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[Review] Dante’s Inferno

Posted under Reviews by Kevin Roberson on Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 -

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Dante’s Inferno is a hack-and-slash hell simulator. By this I do not mean that it is an atmospheric game which takes place in the underworld, I mean you will feel like you are being judged and punished for your sins whenever you’re interacting with this game.

I’m certain that the screams of the damned heard throughout the game are recordings from playtest sessions.

I say interacting because I can’t classify what you do with this game as playing. Playing implies a jovial interaction with the goal of entertainment, whether that goal is achieved or not. An hour or so into Dante’s Inferno I stopped having any concern for entertainment and focused only on retaining my grip on the controller for the sake of journalistic integrity. In an effort to describe the game objectively to give you the best view of what it’s like, rather than my personal impressions on the matter, I’ll walk you through the Dante’s Inferno experience.

The game quickly illustrates that Dante is the most amazing badass that ever lived by allowing you to murder half dressed peasants for a while before a run of the mill assassin walks up and murders him. Dante’s awesomeness continues as he beats up the grim reaper and takes his scythe. The symptoms for game leprosy set in right away. Press X to attack or Y to strong attack. Sweeping a seven foot halberd through the neck of a feeble peasant doesn’t seem to faze it in the slightest as it goes through its half second “I just got hit” animation and returns to the fight till you’ve mashed X the requisite number of times. I’d sort of hoped we’d gotten over this after Arkham Asylum but, if the mindless button masher thinks it still has a place in today’s games, I’ll play along and see if it did it as well as can be managed. The controls then took another step backward by taking the right analog stick away from its betrothed function, the camera, and placing it awkwardly in control of dodging. There were several boss fights in arenas of perfect circles wherein I couldn’t effectively fight on most of the surface because my character would be obscured by the boss, the ground or the scenery. Considering the game’s only salable quality is its appearance, the inability to see what you want to robs it of any redeemable value.

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Equipped with Death’s own sickle, Dante heads home to discover his wife was killed and her soul taken by Lucifer to punish Dante for lechery and so he descends to hell to free her. This is when I discovered the magical right trigger button. Anything that is smaller than you, with one or two exceptions, can be automatically killed by pressing the right trigger. As you kill it you go through an animation that gets boring after you’ve done it twice and maddening after the thirtieth repetition in a single fight, which will be replete in all fights, every single one of them. Not only does this always kill the target but enemies obligingly wait for you to finish he animation before attacking and, in the event that they attack anyway, cause no damage. The presence of anything smaller than you in any fight in Dante’s Inferno ergo equates you an amount of time you must spend re-watching a five second cutscene before you’re actually allowed to engage the real enemies. The game even rewards you for repeating this move as frequently as possible by making it the primary source of experience points which can be spent on improving your scythe or your holy symbol.

Sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding Dante’s combat design. Let’s get something straight, Visceral Games. If you have a monster that attacks every ten seconds, and hits the average player one out of every three attacks, and you consider a challenging monster one that can hit the player before it’s killed, the answer is NOT to make the monster take thirty seconds of constant X mashing to kill. The answer is to make a monster with more than one attack whose countermeasures can be learned and understood by the player while still being engaging and dangerous. Unfortunately, every single monster in Dante’s Inferno is best defeated by mashing X until dead. I spent several fights repeating the pattern X, X, X, dodge with one hand while the other hand flipped through input channels for something more interesting to do with my screen. This is not an exaggeration. I returned to the console every five minutes or so to see if I’d won yet. I was frequently disappointed to discover that the game’s favorite way to lengthen interaction time is to spawn identical enemies to the one you just dispatched. Most fights repeat this around three times before letting you progress. Given that the game has about seven monsters total, excluding bosses, you can see where this is a problem.

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To its credit, Dante’s Inferno has decent boss fights and a good art design. Half of these bosses lack a health bar, though. I’ve frequently spent ten minutes repeating a set of interactions that clearly showed my weapons sweeping through the enemy’s vital organs, emitting showers of blood, only to discover I wasn’t actually hurting it. The bosses with health bars follow the exact same monster design as listed above, making sure that the only challenge involved in any of them is staving off carpal tonnel for the thirty minutes or so you’ll be mashing X.

Toward the end of the game you are required to go through a series of challenge rooms. One of these rooms asks you to kill all enemies in one “combo.” I feel this circle of hell requires special mention as the game has no coherent combo system. If you wildly mash X and hit enemies you will build up a combo. If you miss a few times, your combo may or may not disappear. If you get hit, your combo may or may not disappear. Once, I had built up a combo of forty and, without missing a single swing, my halberd was in motion through the enemy’s torso when the game informed me that I had lost my combo, failed the challenge and had to start over.

It was around this time that I started considering that the intended method of interaction with Dante’s Inferno was not actually to insert it into a console and pick up a controller. After some testing, I also discovered that it made a substandard frisbee, lacking a curve to catch it with. The box art is too small to make for a good poster. Though it would be the most fun use of the disk, I think $60 is a bit steep for a single clay pigeon when doing skeet shooting. So I have exhaustively concluded that Dante’s Inferno is not entertaining in any form. I could go on for pages and pages about all the problems with this game. There are the health stations that also require button mashing, the copy pasted look of entire chapters, the ridiculous ranged attack that moves you closer to the enemy, but I’m condensing here for my therapist’s sake as he cautions against accidentally reliving traumatic experiences. I’m certain that the screams of the damned heard throughout the game are recordings from playtest sessions. So if you want to know what it’s like to be in hell, tortured eternally till your cries for mercy are just echoes of the crazed souls around you, by all means pick up this game. Otherwise, avoid it at all costs.

Dead Weight 1/5

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