This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dante's Inferno.
The Divine Comedy really does paint God as little bit two choir boys short of a molestation racket, if all that Old Testament business didn't already tip you off. "Hey", says God, "I've made it so it feels really, really good to stick certain body parts together and jiggle them around and hardwired your brain to want to do it pretty much 24/7 between the ages of 13 and 70, but if you actually do it without a special permission slip from the church, then I'm going to light you on fire. And that's just in purgatory. If you also didn't spend every Sunday reminding me what a level-headed - and if I may say so, strikingly handsome - fellow I am, than I'm also going to staple your cock shut and feed you to a wolf."
Dante's Inferno makes me wonder: is there a circle in hell for people who make shitty, knock-off hack-and-slashers? Dante's Inferno the poem is history's first recorded work of self-insert fan fiction, and Dante's Inferno the game is a loose adaptation where all the characters are a cross between a professional wrestler and a Cenobite. Dante himself is not a poet, but a testosterone-flooded Florentine crusader who completely fails to grasp how a tattoo is supposed to work, and who must descend through nine levels of challenge to rescue his girlfriend, not the first Italian to do so.
Now in the film industry, movies tend to get overpublicized when the studios detect the whiff of monster turd about them, in order to sell as many tickets on opening weekend as they can before word of mouth gets around. And if the same is true of game publishers, then one would expect the Dante's Inferno box to contain nothing but a dead mouse and the ebola virus. The game has been marketed up the raging, fiery ringpiece over the last year. I myself received a special singing box that I had to smash open to shut up, whereupon it accused me of being wrathful. Touché, Dante's Inferno, but I'd rather go to the hell for the wrathful than the hell for people who work in the EA marketing department, which I'm pretty sure is the EA marketing department.
So for the third time this year, I get to wheel out my "like God of War but" stamp, but this time with a word cut off the end. Dante's Inferno is like God of War: a pseudo-historical journey through mythology as directed by Eli Roth and sponsored by the Flymo lawnmower company, hosted by a very shouty man with some prominent red body art all over his exposed man tits, whose backstory gets revealed piecemeal throughout the course of the game to sort of justify his behavior but not really, and who has a signature bladed weapon with heavy attacks for sir and light attacks for the lady. There's a fixed camera, for whom showing off the detailed and artistic level design is slightly higher priority-wise than letting the player see what the fuck they're doing. There are bits where you climb over walls, except that the wall's made of tightly-packed bodies of the damned, nature's stepladder. And of course, quick-time events come to visit from the lesser-known 47th circle of hell for unpleasable game critics, in both the monster take-down and the survive-the-cutscene varieties.
So all in all you could swap out the disc for God of War 2 while the player pops out for a piss and there's a good chance they won't notice. That is, until they realize that the game has suddenly become good. Now, if you're making a knock-off of a good game, the least you could do is jerk- I mean, knock it off properly (not gay). There's little variety to the combat; you only get one melee weapon, whose light attacks are like the warm kiss of a gentle summer breeze across the face of a cheerful baby, and whose heavy attacks get interrupted like a man with chronic hiccups giving the keynote speech at a Tourette syndrome convention. And a lot of the enemies have stupid amounts of health even on normal difficulty, which doesn't make things more challenging, it just pads out the gameplay length as you repeatedly bash a low-level zombie like you're trying to make fire without matches on his face. But at one point I dropped down to easy mode, because I had to attempt a room for the third or fourth time and I was well overdue for the evening's wank, and suddenly I was playing Baby's First Vagina Adventure, so there's a fairly vast gulf between the first two difficulty settings. At least until you realize that your projectile attack costs nothing and most of the enemies are largely melee-focused, and if mashing the hadouken button from across the room while a lumbering monster attempts to get you into battleaxe range before its nipples cave in sounds like fun, then clearly God created your brain on Opposite Day.
The other major departure from God of War, besides not being good, is the level-up system. When using finishing moves on monsters, you have two options: punish (i.e., smash their face in), or absolve (i.e., smash their face in, but in a pious way). You also run into the occasional superstar celebrity damned soul, who basically act as free experience buckets. Again, you either renegade them into finely sliced ham or paragon them to paradise by playing Gitaroo Man for thirty bored seconds. You see, you have one set of upgrades for holy experience and one for unholy. "Ah ha ha ha ha ha", you might say, "moral choice system, hmmm?" "Well, not really," I would reply, "more a violent option or an equally violent but better-spirited option." "And I suppose", you would continue, "that since holy points are slightly harder to get that holy upgrades would be slightly better and that it all might be leading toward some alternative ending scenario where too many damnations land you a big, fat, steaming, two-bedroom apartment made of poo and sawblades on the ninth circle." "No", say I, "I presume that was the original intention, but I suppose they used up the endgame cinematic budget rendering Dante's hairy bum (spoiler alert). And the upgrade tracks are pretty much equivocal." "So what's the point of having two separate experience levels", you ask. "Well, it's like my right hand on a Sunday night," I say. "Why's that?", you ask. "It beats the fuck out of me!"
There's quite a lot to get through when you're adapting the Inferno, and you don't want to chuck the perjurers in with the false prophets, it screws up the whole filing system. Dante's Inferno makes the effort to work everything in, so the levels all go by rather quickly, and things get a bit half-arsed later on (except for that whole hairy bum business). After an at least fairly creative first half, the eighth circle consists of nothing but ten identical challenge rooms, and afterwards, that whole business with the love interest gets resolved rather awkwardly-fast. Not that she was particularly interesting as love interests go, although for an unsullied, virtuous innocent she seemed alarmingly keen to get her tits out. Anyway, it just smacks of rushing things towards the end, so in that spirit, here's my summary: nothing special, wait for God of War 3, hairy bum!
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