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PAX 2009 Impressions: Dante’s Inferno

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Known for its controversial marketing stunts more than anything else, EA's Dante's Inferno took to the floor at PAX, giving attendees a chance to get their hands on the title. Developed by Visceral Games (The Godfather: The Game, Dead Space), Dante's Inferno takes inspiration from the classic work of literature … and really, that's about it. It's no attempt to retell Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, or more specifically, the "Inferno" portion of it, but rather to tell an alternate version of it — one where Dante is apparently an ass-kicker with a troubled past.

EA brought the first level of the game, Limbo, to PAX, and I got a little hands-on time with it, as well as the opportunity to watch a few other people play through Limbo. It was certainly a perspective-changing experience for me, but perhaps not the way EA had anticipated.

To start with, the game's character designs are actually pretty creative and creepy, and I give Visceral Games huge props for creating a world that truly does feel like Hell. Of course, considering they did the same with Dead Space, I shouldn't be surprised. Whether it's having to take down giant fire beasts, minotaur-like creatures or babies that appear to have scythes for arms, there's plenty in Limbo to scare the crap out of you.

Along the way, Dante runs into damned souls, whom he can either absolve of their sins or punish. And by punish, I mean kill them in very gory and painful ways. It's a unique little twist and one that once again reinforces the whole Hell setting. I'd like to see how this plays out or if it has any effect on future levels, though.

The game play, though, is really where things started to change for me. The game doesn't control poorly, as Dante's scythe quickly responds to your button presses, unleashing a hellish fury upon all those in its path, but button-mashing and chain-comboing are really at the core of the game itself. You duck enemy attacks, respond by slicing them to bits, and repeat the task as necessary. To be honest, it gets a bit boring after a while and I hope there's more to the that EA didn't show us at PAX.

The boss battles require you to hack and slash away while avoiding attacks until you reach a series of quick-time events. After a few button presses, I got to see Dante drag his foe by the tongue to a giant wheel and, after pinning him to it, destroy him in an incredibly bloody fashion. Watching this part of the demo really felt like taking down any one of the numerous bosses in the God of War series on the Playstation 2 and 3.

That's the problem with Dante's Inferno: no matter how much I saw or played, I could not shake the feeling that his game is a God of War clone and nothing more. The copious amounts of blood and gore, the battles with giant mythological bosses, the button-mashing hack and slash game play … it all feels like Sony's title with a new coat of paint on it. I did have some higher hopes for this title coming in to PAX, but after seeing what little bit EA was willing to show off, I walked away less than impressed. Here's hoping there's far more to poor Dante's journey that we just haven't seen yet.

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About Brian Szabelski