Dante’s Inferno…well, there are boobs

I will start this rant with a disclaimer: I really, REALLY love me some Dead Space.  Visceral Games (the developer for both Dead Space and Dante’s Inferno) created a really freaky, memorable and engrossing video game experience; it really is one of my favorite games this generation, easily competing with Gears of War 2 and Bioshock.

One of my favorite games of LAST generation has unequivocally got to be God of War 2.  I have not owned a single Sony console in my life, but I did borrow a PS2 from The DLB and worked my way through the entire game, a full two years after the launch of the Xbox 360.  While the God of War series isn’t really a poster child for subtlety and restraint, the execution of the action, the breathtaking boss battles, and the ever-changing-but-always-well-delivered set pieces made me feel like we had actually moved the ball forward to the endzone known as True Cinematic Gaming™.

You can imagine, then, that I had (perhaps unreasonably) high hopes for Dante’s Inferno.  A combination of God of War-style gameplay and a studio that created one of this generation’s coolest games?  Instant win, yes?I regret to inform you that this isn’t the perfect game.  I also regret to inform you that it’s not even close to that.  A few of the high points first:

– If you’ve played God of War, you’ll be very at home here.  The combat system, the power-up system, even how you acquire health, experience and mana, are painfully and shamelessly ripped from Kratos’ world.  God of War IS genius, though, so if you’re going to copy something, make it the best.  (I am reminded of Uncharted’s “homage” to the Gears of War-style stop and pop style of gameplay, a system that they recognized as genius for the type of game they were creating and ran with it to wonderful effect).

– The presentation elements surrounding the game are pretty wonderful.  The cutscenes are a mix of pre-rendered CG movies and in-game interchanges, but they take advantage of the extra fidelity during the CG portions by blending high-quality renderings and a disturbingly effective hand-drawn animation style (this is sold to you through the era-appropriate tapestry artwork that starts moving from time-to-time).  None of it ever felt forced, and it was usually quite chilling, which a game of this subject matter should achieve.

As for the other shoe:

– It’s wonderful that the game is running at 60fps at all times (especially during the more stunning moments such as the church falling apart around you), but I can’t help feeling like we could’ve used just a bit more in the lighting/texture work/animation department and trade that in for something closer to 30fps. (while inconclusive, DigitalFoundry is banking on God of War 3 being 720p/30fps, and everything we’ve seen so far is nothing short of stunning in comparison to Dante’s Inferno).  There are definitely “seams” in the presentation that feel a bit like a step backward in terms of the generational leap we’ve been experiencing in game engines over the past few years.  Levels feel very “geometric”, animations of enemies are synchronized like a robotic dance squad, and the lack of some now fairly common special effects (depth of field in particular comes to mind), all scream last-gen.  There are some AMAZING moments of high-quality texture work, though: the fire effect used for your “you can’t move forward until you beat up these guys” wall, the lightning storm outside the church, and a few other moments of note all pop off the screen.

– The voice acting is a little bit on the suspect side.  For such a narrative-heavy game, I really do wish they landed this part.

– Shock value is great, but sometimes the showing of breasts without any real meaningful context feels more juvenile then perhaps originally intended (of course, it’s looking like we won’t be stopping at naked boobs…).  The violence portion of the game isn’t really a huge deal for me in a game where you FIGHT through hell, but the nudity just didn’t come off as serving any purpose outside of getting people to talk about the game.  Congratulations guys, you win.

If the demo is the sole basis one should use in considering this game, I currently am going to classify it as a rental.  As is typical for most demos, there is a sizzle reel of upcoming moments in the full game (which I had already seen once before), and after playing through the demo and peeling back the mask of the quick cuts and explosive musical score, I found myself a little less excited for Dante’s trip through Hell.

What did you think?

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