At the time of its release, Dante’s Inferno was the biggest deal. It was to be EA’s hit new game and they invested heavily in a marketing push that would defy ethics. They wanted to stoke controversy, even going so far as to hire actors to “protest” their immoral game. Then it released and the world was, collectively, completely underwhelmed by it. The game sold well for a time, but word of mouth soon smothered the hype and a teased sequel would never manifest.
How could this happen to EA’s pet project? I set out to discover the cause!
The game is effectively a parody on The Divine Comedy; taking the seminal work of religious literature and perverting it through the lens of dudebro action gaming violence. It stars a beefed up version of Dante Alighieri, who in this life is an Italian crusader who butchers his way through the Holy Land.
When he is then suddenly stabbed by an assassin, The Grim Reaper appears to take him down to hell, much to Dante’s disbelief. He fights off Death itself and steals its scythe, but then returns to Italy disillusioned, as he’s come to realize that the church lied to him about being absolved of his sins. To make matters worse, Dante then discovers that his family, sexy wife Beatrice included, have all been murdered. To make matters EVEN WORSE, Beatrice had gambled her soul away to Lucifer, on a bet that Dante would stay virtuous and faithful while on his crusade. Something that a few middle-eastern STDs prove was not the case.
From there it chronicles Dante’s descent into hell, as he chases after Beatrice while slowly recalling all of the atrocities he conveniently forgot about and repenting for them.
The game takes the shape of hack & slash action game, which is a regrettable decision. These kinds of games benefit from catharsis, tight controls, and intricate combat systems, all of which are far out of reach for Dante’s Inferno. The game has a basic system of light & heavy attacks, as well as a dedicated projectile weapon with infinite ammo. You can generally spam any of these and expect decent results, with any of the more in-depth options feeling rather pointless. Why invest in situational moves that can’t be mixed into a combo when you can just spam the projectile move and murder everything and everybody. The holy spirit of Christ is on your side and it does area-of-effect damage.
I typically don’t mind simplistic combo systems, as my love for the Dynasty Warriors games has provided ample evidence of. However, Dante’s Inferno also falters in the visual feedback. Your attacks flay around wildly and enemies react so little to your hits that it often feels entirely ineffective. Heck, sometimes it literally doesn’t work, even when you’re hitting the enemies dead-center. How? Why? I have no idea!
Enemies also soak up so much damage that a lot of combat feels like a grind, even on the lower difficulties. Magic can offer a solution here, but comes at a high price due to refills for your mana meter being scarce. Hilariously, the game’s boss-fights are actually quite easy by comparison. Some would go down with just a few attacks or the fight would just be a cinematic with quick-time events in it.
The combat system feeling weak is compounded by the bizarre leveling mechanic. Dante gains generic “souls” with which to buy upgrades from one of two trees. On top of that, there is dedicated holy and unholy experience which unlocks higher tiers of these trees. You get these from finding special NPCs that you can either punish or absolve, or using the grapple attack on enemies to finish them with either your scythe or your cross.
On top of unlocking more of the tech tree, leveling up holy increases the strength of your cross whereas leveling up unholy improves the scythe, which creates a lopsided game balance for players who are consistent. If you’re a benevolent soul who forgives sinners, then you’ll find yourself having to wail at late-game enemies for minutes just to defeat them, so you may as well just spam projectiles and not bother. But if you kill everyone? Well, the combat won’t get much better, but you’ll be able to spam a whole lot more magic to at least make it go a bit faster.
This mechanic ties into Dante’s character arc, which isn’t exactly riveting. We learn of his sins during the crusade, but lack just enough context to get a complete picture of the events preceding the game. Dante’s convenient amnesia often makes him come off as a jerk and it’s not entirely clear what exactly Dante does by way of redemption. He murders his way through hell, butchers creatures just doing their jobs, all for a largely-selfish quest that’s entirely his fault. There isn’t much of an arc here. In fact, it feels like the punish versus absolution choices should have tied into diverging story paths, but this idea was seemingly abandoned or never implemented.
This and other issues make the game seem like a rush job. Several of the final levels are horrifically uninspired, including a part where you need to defeat like 30 waves of generic enemies in copy & pasted arenas. Or how about the over-reliance on button-mashing quick-time events for every enemy you want to finish, every resource you want to collect, and even every door you want to open. What other game makes you hammer buttons just to open a standard door?!
Dante’s Inferno is not horrible, but it definitely straddles the 5/10 line. With its barebones combat system and weird designs, its weak story and rushed conclusion, the problems plaguing this game far outweigh its few benefits. Getting to see classic novel adapted to such an unapologetic action game is quite fun and the game does have some creative concepts for its levels, drawing from the solid inspiration offered by its 14th century counterpart.
Ultimately, its concept is its selling point. If you have a fondness for the Divine Comedy or love the era of the crusades, then this is rare opportunity to interact with these in the form an action game. It’s fairly mediocre, but there’s nothing quite like it.