Thanks to the brilliance of the X-Box One’s backwards compatibility service I’ve been able to experience some wonderful games that I missed on original release due to bowing out of the console gaming arena for a few years.
If you are not aware, Inferno tells the story of Dante’s journey through the Nine Circles of Hell. On his way he witnesses all kinds of demons, devils and torments. Absolutely perfect themes for an action/horror video game!
Originally released in 2010, Dante’s Inferno was developed by Visceral Games, the studio who had two years earlier released another horror classic, Dead Space. Dante is much more action oriented than Dead Space with the horror of the game coming from the ghastly surroundings and terrifying enemies Dante encounters rather than atmosphere and suspense.
Indeed, Visceral have created a wonderfully realized version of Hell with suffering and woe everywhere you look. Sinners are impaled on spikes, trapped wailing behind walls or being boiled in literal oceans of blood. Fire and brimstone rains down and despair is thick in the air.
Dante is portraited a little differently in this game than in the original poem, reimagined as a Templar Knight who has been off fighting in the Crusades during which he committed numerous atrocities. Fatally stabbed in the back by an enemy soldier, it is Dante’s turn to leave the mortal coil. However, Dante refuses to accept this as he promised his beloved, Beatrice, that he would return to her. So when Death turns up to claim Dante’s soul and condemn him to Hell, Dante spits the dummy, killing Death and stealing his giant scythe. How’s that for badass!?
However, upon arriving home Dante finds Beatrice slain by an assassin. Her spirit appears to him saying she knew he would return to her and not to fear her death. At that moment Lucifer appears and steals Beatrice away to Hell so that he may torment her soul in place of Dantes’. Of course, Dante isn’t too happy about this so follows Lucifer to Hell, and thus the game begins.
As soon as your gain control of Dante you realise that he is going to be quite the match for the forces of the Underworld. Still armed with Death’s giant scythe, as well as a Holy Cross, Dante starts out the game with quite the arsenal of moves. From stabbing and trusting blows, to sweeps and crushing moves, the scythe allows Dante to almost clear the battlefield all by itself. However, the Holy Cross allows for some fun ranged attacks as well as blast attacks that will send enemies flying. Both weapons can be upgraded over the course of the game giving Dante access to more powerful moves, combos and abilities.
Upgrades are acquired using souls; basically the in-game currency. Souls can be attained in one of several ways; killing enemies is the most common but you will also encounter Damned through your adventures. These are notable sinners who have been sent to Hell for some great slight against God and you have the choice of punishing them for their sins or absolving them and granting them entry to Heaven. Either method will grant you souls, but punishing the Damned will give you “evil” souls while absolution will grant you “Holy” souls. Each of these can be used to upgrade your scythe and Holy Cross abilities respectively, so there is a bit of tactical decision making to be done here depending on how you like to play or what abilities you feel you’ll need.
Once you’ve bought some of the higher tier abilities combat becomes an absolute joy as you dart around the field smashing, slashing and raining Holy Light down on your foes. Once you get into the swing of it, the combat system is extremely fluid and you’ll be pulling off moves, countering and coming in for big attacks all over the place. It’s a lot of fun!
The real star of the game though is Hell itself. As I mentioned earlier, Visceral have created a truly wonderful — if horrific — world to explore. It’s gross and vile, but but not gratuitous like Agony’s Hell was. There is a clear design aesthetic to it and your morbid curiosity will always want to know what new horror is behind the next corner.
The levels are huge too, and have some brilliant set pieces. Crossing the river Styx is no easy matter of hopping on a boat. No, here Charon, the Ferryman, is the boat itself and after defeating the hoard of demons that awaits you on the other side of the River Dante ensures Charon won’t leave him stranded by… ripping his head off.
As one would probably expect from a game about Hell Dante’s Inferno is very violent. It may not be Mortal Kombat 10 levels of gore, but it certainly has its moments. Just check out this little video of how Dante dispatches King Minos, the Judge of the Damned.
Dante’s Inferno is certainly not for the faint of heart. However, the violence never feels over excessive. It is appropriate here as Dante is a dark game dealing with dark subject matter.
Dante’s Inferno is a dark, morbid, gruesome journey through Hell, but for those who are not turned off by its imagery it is a lot of fun. The story — while some criticism was levelled at it for its departure from the source material, especially in regards to Beatrice — is much deeper and thought provoking than one may at first give it credit for.
In an interesting twist, while Dante is on a journey of (hopeful) redemption the game constantly asks if he is actually worth saving. Dante’s sins are laid bare as the game’s story moves on and the question of just how far one can go before they are beyond redeeming is a consistent theme. Even Lucifer suggests that Dante is more evil than he as all Lucifer did was stand up for what he believed in, whereas Dante has slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands.
Upon release the game received some criticism from reviewers for being too similar to God of War in regards to its combat. I’ve never played the God of War games so I can not comment on that myself, but I think that passing on Dante due to this is to give the game a great disservice. After all, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor combined the exploration of Assassin’s Creed with the combat of the Batman: Arkham series and was one of the most well received games of 2014. It doesn’t matter if games borrow ideas, it’s what they do with them that counts.
Dante’s Inferno is a a wonderfully entertaining title for which the only true criticism I have is that the last Circle of Hell unfortunately amounts to not much more than several challenge rooms. However, that one flaw is surrounded by one of the best action games I’ve played in recent memory and it certainly deserves its second life on X Box’s backwards compatibility service.