Member Dante’s Inferno?

Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.

Hell has a reputation for being a terrible place to live as well as visit. Despite the tales of it being full of infernal demons and eternal torture, not too many games take place in the realm of eternal damnation. Maybe the dev team doesn’t want to go on a scouting mission to research what it’s really like. This is a shame since the few games that have ventured into the sulfuric underworld have given us some interesting depictions, so even if it’s not where you want to plan the next family vacation it does make for a good video game setting.

Dante’s Inferno is one such game that decided eternal damnation could make for a fun digital playground. To state the painfully obvious, it’s named after the canticle Inferno from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. This is not the first time classic literature has been source material for a video game, nor is it the first time copious amounts of creative liberties have been taken with the source material in the name of creating a better game experience. The same can be said about the events of Greek mythology and their depiction in the original God of War games before Kratos decided to retire from being a Spartan warrior to explore a career as a Viking. Creative liberties with the source material are not the only things Dante’s Inferno has in common with God of War.

In Dante’s Inferno players take control of a Templar knight named Dante. Armed with Death’s scythe, Dante must battle through the nine Circles of Hell to rescue Beatrice from Lucifer. As a warrior in the crusades who is now fighting the devil’s forces in hell it’s not surprising that his secondary weapon is a holy cross that offers a force of projectile attack. Dante is not alone in his journey, the spirit of the poet Virgil acts as a spirit guide as to help Dante navigate through the different layers of Hell. Virgil appears at different points in the game, briefing Dante about the area and what threats he might encounter next. He is informative but his personality is a bit stiff, even for a dead guy.

The gameplay of Dante’s Inferno is blatantly influenced by God of War, and while that is the easiest thing to criticize this game about it also what made it so fun. Dante has no issues with eviscerating his enemies in style with his scythe. The environments of hell are massive in scale to the puny fallen Templar. The environments of the nine circles of hell are not just large but filled with nightmarish creatures and massive abominations for boss monsters. Perilous pitfalls await to end Dante’s life at every turn. To put this in a contemporary context, going through all this trouble to rescue Beatrice from Lucifer. But traveling through places where the building codes ignore the laws of gravity to rescue a damsel is distress isn’t anything new to video games. But unlike Super Mario Bros. we sort of expect some supernatural flexibility when it comes to the laws of physics what with this being Hell and all.

The boss fights in Dante’s Inferno are quite the spectacle and can still inspire terror a decade after its release. The battles that preside over each layer of Hell are historical and mythic figures, though their time in hell has transformed them into things that barely resemble their human forms. Cleopatra for example has become enormous and can fight with wind and electrical storms. If that isn’t bad enough, she spits Marc Anthony out from her mouth to engage Dante in melee combat while she continues to use her powers to try to crush him. What exactly happened to King Minos is a bit of a mystery but he looks terrifying and makes for a good boss battle. The end boss is of course Lucifer and fighting the devil himself has to be a climatic fight. The battle with the goat legged one does deliver for a fitting end to game, complete with a long-winded speech from Lucifer and even some offer about ruling the kingdoms together. Of course, if Dante had behaved himself perhaps he wouldn’t be in a predicament where he has to rescue Beatrice from Lucifer.

Dante collects souls from the enemies he slays in Hell. Souls are used as currency to purchase spells, and a good way to rack up souls is through the punish or absolve minigame. When this is activated, Dante has a choice where he can inflict brutal punishment by dismembering the figure (this predates the 8th Amendment so this is legit) or absolve the soul through some fancy work with his holy cross. Like the choice between punishment or absolution, Dante’s spells and associated skill trees are divided into Holy and Unholy categories. Dante can distribute the souls between the two sides of holiness how he sees fit but progression in either side requires powering up the lower level skills first. It’s unlikely both Holy and Unholy skills will be maxed out on the first playthrough, but it can be achieved by continuing with new game plus.

In keeping with the literary theme each level is a circle of hell, which are Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery. The environmental designs depict hell as this underground society that almost looks like it would be an interesting place to explore were it not for all the demons and torture. Some places look mountainous, others like castles and others look like they are inside of a living organism. Of course all these depictions involve twisting whatever the environment is into something nightmarish. The result is a memorable trip through Hell. It’s able to follow many level design staples while putting together a unique interpretation of hell.

Dante’s Inferno may not be remembered as one of the greatest games of the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 era but it is a good game that may even flirt with greatness in some spots. The comparisons to God of War, made by anyone else who’s ever written about it, are well deserved since it is taking classic literature and taking abundant creative liberties while following the God of War format. But while the similarities are strong, there are enough differences where Dante’s Inferno is more of an homage than a rip off. It’s one of the more enjoyable trips to Hell and a worthwhile title for anyone who is a fan of the genre.

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