Are the forgotten and maligned games of yesterday really all that bad? The Guilty Pleasure trials aim to find out. Is it a hearty ‘Pleasure’ indicating the game is undeserving of its rep, or is it indeed ‘Guilty’ and the stocks await? Marb puts his case forward and you, the readers speak.
This week in the docks its Dante’s Inferno, EA and Visceral’s hack and slasher.
The third person brawler is one dominated by the literal Titan that is Sony’s God of War franchise, a series full of epic set-pieces, sunning visuals and imaginative, gruesome death animations. Unfortunately as an exclusive, those with an X on their console box are left gazing through the pet shop window while the cool Sony kids play with the puppies and eat copious amounts of ice cream inside.
So it’s no surprise that a number of pretenders have attempted to step into this power vacuum to claim the spoils of war. Unfortunately the vast majority of these attempts such as the fantastic but flawed DMC: Devil May Cry, although admirable, have failed to truly capture the full experience of GoW.
In 2010, EA teamed up with Visceral games, the makers of the superlative Dead Space 1 and 2 and slightly less superlative third installment, to create a new IP to challenge the might of Kratos. The resulting game, Dante’s Inferno is one of the more curious examples of mainstream gaming in the generation.
The resulting game, Dante’s Inferno is one of the more curious examples of mainstream gaming in the generation.
Dante’s Inferno is loosely based on the famous and sprawling 14th century poem by Dante Alighieri. One which, if the achingly middle class art documentary I saw on BBC 4 once is to be believed, helped craft the fire and brimstone depiction of Hell that still holds sway with many today. Anyway, when I say loosely based, I mean looser than the beltless waist of a hipsters carrot tops (ones so low you can see their entire buttock), as at no point in Dante’s original artwork does he stick a giant bone scythe in the tongue of a monster and pull his spleen out through its tear duct.
In this revised story Dante, now portrayed as a cockney Templar knight, has to plunge into the underworld to rescue his beloved after Satan steals her soul because of some third act revelation that has been committed and which I won’t mention. It’s actually quite a neat concept in a way, the structure of the source material with its concentric circles, each with a different sinner, each getting closer to the main antagonist is a good way of dividing up both the environments, and enemies whilst providing a sensible reason to insert boss battles.
In fact the game’s main strength is this setting; proving a jump-off point for some truly icky yet imaginative creature and environment design. The design feels like the 14th century filtered through the aesthetic of Guillermo Del Toro, the Mexican Director of Hellboy and Pans Labyrinth, so there’s clockwork and lumbering pale creepy creatures with no eyes. The reimagining of creatures like Cerberus as grotesque worm-headed monsters and Cleopatra as crazed, lustful nutter with zombie spouting mammary glands is particularly effective.
Visceral’s strong design work on Dead Space also shines through and the game subsequently has the really grimy, grim and oppressive atmosphere of a teenage roller derby when the vending machine has run out of Malteasers.
In this way the developer should have at least one gold star attached to their chainmail for sticking the premise boot and braces.
In this way the developer should have at least one gold star attached to their chainmail for sticking the premise boot and braces. The language is old school, the historical references often more obscure than that unseen play your housemate wrote about watching you in the shower and its tone is unrelentingly morose. This is a game that still has most of its adult corners on and hasn’t been softened to get the young-uns interested.
Although graphically it has aged pretty well and it certainly looks like an AAA title for 2010, compared to God of War, you can positively hear the game engine creaking like an un-oiled tractor trying to keep up. It’s a pointless race as Sony’s increased processing and storage power permits it to engage in graphical gymnastics which Dante couldn’t hope to replicate, especially in that outfit. The soundscape of much wailing, grinding and gnashing of teeth is also beautifully overbearing and helps set the tone for the game.
Gameplay wise, we are in familiar territory, with a combo of powerful slow weapon and a faster, weaker distance weapon, both of which can be upgraded. This limited armoury compares rather unfavourably to almost all the completion as the majority of other titles in the genre at least have interchangeable slots with at a number of options, however the ones available are perfectly good. Death’s Scythe is a bit like a giant hammer with Go-Go Gadget legs and his holy cross is like Alan Wake’s torch without the unrealistically weak batteries (which Alan presumably found in the bins behind a pound shop).
The actual combos and upgraded system works considerably better, with skill trees for both his holy and un-holy abilities which can be upgraded unlocking more and more devastating powers. These skill trees are unlocked by filling soul bars, either by absolving or punishing the wretched souls of Old Nicks gaff, many of which may will be familiar if you read dust covered tomes from the local spooky library. Both involve a mini-game of sorts, with the punishment aspect being amusingly appropriate in the form of a genuinely odd rhythm action, style affair where you catch lost souls using the power of your cross. Suffice to say the developers seemed to have twigged how tiresome it is as they added extra souls to this method to incentivise it.
You may be right in asserting that beyond the visual flair on show, the boss battles themselves are pretty unremarkable compared to other titles. However they aren’t terrible either and perfectly serviceable. Talk about damning with faint praise eh?
It would be madness to suggest that Dante’s Inferno fully succeeds in all its aims.
Beyond the unlocking of different powers however there is no difference in the game content between being forgiving and being a right judgemental git, though asking for a Mass Effect style paragon and renegade alteration to events in a linear action game is perhaps being a bit optimistic.
Length wise, Inferno turns in with a decent running time of around -10 hours, which for the most part avoid repletion due to the aforementioned varied environments and level design.
It would be madness to suggest that Dante’s Inferno fully succeeds in all its aims. It’s hopelessly outmatched by God of War in terms of its graphical ability, boss battles and arsenal of weaponry. However Dante’s till deserves a bit of credit for its imaginative design, its solid gameplay and steadfast refusal to compromise on its setting and language. A muted success but one that is easily worth the minuscule asking price for at least a taster of what God of War brings to its native console.
Agree or disagree, have at thee!