Saturday, January 2, 2010

Go To Hell

Warning: Very minor spoilers

I downloaded the Dante's Inferno demo that was released on Christmas Eve, but I only had the chance to play it a few days ago. I mentioned Dante's Inferno in my stylish hard action roundup a few weeks back, noting that it could be interpreted as a fairly cynical attempt to cash in God of War 3's PS3 exclusivity. Well, my overriding impression from the demo is how blatant a clone of God of War the game is, and I can't help but think this is a bit of a mistake on the part of developers Visceral Games.

The demo opens with a tutorial battle against some basic human foes, while Dante is still on one of the Crusades. The light/heavy attack combinations, and the right stick evasion in particular, feel exactly like God of War (you could argue that all games of this sort will have a somewhat similar control scheme, but I think it is telling that I was immediately reminded of God of War, rather than the last game of this genre I had played, which would be Ninja Gaiden 2). After completing this battle Dante is stabbed in the back, and as he is dying Death arrives to claim him, saying how his actions have damned him and his family. Dante refuses to accept this, and ends up fighting and killing Death with his own scythe, which then becomes Dante's standard weapon. It's exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to see Kratos doing, but the problem is that Dante's Inferno's fallen crusader doesn't radiate the sort of violence that God of War's ghost of Sparta does. Maybe it's unfair to accuse the game of a lack of character based on a short demo, but even the opening scene of God of War was enough to establish that Kratos was a very bad man, and Dante's Inferno doesn't do that. God of War comparisons are again unavoidable when Dante arrives back at his villa to find his wife murdered (although it looks far more like the scene from the movie Gladiator). From then on, all Hell breaks loose (literally) as Dante attempts to follow his wife into Hell to free her.

The game certainly looks good, the graphics looking much sharper than what I remember of God of War 1 and 2 (which is to be expected given the hardware the games are running on), and it apparently all moves along at a constant 60 frames per second. It has some suitably epic moments, such as when the front wall of Dante's chapel falls away to reveal Hell burning beneath him. The demo only takes Dante as far as the gates of Hell, with the only boss battle being the early one against Death, and I have no doubt there is more shock and awe to come (I recall reading previews stating how gruesome the ends that some of the bosses meet are). The teaser images for the full game at the end of the demo show several scenes of Hell, all mangled bodies and twisted flesh and rivers of blood. It appears to be unrelentingly unpleasant stuff (which, I suppose, you would expect given the nature of the game). Perhaps there will be more variety across the nine levels of Hell in the final game, but I feel that this is an area where Christian mythology lacks the breadth of the Greek mythology that God of War draws upon. Visceral Games are probably determined to be more hardcore than God of War, and they probably feel that all the unpleasant imagery is achieving this, but I'm not so sure of it as a design decision. Another example of this would be all the gratuitous nipple shots of Beatrice, Dante's wife, which aren't really necessary, but it really seems like the developers thought "well, God of War had breasts in it, we'd better have some in our game, too".

I haven't even touched on the matter of the source material; I haven't read the Divine Comedy, so I can't provide examples of how the game is not true to it, but I highly doubt that Dante, accompanied by the ghost of the poet Vergil, hacks his way through the nine levels of Hell, eviscerating everything that he crosses paths with. It seems like EA and Visceral are stretching the license a bit too far, essentially just using it for name recognition.

As of writing, there are no early reviews for the game on Metacritic, so my only idea of the critical opinion of the game comes from a few previews, which were pretty positive, but previews always are. My impression from the demo is not that it will be bad game, in fact I think it will be quite a polished action game with some impressive set pieces and brutal action, but I do feel that it would probably have been better if the developers had tried to make their own game, rather than shoehorning their version of God of War into a license that is only tangentially suitable for it.

Dante's Inferno is out on 12 February 2010. I may well end up playing it, but I won't be rushing out to buy a copy at launch.

No comments:

Post a Comment