Way back in the mists of time, when I was a much younger man, I used to love playing the God of War games on Sony’s big black box. I remember very vividly the almost casual bed scene with Kratos as the ship docked in the first game, along with the massive fights and variety of weapons and bosses to batter, all wrapped up with the magic that Kratos could pick up. The first and second games were soon dispatched as I played, and when my PS2 went to the great silicon graveyard in the sky (or more accurately it was sold at a car boot sale, but we’ll gloss over that), I decided to go all-in with Microsoft for my next generation console. This is largely down to the wife saying she’d buy me an Xbox 360 with Gears 2, Forza 3 and Halo ODST, so as you can imagine I snapped her hand off and a marriage made in heaven began. The one between myself and Microsoft, of course.
The one fly in the ointment with my shiny new hardware was that it seemed unlikely that Kratos and his series of games would ever appear on the otherwise awesome Xbox 360. So, as you can imagine, when EA announced Dante’s Inferno – a game to be released that looked like someone had played a lot of God of War and then decided to reskin it with characters from The Divine Comedy – I pre-ordered before you could say “Epic Poem”!
Now, as source material for a game goes, Dante’s Divine Comedy is a pretty good place to start. The 14th century epic poem details a man’s journey through the nine circles of Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. The game does follow the poem to some extent, showing Dante, now a Templar Knight, for instance journeying through all the circles of Hell and kicking several demons in the horny heads. Something which doesn’t happen in the original version.
The story of Dante’s Inferno is epic in scale, involving betrayal, both of Dante and his love interest, Beatrice, along with a fight with Death himself, culminating in Dante stealing his scythe to use as his main weapon in the journey yet to come. Luckily, you don’t just have to rely on the scythe, as Dante has a second weapon at his disposal, in the shape of a Holy Cross that can be used to fire a volley of energy, enabling Dante to attack enemies that are outside of melee range. Add to this some magic attacks that can be utilised and Dante is ready to kick all kinds of demon ass.
As you’d expect with a game based in Hell, the in-game currency that Dante can spend is souls. He can use these to buy new attacks and combos, making him even deadlier as the game goes on. The game also has an interesting “Punish or Absolve” mechanic, where not only bosses but famous characters from history can be found and either relieved of their sins, allowing them to leave Hell, or they can be dismembered if you feel their sins are too heinous. Choosing to absolve them leads to a fun minigame, where sins move towards the middle of the screen, requiring precise button presses to absolve the sins and free the tormented soul. Capturing these sins will reward Dante with more souls and experience, that is used to level up. Levelling up also has a morality aspect, as Dante can level up a “Holy” skill tree, or an “Unholy” one, each giving different abilities to be unlocked.
Things plays out much like a God of War game, involving crunching combat and screen-filling boss fights, complete with Quick Time Events (QTEs) in order to finish the bosses off. It wasn’t quite as polished as one of Kratos’ escapades however, and the combat, while it was certainly interesting and compelling, just lacked the last inch of refinement that the God of War games had. Nonetheless, the game was more than just about hitting things, as there were puzzle elements built into the gameplay as well, usually requiring Dante to move some blocks or something similar. This was nothing that was going to cause any significant ache to the brains of its players, yet it did however break up the flow of constant combat and made for a refreshing change.
The design of Dante’s Inferno was also excellent, drawing deeply on the source material for inspiration when depicting the various circles of Hell that Dante must traverse. From the River Styx in the fifth circle to the final showdown against the lord of Hell, Lucifer, in Lake Cocytus, the way the backgrounds were depicted made Hell look a very uninviting place to be. One of the most affecting parts of the game’s design, for me, is what Dante is driven to do after he commits his various sins on the Crusades. He sews a piece of tapestry into his chest, which depicts the sins that he committed, and the finished piece of cloth mirrors the red Cross of St George that Crusaders wore, but stitched on Dante’s bare flesh.
When I got my version of the game, the reward for pre-ordering was an action figure of Dante, which to this day still stands on my shelf of gaming tat, alongside various other Gears and Fallout figures. Getting back to the actual game, however, the design of the various minions to dispatch was also pretty good, from scuttling demons to the various succubi flapping about the place. It was with the bosses that the game came alive with screen-filling enemies quite often requiring a good bit of lateral thinking to take down. Battering Lucifer from afar with Holy Cross projectiles, before finally binding him back in Hell, was a particular favourite fight of mine.
With the game finally entering Xbox Backward Compatibility in June 2018, and with it also being available on EA’s excellent EA Access program to basically download for free, if you’ve never played the game, what are you waiting for? Hopefully my wobbling on in the previous paragraphs has convinced you to give it a go. Or have you already finished it? I have to say, going back to it as research for this article, the game does hold up surprisingly well, and while it’s not the good looker it once was (graphics have certainly moved on in the intervening 10 years) it still plays very well. Do you remember wandering through Dante’s Inferno, and the price he had to pay for his betrayal? Let us know in the comments!