A Triumphant Return and a Foetid Game

Friday, January 15, 2010
We have returned to this world at last. Our yearly trek to the unutterable places of this world to commune with the Ancient Ones has ended and we stand ready now to fill your minds with tales of horror, evil and games. Mostly games.

I'm not sure which of the above categories this should fall into. I played the demo for Dante's Inferno recently and couldn't be more sickened by the results if I had tried. I've known how hideous the game was for a while but had reserved my final judgment until I had actually played it.

I should say that my issues with the game aren't exclusive to the story. The gameplay itself leaves a lot to be desired. The combos are terribly limited an unimaginative, the leveling system is obvious and counter intuitive. The enemies are generic and dull to fight. The controls are decent enough if a little unresponsive at times. It doesn't play well; at least not in this demo.

The story is so very far from the classic poem that I think the developers really should have thought of a different title for the game. They could have kept the tag saying it was inspired by the work of Dante Alighieri but given it a title that more reflects the separation from the literary classic. Had they done that, I would have far fewer issues with the execution of the game.

I think if a game is to carry the name of a classic work of literature, film, sculpture, what have you, the developers have a responsibility to stay true to that work. The game produced under the name of the Inferno does not accomplish this in the slightest. Only the names appear the same as the text. This is most certainly not enough to win any affection from me.

I have more issues with the story than the liberties taken with the source material. Many parts of the demo's story made little to no sense whatsoever. The game begins with Dante standing in a dungeon in Acre. The desperate and innocent prisoners come bursting from their cells armed with swords. Where they got these weapons is a complete mystery. After killing seventy or so of these poor people, Dante races out into a courtyard where an unnamed and completely random guy dressed in black casually and loudly walks up behind him and shoves a dagger in his back. Damn those blind spots!

Dante is greeted by Death who quickly levies his judgment on our titular hero. Dante, upset by this decision challenges Death to a face off. Somehow a man who was just "killed" by a leadfooted man with a butter knife takes down death itself, claiming it's scythe for himself. Tell me how that works and I'll shake your hand.

The game takes a sudden change of venue and we're in Florence. Dante rides into the scene, still wielding the scythe with patented extending spine technology. Now, were I one of the many people this character surely encountered during his long trip back to Italy from Acre, I'd probably wonder why a man was carrying a twelve foot long scythe made from an enormous spine. Call me inquisitive if you will, I just think he would have been stopped by customs.

There's a whole deal with Beatrice being dead/possessed/evil/kidnapped/naked that comes out of left field. Then Dante descends into hell where we meet Virgil who apparently is some kind of guardian summoned to you by Beatrice. Virgil gives you the gift of holy ice and vanishes without so much as a good luck.

The game doesn't like to linger on anything too long it seems. This is most likely a reflection of the developers themselves as is truly revealed in the developer diaries. Each one is supposed to be an exploration of the various circles of hell and the different design choices and challenges associated with it. The developers really only mention the design in passing and spend the rest of the time saying over and over again how brutal, dark and violent their game is.

I think Visual Effects Director Jeff Kuipers put it best: "Everything about Dante's Inferno is about torment." Well said Jeff, I couldn't agree more myself.