HIGH Demolishing hordes of demons with righteous holy light.
LOW Trying to figure out how to stay airborne for eight seconds.
WTF Why is there no second, darker ending for playing the evil side?
In his main review, Trent mentions that it was nearly impossible to read anything about Dante's Inferno without seeing lamentations of it straying from the source material—and when people weren't upset about its connection to the literary classic, there was much eye-rolling about how much of the structure was (or wasn't) taken from God of War. If there was ever a case of the deck being stacked against a game before it released, this was certainly it. I wish I could say that I was immune to this wave of downward chatter, but in all honesty I was just as dubious of the title as anyone else. Now that I've actually taken the time to play through the game in its entirety, my opinion of it has greatly increased.
Tackling the biggest question first—its treatment of the source material—I certainly admit that I was skeptical of Vicarious appropriating Aligheri's historic work for a game, but after having seen the way it was used, I think it was done very smartly.
To me, inspiration can be drawn from any source, so for the developers to cite The Inferno as their muse is certainly as acceptable as anything else once the initial shock wears off. However, since the game was at no time advertised as a faithful translation of the original work, the real question is whether or not the game holds up on its own. For me, it certainly does.
While Trent didn't seem to have much appreciation for the narrative or the storytelling, I actually found Dante's personal failings and his quest to rescue Beatrice more than satisfactory. In fact, it was quite interesting to me for the developers to paint the main character as such an evil-hearted man. This unconventional choice definitely made the path to ultimate redemption much more satisfying than the traditional "white hat hero saves the day" and kept true to the overarching themes espoused by the religious setting.
In addition, I thought that Visceral did an excellent job of bringing Hell to life. Rather than being an endless string of fiery pits and brimstone, each section representing a particular sin has its own visual style and elements. Every area was certainly distinct, yet there were enough ties between them to keep the world feeling cohesively convincing. I would definitely disagree with Trent when he suggests that the game takes the low road; after all, I would imagine a pit of eternal damnation to be a fairly horrific, nightmarish thing. If anything, I'd say the developers didn't go far enough.
In terms of gameplay, there's no question that Dante's Inferno draws much from God of War. Kratos and his grudge against the gods is a landmark series whose reach extends to every corner of the genre. However, while many were quick to write Visceral's work off as inherently inferior to the then-unreleased God of War III, after having played through both titles I can certainly say with confidence that the regretful, repentant crusader comes out on top.
If nothing else, Dante's Inferno knows exactly what it's trying to do and does it in very polished fashion. The mechanics of play are incredibly smooth, and the structure of play is well-designed and easy to understand. The division of abilities is interesting and lends strong incentive for a replay (playing evil increases the strength of the scythe, playing good empowers the crucifix), not to mention the fact that there's almost no dead space in the venture; no fat that needs trimming. The trip to the lowest circle of hell clocks in at a tight (and satisfying) six hours or so. This length feels perfect for a game so action-heavy, and anything more would be unwelcome repetition.
In contrast, I found God of War III to be nowhere near as satisfying thanks to a serious lack of inspiration, and an incredibly flat feeling to the adventure overall. It may have a similar running time, but it felt twice as long as it needed to be, and at no point did it ever reach the same fast-paced and constantly engaging level Visceral was able to achieve. While Kratos may have blazed the trail, Dante left the fatigued Spartan's third outing far behind.
While it's true that Dante's Inferno does not push the envelope in terms of innovation, there's something to be said for having a clear vision and realizing it in such a polished, eminently playable fashion. With a strong technical side for its base, the title is pushed over the top by the amount of attention paid towards bringing the setting to life and creating a main character that I found not only interesting, but one with whom I could empathize and adventure with despite having nearly nothing in common. I never would have expected it before playing, but descending into the darkest corners of Hell bringing the Lord's holy light was worthwhile in every way.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 6.5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. No time was spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, and sexual content, and received a rating of M for Mature. The ESRB ain't kiddin' here folks. Keep your kids far away from this one. Under absolutely no circumstances is this one kid-friendly.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There are no significant auditory cues during gameplay. All important information is clearly displayed onscreen, and all dialogue is subtitled. I found no barriers in the game that would be of concern to hearing-impaired players.