Monsters from both categories, however, permeate through all of Hell’s nine circles without explanation. Babies appear in almost every level. Harlots also traverse Lust’s barriers and appear elsewhere for no discernible reason other than Visceral not designing enough bespoke enemies for each environment. Don’t ask us why there are more bloated blood-balloons in Heresy than there are in Gluttony as we simply do not know. Laziness would be our suggestion.
Happily Dante’s fighting mechanics fare better than the continuity. His upgrade tree revolves around two weapons: the holy cross and the unholy scythe. You can either punish or absolve enemies to earn experience in the relevant alignment, opening up extra moves and abilities. Souls are also harvested from monsters, but this currency is universal and isn’t assigned to either of Dante’s weapons. In the course of a single play-through it’s possible to max out one path and most of the second, which proves to be useful given later enemies’ invincibility to certain magic. Attributes can then be further boosted by equipping relics snatched from demons (these relics also level up, but only gain EXP if equipped so you’ll need to choose wisely).
As well as the standard beasties there are 27 crying historical figures dotted around the underworld who need to be dealt with one way or the other. For some reason Visceral has seen fit to use this idea as a vessel for a rolling commentary on the struggle for righteousness. It usually only takes a single button press and a flick of the analogue sticks to punish a sinner, but effort is required to free somebody from the shackles of their sins. If you choose to help any of the 27 damned you’ll be transported to a sin-catching button-matching minigame frighteningly similar to Dance Dance Revolution. The idea is a colossal misfire. The 40-second game is simply a rhythm action title on mute, and unsurprisingly it’s a chore to complete.
Otherwise combat works exactly as you’d expect, with last-minute blocks triggering counters and ridiculous combo opportunities opening up for the most dexterous fingers. Dante dodges attacks with a flick of the right stick, an inputthat even interrupts attacking animations if need be. Hardly an upheaval, but it’s the single feature where Dante’s gets one over on God of War. Every now and then you’ll find a small area with an obscured camera angle or two, but for the most part everything works neatly without ever excelling. Often the temptation to spam the long-ranged cross attacks is too great to pass up, not to mention too effective to ignore. If difficulty is the problem, however, the options screen comes to the rescue: toughness can be raised and lowered on the fly.
The unfortunate launch date hasn’t helped Dante’s cause. One month after Bayonetta’s weapon-juggling combopalooza, the stunted list of Dante’s skills makes for grim reading, and while the games aren’t directly comparable anybody who comes to this after Platinum Games’ masterpiece will feel short-changed. They’re very different spectacles though, and during those few moments of brilliance when Visceral’s vision shines through you’ll happily choose to forgive Dante’s Inferno’s less imaginative portions. God of War is a mighty tough act to emulate and Inferno clearly isn’t in the same league, but though this copycat is flawed it’s a guilty pleasure for those who can’t wait for the real thing.
Feb 3, 2010