of the three, suffers the worst fate. Coming in I expected EA to try and make a franchise of this game ( 1-3 games ) so I doubted you fought Lucifer at the end but the more logical choice of the ultimate betrayer of Christ ( Judas ). This is where I think that following the poem's queue down to the T would have been ideal.
DIFFICULTY: Easy. For players who have played ( and beaten ) any one of these games - Ninja Gaiden Black, Devil May Cry 3, God of War II - this game will be a breeze to play through. I suggest putting on the 'Hellish' difficulty setting on before you start so you can feel a real challenge and a sense of accomplishment. LASTING APPEAL: With plenty to explore and the urges to attain all items and upgrades I can say the game validates one more play through. Although it does not reward you for beating it on harder difficulty levels, there is a Gates of Hell extra where you go through waves of enemies once you beat the game, some downloadable content on the way that contains a level creator that you can share online ala Little Big Planet, a prequel level to the game and so forth. It's possible to attain all the Trophies without too much effort as well so these should be fun enough to warrant a buy from wary players. It was a good play through, future extras make me give it a couple points higher, and the product is a good iteration of a formula used before with some finishing setbacks. I rate it an 8.0/10