Visceral Game’s sophomore release is truly one of the most underrated and mistreated titles of the past decade. Just look at this concept art. It’s beautiful and disgusting and perfect, which essentially defines the game itself. It wasn’t the best game ever made – no game is or will be – but for a one-off entry in the hack and slash genre that will never become a franchise, it was a solid game.
More than anything, Dante’s Inferno was a victim of EA’s gross incompetence when it comes to managing release schedules and marketing for their games. It happens all the time – they release a game at just the wrong time, usually when there’s another game in the same niche competing against it. Sometimes they pit two of their own games against each other. In Dante’s case, this game came out barely a month before the highly anticipated God of War III. Honestly, the people who would have bought this type of game would have done so if they understood how it stood out from Kratos’ last adventure, but in all seriousness – they aren’t interested in looking into games. EA’s marketing campaign probably didn’t help, either, as they released a Dante’s Inferno animated movie tie-in 6 days after the game came out, rather than offering it on Netflix or somewhere where it could help give the game attention before the game actually released.
Being released so close to the ending of the God of War saga also hurt the game because there is some apparent belief in the console gaming world – where the game released exclusively – that if a game is at all similar to another game, then one game must be a “clone” of the other. So being the game that released last, between God of War and Dante’s Inferno, Inferno must automatically be, and can only be a God of War clone. The mentality and the gymnastics required to form a thought like that are disgusting, but no doubt that kind of negativity hurt the games overall reception.
It’s unfortunate, too, considering Dante’s Inferno was a better game all around. The combat was far more difficult, far more brutal, the puzzles were in a different league, and the powers you unlocked weren’t there for the sole purpose of introducing one-off game mechanics like in God of War, where you rarely used any of the items you picked up or obtained – like Helios head – throughout huge chunks of the game.
Dante’s Inferno is very loosely inspired by the Divine Comedy – a trilogy of epics written by the Italian Dante Alighieri between 1308 and 1321. The Comedia, as it was originally called until 1555 when published in Venice with the word Divina attached, is considered the foremost of all Italian literature and the quintessential window into how Christianity viewed Hell at the time. Specifically, the first book is titled Inferno, and documents Dante’s trip through the 9 circles of hell, in first person. The game takes all of its imagery and concepts from this first cantica (Psalm).
However the similarities abruptly end with the imagery, theme and character name. The game, and animated movie, tell the story of an Italian soldier who went to fight in the Third Crusade. He is entrusted to guard over some Saracen prisoners in the city of Acre , while King Richard attempts to obtain a holy relic from Saladin. After killing all of the prisoners, Dante is ordered to retrieve the relic, and then killed by an assassin. Death visits upon him and Damns him for his sins – because it turns out that Bishop absolving him of his sins didn’t help. So Dante eventually ends up killing Death and taking his scythe, leaves the Crusades and then starts mutilating himself in repentence by sewing a tapestry (in the form of a cross) into his chest which depicts all of his sins. He then returns home to discover his wife and father murdered and is taunted to enter the underworld, in order to retrieve them.
What follows is a quest for absolution through a beautiful rendition of Alighieri’s nine circles of hell – filled with difficult puzzles, platforming, and brutal enemies unique to each circle, as well as Limbo – the waiting room.
Using the scythe taken from Death, which obviously gives Dante the power of…death, or something; and the Holy Cross that was given to him by his wife – which gives Dante holy power to ward off evil, you hack and slash your way through Hell. Each circle is home to unique horrible creatures like aborted babies who have blades for forearms, giant taurus demons, bloodthirsty leech worms, the boatman Charon himself, lascivious women, soldiers, thiefs, cutthroats, Mark Antony and many others. While you don’t necessarily gather different powers like you would in God of War such as the Horn of Boreas or the Head of Helios, Inferno utilizes a pretty basic Holy/Unholy upgrade system that unlocks new moves for your scythe or cross with each node.
So it’s very disingenuous and inaccurate to say that Inferno is a “clone”. While the actual fact that you play both by slaughtering your way through enemies makes them similar, Inferno relies on entirely different game progression that doesn’t require the use of specific quest items to get through each different part of the game. On top of the basic upgrade system, though, you can collect relics that enhance your damage or serve other functions similar to the Ninpo attacks in Ninja Gaiden.
Again similar to Gaiden and God of War, or even Darksiders, Dante gains “points” by gathering souls from the fallen dead. Basically, orbs that you run near and vacuum up once you kill an enemy. These are what allow you to upgrade. Dante also encounters various “The Damned” as the game goes on – tortured souls that he can choose to punish or absolve. The damned include people like Virgil (the famous Latin poet) or Pontus Pilate. Choosing to punish them results in Dante impaling the soul and then getting rewarded with Unholy points. Choosing to absolve them launches into your standard rhythm game type thing where, depending on how many sins you capture, you get more and more holy points. Ultimately it doesn’t matter whether Dante punishes everyone or absolves them, as there is only one ending to the game, but it’s good to have a mixture of both abilities by the time you reach the end.
At one point there was talk of Visceral potentially making another game in a similar vein, such as a game inspired by Macbeth. Unfortunately, as with all games made by EA, it wasn’t a commercial landslide and so it’s not likely we’ll ever see anything on this level again. That also means there will probably never be a PC release, on Steam or anywhere else.