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Dante's Inferno
Score: 86%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Visceral Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
As I opened the Longfellow Inferno that accompanied my review copy of EA's newest game, I found the executive producer speaking to (or possibly with) my gravest fears regarding the project. Jonathan Knight's introduction condensed my apprehension into a question: "Is Dante Alighieri Laughing, or Rolling, in His Grave?" I don't know the answer to that question, but what I can say is this: Dante's Inferno is an incredibly unoriginal game, but it finds success in its daring artistic vision, phenomenal production values, and remarkably sound gameplay mechanics.

Transforming the circles of Hell into the levels of a video game requires more than a simple application of technical finesse. If you want to horrify the player, you have to go all out. The team at Visceral Games has indeed gone all out in its interpretation of the actual Inferno. The beautiful lighting and fiery special effects will drop your jaw, but the thematic content will have you gagging in revulsion. Lots of what I saw on my journey through Hell isn't fit for press, but it would be a far greater crime to share the specifics to those who like going in unprepared. A few of the game's visual tricks are great, but its main influence tends to make itself too clear. The tapestry on Dante's chest is the equivalent of the ashes that transformed Kratos into the Ghost of Sparta. Whenever the game flashes back to Dante's past, it zooms into a particular tapestry square and transitions to a well-animated cartoon -- the equivalent of the cutout effects in God of War's flashback sequences.

Garry Schyman's score is easily the high point of the sound design. The powerful chorus is every bit as effective as the visuals are in making Hell a believable place. In addition, your ears will be constantly assaulted by the wails and moans of the damned. When it comes to the actual characters, I'm torn on the voice acting. Dante sounds a little too hardcore, though this particular interpretation of Dante the character makes this approach viable. Lucifer sounds just about right. He isn't reduced to a booming growl; since his role can be compared to the likes of Iago from Othello, the snarky delivery and subdued arrogance really works well.

Dante's Inferno is a reinterpretation of the first part of Dante Alighieri's timeless classic: The Divine Comedy. If you've seen the trailers for this game, you probably don't need me to tell you that literary fans shouldn't expect a conservative approach; after all, this is an action game. It recasts Dante the narrator as a grizzled Crusader. It also turns Dante's relationship with Beatrice Portinari into the main force that drives the story. When Dante returns to his home in Florence, he finds his father and Beatrice murdered. After Dante witnesses Beatrice's spirit rising from her body, Lucifer appears and kidnaps her. Dante then begins his trek through the nine circles of Hell with the aid of the legendary poet Virgil. What starts as a rescue mission eventually turns into a quest for redemption. The funny thing about all of this is that the story isn't really all that good. Dante is a difficult character to understand: his past makes him nearly impossible to sympathize with, and it's tough to pin down just how he attains the moral high ground. Still, it's not so much about the story as it is about the location.

If you've played God of War, Ninja Gaiden, Darksiders or Conan, you'll be able to deconstruct the entirety of Dante's Inferno into bits of inspiration. Outside of everything that's been borrowed from other games, there's really not much to speak of. As you make your way through the nine circles of the Inferno, you will come across demons, monsters, and boss fights. Environmental puzzles provide a nice change of pace from all the slaying, even if they don't last as long as they do in other games.

Dante's Inferno shines during certain boss fights and set piece moments. None of the boss fights reach the epic scale of the Colossus battle in God of War II or the lightning-fast Greater Fiend battles of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, but many of them are fun and satisfying. The boss fight on Geryon's back is fantastic. A few sequences, most notably the ten-phase Maleborge, are absolutely terrible and last entirely too long. In between these extremes are the descents into different circles, which is mainly just Dante sliding down one spinal cord ladder after another.

At the default setting, Dante's Inferno is a challenging game. The game gives you an impressive set of moves with which to deal with Hell's minions, but they often attack in overwhelming numbers. For the most part, it's a satisfying and well-balanced challenge, but the game occasionally oversteps the boundary between balanced and cheap. Lust Demons, though well-designed, aren't much fun to fight. Between their annoyingly convenient reflexes and mind-controlling kisses, you'll often have to fight them in ways that feel equally cheap. Some of the boss fights are incredibly fun, while others are horribly tedious battles of attrition. To say that the final encounter on Cocytus takes too long would be like saying the Atlantic Ocean is a little damp.

The nine circles of Hell are laden with pits, the contents of which I will not divulge. Falling into one of them is an instant death. In addition, some of the environmental puzzles may take one or two tries, but they are not difficult to the point of frustration. Some of the platforming segments are problematic, due to awkward camera angles or control oddities. However, these issues are few and far between. In most cases, you'll be able to fully appreciate the world that has been crafted.

Game Mechanics:
"I've done this before." You will think this very thought several times during your adventure in Hell. There's no getting around it. Dante's Inferno is derivative almost to the core. It's got the set piece moments and brutal quick-time-event heavy action of God of War, and it can sometimes be as fast as Ninja Gaiden Sigma. If it's innovation you seek, this game will not deliver for you. However, the mechanics are quite solid, and they hold up nicely through the entirety of the game.

Dante is equipped with Death's Scythe and Beatrice's Holy Cross, and he has access to a number of magic attacks. This doesn't only allow Dante to seamlessly transition from one form of attack to another. The main weapons tie heavily into the game's upgrade system. When I first previewed Dante's Inferno, I mistakenly interpreted this system as a BioWare-esque morality system. When you grab enemies with the scythe, you are often given control over their fates. The scythe punishes them, while the cross absolves and purifies them. Punishing enemies will earn you Unholy Points, while absolving them will earn you Holy Points. These points unlock new tiers of abilities that can only be used once you reach certain levels. That means it's not a good idea to walk only one path. You'll have to balance out your punishments and your absolutions. This system becomes fascinating when you encounter any of the twenty-seven shades of the Inferno. These are actual historical figures featured in the Inferno. Judging these shades will earn you a ton of Holy or Unholy Points. From a narrative standpoint, it's a bit confusing -- Dante isn't even remotely worthy of such a task. Still, within the confines of the game, it works well enough.

Shades aren't the only things you'll find by exploring your surroundings a bit. By completing certain boss fights and taking the grand tour with Virgil, you will earn relics, which can be equipped. These relics serve different purposes. One makes your light attacks unavoidable, while another increases the speed at which your Rage of the Gods -- ahem, Redemption Meter fills. Some relics level up with use, and you can actually upgrade your character to have more slots.

The PlayStation 3 version of Dante's Inferno is the most complete package, simply because it comes with more stuff. If you don't care about increasing your Gamerscore, this is the one to get. All PlayStation 3 owners who buy this game will receive this "Divine Edition." This special package comes with a digital reprint of the Inferno, Garry Schyman's excellent score, a digital artbook containing the illustration of Wayne Barlowe, and a code for the upcoming Trials of St. Lucia downloadable content.

If you're looking for a great action adventure to hold you over until next month, Dante's Inferno will satisfy. If you're looking for a fascinating story and innovative mechanics, you'd best look elsewhere. However, you'd be missing out on all the superior visuals, fun combat, and unspeakable imagery. Put simply, Dante's Inferno is a must-play, but it's not necessarily a must-buy.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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