Dante's Inferno Preview (Xbox360)

The last time I saw Dante’s Inferno, at E3, I was excited about the prospect of fighting through hell for the woman I love or just for the heck of it. Who wouldn’t? It’s been done before in such prestigious titles as Earthworm Jim (well, that was “Heck”), but never at this scale. The complete recreation of Dante Alighieri’s nine circles of hell in nearly complete form was…well, to die for.

After E3, since I didn't make it to Comic-Con, I was treated to both an interview (coming in a few days) and a playtest at the Penny Arcade Expo. I found myself both appalled and overjoyed, but for all the wrong reasons. Well, mostly.

Dante’s Inferno has one major downfall that most of the media, not including myself, have used to pick at the game continuously since its original announcement and trailer: that it’s a God of War clone. I knew that such rush judgments before even playing the game are uncalled for, but after playing the demo, I have to say they are on the right track.

Still, such accusations are realistically baseless. FPS gameplay is mostly all the same, as are RTS’s. It’s simply a genre that hasn’t been made extremely popular, yet plenty of games use it. That said, gameplay mechanics are nearly identical: the left stick controls dodging, the right stick controls movement, and the face buttons are for three types of attacks and jumping. There are also some magic properties that were unavailable for the demo given, so I can only say with certainty that one trigger controls blocking. The rest remain a mystery.

However, as you will hear in the interview, the main difference is the world that players will explore. This is not the hell you grew up with on TV. It’s a gory, gloomy, and downright disgusting place. I can clearly recall climbing down walls of live bodies, fighting off babies (though we’ve done that before), and even being defecated on as an attack. Believe me, I mentioned it in my earlier preview, but when it happens the first time in the game, it’s so putrid that you will feel disgusted, right in your gut.

Having played through what is the current build of Limbo, the first level, I was entertained. Like God of War, there are a selection of combinations that can be performed, in this case, with Death’s scythe. This early in the game, that selection was limited, and the enemy was difficult. I died several times in my playtest, though I hadn't learned the controls fully until midway through.

The similarities don’t end there. Action sequences revolve mostly around a number of small, easier enemies, along with one or two larger, more difficult ones. The larger ones, when dealt enough damage, can then be instantly killed via special attacks, should enough correct button mashing be done. After the occasional minor confrontation, a boss comes along, who must be beaten by pressing the right buttons quickly. The first boss, what seemed like a giant hellish ox, was easy enough to beat. Players then find themselves using the beast to rip off the head of Charon, who in the poem is the boat keeper, but in the game is actually the boat. So yes, you rip his head off…for what purpose, we do not know.

According to the latest developer diary, released properly on 9/9/09, we were introduced to a harsher, less poetic, more destructive and bloodthirsty Dante. In fact, the commentary seemed to suggest some very large differences between the poem and the game’s storylines, to the point where it’s becoming difficult to tell if they match. Indeed, hell still looks very much as we should all expect, but much is changing. I’m not sure if it’s for the better or worse.

Is my faith in Dante’s Inferno shaken? Yes, slightly. I was originally impressed that developer Visceral Creations would actually attempt such a feat, recreating a book almost exactly, giving gamers the opportunity to experience hell like never before. Indeed, that is still alive, but it’s no longer just Dante’s Hell, it’s Visceral Creations’ as well. We’ll just have to wait and see whether they can muster up enough insidious and demonic incarnations to appeal to not only those who’ve read the poem, but those who haven’t.

Dante’s Inferno is set for release on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP February 9th in the US and February 12th in Europe.

Game advertisements by <a href="" target="_blank">Game Advertising Online</a> require iframes.