So I had some quality time with the Dante’s Inferno demo today, and wanted to share my impressions of this highly-awaited (and much-maligned) game with you. Yes, this is the video game based on the epic poem about Virgil’s descent into the Abyss, but any resemblance between this beast and the source material is purely coincidental. The name is just a coat of literary paint on top of a surprisingly strong third-person action game that could stand on its own two feet without it.
The demo opens with Dante confronted with the corpse of his beloved Beatrice, laid atop a slab as if to taunt our protagonist. Then things start to go batshoot crazy, as Dante sews a cross into his chest in a grisly scene that rockets us into flashbacks of the awful things he’s done. And then it’s off to the first circle of Hell for some ass-beating action.
You’re going to hear this a lot, but the most obvious touchstone for Dante’s epic action is the God of War series – Dante wields a variable-length weapon that can be used to initiate a number of combos, juggles and space-clearing moves. But the lack of originality is more than made up in the smoothness and fluidity of the controls – you feel fully in control of all of Dante’s punishing blows. The QTE events from God Of War return for finishing some enemies off, but Inferno innovates in this area as well by giving you the choice of punishing or redeeming your foes – opening up two different skill trees to explore makes you feel more in control of Dante’s character growth, which is nice. A Redemption meter also allows for bursts of ultra-violence when charged completely.
The narrative flow of the game also follows the formula: battle through hordes of weaker foes until the next huge setpiece. The demo has a few of them, from an acrobatic fight with Death to a ride on the shoulders of a huge demon, and they’re all thrilling and engaging. Whether Visceral Games can keep up this level of intensity through nine layers of Hell remains to be seen, but they’re off to a good start. The PS3 demo is in the Store now, while Xbox 360 owners need to wait until later in the month.