Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dante's Inferno Review

If imitation is flattery, then the developers at Visceral Games are trying to get to third base with the God of War team.

Not that this is always a bad thing.  Fact is, people can enjoy their Halo and their Call of Duty because people wanted to imitate Doom and Wolfenstein 3D years ago.  You've got your Final Fantasy and your Dragon Age because people wanted to imitate Dungeons & Dragons.  And Soul Calibur owes its existence to Virtua Fighter, which itself was an evolution of a genre practically defined by Street Fighter.

Imitation isn't always a good thing either.  How many lame street racing games flooded the market after Need for Speed Underground?  Or for every good FPS like Crysis there's going to be a Darkest of Days or two.  And frankly, you can't throw a stick in a Gamestop without hitting an anime-inspired JRPG.

I'm pleased to say that Dante's Inferno trends more toward good imitation than bad.  Despite some liberties taken with the story (instead of a poet taking a tour, Dante's a crusader fighting to win back the soul of his girlfriend, Beatrice), the circles of Hell that Dante fights through are lifted from Dante Aleghieri's Divine Comedy.  So many games borrow from other mythologies that it was kind of refreshing to see one tackle Christian literature.

Combat in Dante's Inferno is fast and fluid.  Like God of War, you have light and strong attacks, you can block, and you can evade with the analog stick.  Where Inferno falls a little short, though, is variety.  Dante never gets a melee weapon that isn't his scythe.  And while Dante learns a few magic attacks along his journey, you can play the game and easily never use more than the first one you're given.  The only other attack you really have to mix things up with is a cross that fires cross-shaped projectiles.

One area where Inferno does diverge from God of War is the upgrade system.  In God of War, you collect souls and them apply them to a specific upgrade.  In Inferno, you have a Holy and an Unholy skill tree.  You can collect souls by killing enemies or from certain fountains, but some enemies and some characters from the poem will present Dante with the option to absolve or punish them.  Punishment gives you Unholy experience, and absolution gives you Holy experience.  When you collect enough experience, you can invest in skills from a higher tier on the appropriate tree.  At first, this might seem like a morality system, where you must chose one set of skills over the other.  In practice, I decided that I'd punish any enemy creatures and absolve any shades that I came across, and I had unlocked everything but the highest tier for both skill trees.

Perhaps Inferno's greatest misfortune is coming out just over a month before God of War III.  It's hard to recommend it in light of the fact that you can just wait for what will almost certainly be a superior game.  But I actually do want to recommend it, especially if you can get it on sale like I did ($40 at Target), because while it might not be as great as the game it so shamelessly copies from, it is still a good game.  Sometimes that's good enough.

Final Score: B

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