In the midst of a season of big hitters and triple-A titles comes Dante’s Inferno, and what a pleasant surprise it is too.
Dante is, at heart, a typical button-mashing, third-person action game. Pretty much all of what is on offer here has been done before. That said, it is the execution and presentation of this game that have elevated it to a more interesting position. Dante plays well – so very well – and that is what is important to me right now. How many times have you picked up a long-awaited title only to find that there is something not quite right with the controls or presentation? Not here. Dante is smooth and responsive, the controls become intuitive very quickly and even the quick-time events do not distract you from the action.
The game itself is set deep in the bowels of Hell. Dante the playable character is on a desperate quest to retrieve his love, Beatrice, from the clutches of the underworld. He’s not long been back in town from the Crusades, and he’s admitted to being a naughty boy while away, now finding himself haunted by his sins as his journey progresses. Cue lots of weird and wonderful creatures and the chance to smite them with an enormous scythe that you handily swipe from Death himself in an opening battle scene.
The game is graphically sharp, the environment is imaginatively realised and there is plenty of variety to soak up on the journey. But because of the channelled nature of the game you do have a set path to follow. This path is constantly descending into the depths through tunnels, bone ladders, ropes and impossible leaps of faith.
As mentioned earlier, the control system is almost perfect, apart from the odd occasion where the swinging camera picks an unusual angle for a dramatic leap and you find yourself plummeting to your end into a fiery pool a few times before correcting the leap. The less-experienced player will also easily find themselves relying on one or two attacks, even though it does quickly become easier to extend your repertoire and remember more effective combos.
There are heaps of collectables along the way and even the secret treasures are not particularly well hidden. Also, in a game with a fixed path, there is not much exploring required to find them. Dante has a plentiful supply of combo and special moves that are unlocked along the way as you progress. The upgrades are also split into an Evil vs. Holy path, which ensures that you follow a particular gameplay path and then stick with it. It’s all relative to how you despatch your enemies: do you absolve them or punish them? Each method builds your experience and progression through the levels will allow you to buy new combos with the experience gained.
The pacing is well delivered, and even though the levels are sprinkled with boss and mini boss fights, they are mostly enjoyable. The puzzles are pretty standard, albeit satisfying, and the action is bloody.
Visceral Games has taken a little-used classical subject matter and made it in to a fresh and exciting game. The quality of the visuals and gameplay makes it one of those titles that brings you back for more. Even for a combo novice there is pleasure in whacking away at a horde of demonic minions without any prior knowledge of the historical Dante and his Divine Comedy.
Outside of the game engine, the art style is impressive and in line with the game’s atmosphere. Cartoon-style cut scenes play out explanatory events from Dante’s life, and they never feel intrusive. Dante’s Inferno is a fun and playable game, and even though this genre is not my usual cup of tea, I have found myself wanting more.