PAX ’09 – Dante’s Inferno
Some of us are still puzzled to this day over EA’s choice to make a game based on The Divine Comedy. Sure, it’s an extremely well known source material, and sure the nine circles of hell could be easily adapted as nine unique game stages, but there’s still something odd about the entire ordeal. The Inferno could have been interpreted in many ways, but for better or worse, EA and Visceral Games decided to follow the God of War formula to the T.
During my time with Dante’s Inferno I was able to play two separate portions of the game, one of which being the E3 demonstration fellow staff member Matt Wadleigh watched at this year’s E3. The demo kicks off on the back of Charon as he whisks the dead away to the underworld. Apparently the dead weren’t happy enough to enjoy the ride so they start to attack. This turns out to be no problem at all because Dante must have studied combat under a certain well known Spartan. I was able to chain together a series of quite flashy light and heavy attacks with his trusty scythe, dispensing the enemies in no time at all.
After plowing through a few hordes of the minor dead and a few quick-time event medium enemy kills, a larger minotaur-like creature shows up. Endless attacks don’t work nearly as well, so blocking and dodging had to be thrown in to the mix to get the creature off balance and primed for my counter-attacks. After he was worn down sufficiently, I initiated a brief QTE that lead to Dante mounting the beast. I piloted him to the front of Charon, where he proceeded to rip the transports’ head clean off and throw in into oblivion. At this point with no driver, Charon begins to crumble, dropping my steed and I onto an equally unstable pair of pillars that begin falling apart. We climb and struggle between the two pillars as large sections of rock dislodge beneath us. Just about at the top, the game throws another QTE our way and I jump to safety shortly before my new friend plummets to his assumed demise. Fortunately for him, we weren’t separated for terribly long as I died trying to escape the next bit of crumbling terrain.
The other piece of Dante’s Inferno I got to try out was a large boss battle against a stationary monster with a pair of tentacles subbing for legs. He taunted me and proceeded to use his various attack patterns which consisted of tentacles protruded from the ground, large arm swipes and fist pounds. Tentacles were simply avoided by running, swipes were easily double jumped over and fist pounds dodged. He also had a separate fist pound that triggered an on screen prompt which allowed me to grapple one of the tentacles while the fist landed, leaving it open for the ever popular QTE. I grabbed his hand and leapt into the air delivering a series of heavy attacks leaving the creature stunned and exposing his soft belly for easy chained damage. After a while he returned to his normal patterns and the cycle continued with some simple enemies attempting to distract me, eventually working.
Having played those two sections of the demo, Dante’s Inferno has left me very conflicted. On the one hand the graphics are generally quite good, the creature designs look great and the gameplay seems solid, but the entire experience reeks of God of War. Dante’s attacks look the same, his double jump is a carbon copy of Kratos’, he dodges with the right stick, he kills enemies in identically brutal fashions with unnecessary QTEs and the list goes on. Even against the tentacle boss, the camera angles and dramatic slow-mo are ripped directly from God of War. I can understand using God of War as a template since it’s arguably one of the best third-person action games available, but Dante’s Inferno desperately needs to chart its own path. Last year EA released Dead Space, which had obvious influences from Resident Evil 4 but it was never content to be the same game. Dante unfortunately feels more than happy to remain in the safe zone and leave the innovation to braver men.
At this point Dante’s Inferno seems nothing more than a medieval God of War that takes place in hell. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad game, but the first quarter of 2010 is already filled to the brim with high profile action games including Bayonetta, Darksiders and a certain series whose name escapes me.