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Dante's Inferno: Deadly Poets Society

Company: EA Games

If you haven't seen or heard anything about Dante's Inferno by this point, a lot of questions are probably zooming through your head as you read this. Among the possible questions are: "What?" "Why?" "How?" "Really?" and of course, "No, seriously -- REALLY?" Electronic Arts and Visceral Games have indeed taken the most famous part of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and given it the game treatment. If you've been following the coverage of Dante's Inferno, you have probably heard of the poorly-staged publicity stunt and the outrage expressed at the already infamous "Bad Nanny" Achievement/Trophy. Just know this: thus far, not everything about this game has been cast in a positive light. Recently, a demo made its way onto the PlayStation Network with almost no fanfare at all. It's a meaty chunk that offers a potent taste of what Visceral is cooking up for next February. If what this writer has played is any indication, it would appear that this Dante just might deserve a place alongside the likes of Ryu, Kratos, and that other Dante.

Dante's Inferno recasts Dante the narrator/poet/self-projection as a battle-hardened Crusader. The demo begins with a cutscene in which Dante finishes sewing a cross-shaped tapestry into his chest. Several different designs adorn the cross, and it is this that allows the developers to tell the story in a unique way.

The actual gameplay begins with a flashback to 1191 Acre, where Saladin has refused to negotiate with the Crusaders on the fate of a holy artifact. After a tutorial battle has Dante lay waste to some thirty-or-so enemies, an assassin sneaks up and buries his dagger hilt-deep in Dante's spine. The second this happens, the world begins to fall apart, and Death himself rises from the ground to claim his new prize. Dante pulls the dagger out of his back and engages Death in combat. Winning this battle awards Dante with his go-to weapon for the rest of the game.

The game flash-forwards back to the present, as Dante finally returns to Florence, or rather, what's left of it. He finds his love Beatrice in a graveyard, half-naked and impaled on a sword. Dante has no time to mourn; Beatrice's spirit appears and is almost immediately kidnapped by Lucifer. The graveyard then erupts into a maelstrom of carnage, and thus begins Dante's rescue/redemption mission.

Dante pursues Beatrice's soul to a church, where she lies on an altar next to a strange crucifix-shaped glow. When she disappears yet again, Dante bathes his Holy Cross (a token of Beatrice's love and fidelity) in the cross-shaped light. This gives Dante his second weapon. Whereas the scythe allows Dante to maim and destroy, the cross is a ranged weapon that purifies everything with holy fire.

Once you obtain the Holy Cross, the game's morality system surfaces. Grabbing any enemy with the scythe will give Dante complete control over that enemy's fate. If you press the button that corresponds to the scythe, Dante will punish the creature... by brutally executing it. Pressing the button that corresponds to the cross will begin a brief mini-game in which Dante absolves the sins of his enemy. Absolving an enemy takes a bit of time and demands a bit more from you, but you will earn more souls (the game's currency) and veer toward the path of holiness. At this point, the morality system poses some fascinating questions. Given the setting of the game, some very interesting scenarios could come up at any time during Dante's trek through the Nine Circles. Additionally, if the upgrade menu is any indication, it appears that Dante's moral alignment will govern the types of skills he can unlock as he collects more souls.

After a second tapestry cutscene, the church falls to pieces and the mouth of Hell is revealed. As Dante climbs his way down to the Gates of Hell, a spirit arrives and announces that Beatrice has sent him to aid Dante in his quest. If you've read The Divine Comedy, you've probably already guessed that this is this spirit of Virgil. Dante receives his first magic ability right then and there, in the form of a dash attack.

The demo ends with a bang, as a minotaur crashes through the wall and assaults Dante as yet another legion of the damned rises from the ground. If you've played the God of War III E3 2009 demo yet, this next part might feel a bit too similar. Once you've knocked the minotaur down, you engage in a quick-time event that results in Dante gaining control of the beast. After smashing, stomping, eating, and roasting a number of enemies, an icon appears above the Gates of Hell. As Dante forces the minotaur to pry the gates open, everything fades to black...

Dante's Inferno can and will be compared to the God of War trilogy. There are a number of reasonable comparisons to make, but the relatively high speed of the combat must be noted. Yes, Dante's Inferno borrows the gore and quick-time events of God of War, and it seems more than ready to one-up its inspiration when it comes to sexuality and nudity. However, the speed of the combat is somewhere between Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden. Dante is quick on his feet and does not hesitate to take to the air. The combat appears to be free of hiccups, and the action runs at a liquid-smooth 60 frames per second. The combat system appears to emphasize evasive maneuvers over straightforward defensive techniques, but we won't know for sure how it all plays out until the game is released.

There's no getting around it: the developers at Visceral Games are treading on unstable ground with Dante's Inferno. However, the high production values and flashy combat suggest that the game is already in a state of high polish. If you set all of your reservations aside (whatever they may be), you'll like what you see. The demo is currently available on the PlayStation Network, and will be arriving on the Xbox Live Marketplace on Christmas Eve. The full retail version of Dante's Inferno is currently street-dated for launch on the 9th of February.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Related Links:

Nintendo Wii Shiren the Wanderer Sony PlayStation 2 Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love

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