On February 9th, Electronics Arts hopes that everyone will go to Hell with Dante's Inferno, the latest action/adventure from Visceral Games, the internal developers that brought us Dead Space. Loosely based on Dante Alighieri's poem, The Divine Comedy, this bloody and potentially controversial PSP game (also available for Xbox 360 and PS3) pushes the boundaries of its expected Mature rating. But hey, no one said Hell was strawberries and bubblegum, either.
Protesters will probably tear this game apart when they see male reproductive organs sprouting from the ground, tentacles erupting from a demon woman's legs and scary looking babies crawling from Cleopatra's nipples (great, another phobia). Some of it looks ridiculous and will make you laugh, but it'll be a nervous chuckle, especially with other people looking (more like gawking) over your shoulder.
Dante's Inferno is a God of War style hack-and-slash adventure where players (as Dante) descend through the nine circles of Hell in search of Beatrice, his recently murdered girlfriend. As expected, EA and scriptwriter Will Rokos (from Monster's Ball fame) took liberties with the story, swapping Dante's actual profession (poet) with heroic crusader (the better to justify slaughtering monsters with). Then they handed him Death's scythe, imbued him with magical abilities and the option to save demons or destroy them, gaining light and dark energy depending on a player's decision. Poet to flesh cleaving warrior? We can only imagine what EA would do with Shakespeare.
Thankfully, the game offers plenty of thrills; think of it as a cross between the aforementioned God of War and Castlevania. We explored Hell searching for hidden treasure, flipping switches and killing monsters, including those tentacle spewing and evil females. It's a button masher, where rapidly pressing buttons produces multi-hit combos. Unfortunately, the game lacks that satisfying final blow that you'd experience in God of War, the moment when you know a monster's about to lose its head or limbs. Dante's Inferno features graphic dismemberment, but enemies (even the lesser ones) take forever to die, prohibiting us from guessing (more like feeling) when they'll go.
We also noticed that the developers rely on old school conventions, like flipping switches and dragging objects to solve puzzles. While not bad per se, we'd like to think that Lucifer didn't design Hell with Tomb Raider in mind.
Aside from those minor complaints, we had a blast with the demo. We attacked small armies of demons and let the scythe do the talking, sending blood and body parts flying in all directions. Then we battled Cleopatra, a boss who gives all new meaning to the 50-foot woman. The goal here, in the Lust portion of the game, is to ascend a tower by riding a circular platform. The humongous Cleopatra attempts to stop you by putting one of her hands on said platform, thus halting its movement, while harvesting demon babies that crawl from her exposed nipples and tossing them onto the playfield; you must attack her hand and then flip a switch to get moving.
On top of that, the game's hard. Demons will gang up on Dante within seconds, while others use ranged attacks to keep him from battling Cleopatra; the scythe is cool, but limited. But that's why he possesses those magical attacks, and firing some holy crosses not only damages the creatures, but also knocks them backwards, giving Dante some much needed space.
Although we didn't get a chance to kill Cleopatra, this small taste was enough to keep us interested and impatiently awaiting the game's February 9th release (for the nine circles, of course), available on both UMD and as a digital download for PSP go users. We'll have more info on Dante's Inferno in the near future.