A man must travel the nine circles of hell to save his beloved wife and repent for his own sins.A man must travel the nine circles of hell to save his beloved wife and repent for his own sins.A man must travel the nine circles of hell to save his beloved wife and repent for his own sins.
Dante Alighieri, the poet behind The Divine Comedy, has been transformed, for video game purposes, into one very cranky Crusader. He's as hardcore as video game heroes come. The kind of hardcore who sews his life story in pictures into a cross on his chest. The kind of hardcore who is willing to endure all nine circles of Hell to save his girlfriend, the "radiant Beatrice." The level design is the standout factor here. Inspired by Dante's poem, the 9 circles (with the possible exception of Fraud) are done justice. Lust is filled with phallic and yonic imagery. In Gluttony, platforms are made of what looks like huge slabs of fat and meat. In Greed, there's a river of melted gold. In Violence, the river is made of boiling blood. Notably, the game forms a steady descent through each. The only noticeable loading screen is when starting a game or loading a save file. Otherwise, each stage transitions naturally as Dante climbs lower and lower into the depths. At the same time, each circle has a color scheme and look that makes it unique from all the others.
Gameplay fits the classic "beat 'em up" or "hack 'n' slash" genre. Dante must defeat waves of hellions before moving on through each level. He can attack with either Death's Scythe (ganked from the Grim Reaper himself), a cross that shoots holy beams (way cooler than I make it sound), or various magic attacks (based on a supply of manna that can be depleted and replenished). There are also plenty of special moves and combos, all wonderfully simple and fun to execute, that can be unlocked with souls, the in-game currency. Each Circle of Hell introduces new enemies that will be encountered for the rest of the game. Limbo features unbaptized babies with blades for arms that coo when they attack and cry when being attacked. Lust adds half-naked temptresses. Gluttony brings forth nasty "Gluttons" who will swallow Dante whole. Heresy sees heretics, enemies that can perform black magic and are immune to cross attacks. And so on and so forth.
The only circle I found less than perfect was "Fraud." A few lines are spoken about the type of souls that reside in Fraud between bouts of Dante fighting enemies under certain conditions (fight with unlimited manna, fight without the ability to use manna, and the completely inexplicable, protect the innocents. What are innocents doing in the eight circle of Hell?) It feels more like some mini-games that should be unlocked after beating the game than part of the storyline. Fun, but it leaves me imagining what it could have been like if Visceral Games took the time to design a Fraud that was as detailed as the other 8 circles.
There's also some platforming and puzzle-solving mixed in there (though all the booby traps had me wondering where people go when they die in Hell.) Also, along the way, there are plenty of opportunities to talk to Virgil, Dante's guide from the poem. All Virgil does is quote stanzas from The Divine Comedy, but in this case, that definitely not a bad thing. In fact, one of the best things I can say about the game is it made me want to read Dante Alighieri's epic poems. Along the way, Dante also can collect hidden relics that effect his abilities and choose to absolve or punish the souls of historical and mythical characters that are condemned to the Inferno (such as Pontius Pilate, Orphues, and Attilla the Hun), causing Dante to level up either a Holy or Unholy Path.
Best of all, there's none of the cheese factor I was expecting when I started playing the game. The acquiring and trading of souls, the attacking unbaptized babies, the power of Beatrice's cross and the various magic spells, and the monstrous boss battles are all integrated in ways that I imagine are right in line with the spirit of Dante's epic, if not exactly the letter of it. Also, the voice acting's pretty good, especially when the closest thing to a big name celebrity doing the voices is Vanessa Branch, the Orbit gum spokeswoman, as the voice of Beatrice.
- Mar 14, 2010