The lights are on
Like hell itself Dante's Inferno resurects God of War as a skeletal thrall, but builds something around it that is, quite simply, missing the soul that its source of inspiration exudes with every step. What is created seems more like a mercifully short trip into doldrums than the fiery circls of the underworld.
What may be even more of a shame is that the game starts with promise. Dante's Inferno greets players with a beautifully detailed CG sequence and a story that, while taking only cursory inspiration from the epic poem of the same name, presents at least a small amount of potential in an adaptation more suited to the general public. What it evolves into, however, is something horribly disjointed and less than compelling. Make no mistake, the story is meant to support the gameplay, but that doesn't mean it couldn't have become something more. While Dante's quest to reclaim Beatrice from wrongful imprisonment in hell provides the man ample justification for carving a Kratos-like swath of destruction through Lucifer's den, the engaging visual presentation of this crusader's tale is at odds with uninspired environments and gamplay that is largely devoid of any meaningful connection to the overarching narrative. Even when not trying to pack in as many breasts as possible, and actually attempting to tell a cohesive tale, the story still fails to escape the unnatural spin that the game's structure imparts upon it.
In contrast to a stringy story, the physical form of hell itself in Dante's Inferno is very clearly a compressed experience. Players are whipped forward through the often twistedly gruesome circles at breakneck speeds, almost as if the developers realized the design wouldn't stand up to continued scrutiny. Small areas come and go with the pace of an F1 racecar and players will regularly find themselves dropping into an area, only to move on from it a handful of minutes later. Consequently, it's very easy to press forward without realizing a transition between two circles occurred. It's a pity that the designers chose not to shake things up, not to play around with their presentation during gameplay, and instead leave all that on the table in favor of recycling ideas from the annals of gaming history at every turn.
The blurring together of levels is complemented by simplistic gameply in a way that furthers a sense of trudging through each encounter. By the end of the Dante's Inferno combat has very much devolved into hitting some variation of one of a half dozen enemies until it dies; so much so that one of the game's final areas, the circle of Fraud, warps into something akin to a tacked on challenge mode. Gameplay doesn't control poorly, but holes in the design of its battles are exposed by late breakdowns. Even the game's upgrade system, questionably partitioned by what amounts to a morality system, appears to be designed in a way that is completely contrary to making fight engaging. Instead of choosing one path and receiving updates for all of Dante's tools themed to that choice, the sides of the morality system are tied to Dante's scythe(unholy) and cross(holy). Choosing to stick with one or the other means that half of the game's combat will remain relatively basic, and boring, throughout the majority of the game.
This odd gameplay decision is accompanied by a UI that could only be described as, for lack of a better word, hostile. The hint system is more likely to explain how to jump or grab things, even half way through the game, than it is to expose the inner workings of its own systems. Dialogue boxes interrupt the experience by pausing the action and requiring players to wait several seconds before dismissing them, often times only to have another pop up moments later. It's almost as if all the information forcibly displayed is done so to avoid anyone complaining about the controls not being made clear as opposed to actually explaining anything. This is made painfully evident by the fact that one of its few unique elements, the ability buffing relics found about the world, is burried in a place where players might easily overlook it for the first half of a game that came in at just short of seven hours long.
All things considered, it seems fitting that attempting to save is just as adverse and easy to get in trouble with. Where the first two God of War games might have had a technological excuse for fixed save points, Dante's Inferno doesn't. In an industry that has become wed to streamlining experiences there is no reason to exclude an autosave feature. A hasty gamer could easily wind up with a boatload of files by the end of Dante's Inferno without realizing it. Even those who manage their saves carefully will find themselves working through a menu that seems determined to prevent them from overwriting old saves. Forcing players to stop and manual manage their saves may have done more to harm the narrative, by way of dragging the player out of an already thin experience, than anything else. Something about stopping at a statue and navigating a menu doesn't help immerse the player in the world.
On the surface Dante's Inferno is an average action game in the vein of God of War. Look any deeper and what shows through is a rotted out facade clumsily glued to the solid structure it was erected upon. Even borrowing heavily from one of gaming's critical darlings doesn't keep this game from falling apart at the seems. Like the tale of Sisyphus, who was sentenced to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a hill, every time Dante's journey manages to claw itself out of mediocrity it slides right back down again. Dante's Inferno could have been a slightly above average, maybe even good, game but its low points simply outweigh anything enjoyable the experience brings to bear.
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