E3 09: God of War III vs Bayonetta vs Dante's Inferno vs Darksiders

Probably the most blatant attempt at creating a God of War clone, Dante’s Inferno (very) loosely adapts The Divine Comedy, the satirical 14th-century epic poem by Dante Alighieri, into a pitched battle against gargantuan monsters in a massive medieval hellscape. It also deserves credit for the sheer balls it must have taken to try and transform this guy:

Above: The real Dante

Into this guy:

Above: A somewhat more fanciful rendition

Crimes against literature aside, Inferno is already clearly more than just a cheap cash-in on God of War’s good looks. Granted, the gameplay is undeniably GoW-inspired, as Dante relies on Death’s scythe (whose blade is attached by a retractable chain) and backup magical powers to cut a bloody swath through huge demons, and the game’s lava-filled environments and monstrous Gothic architecture immediately bring to mind God of War’s weird, frequently crumbling vision of ancient Greece. But Inferno saves itself from clonedom with lavish production values, the ability to use the scythe as a zipline and enormous, unique bosses who get disposed of in messy ways.

There’s Charon, a sort of living ferry on whose back you’ll battle a giant demon-beast; rather than killing it, however, you’ll be able to dispose of its rider, take control of it and use it to rip off Charon’s massive head before ditching it in a desperate, brute-force entry into Hell. We’ve also gotten a glimpse of Minos, the Greek king who judges the dead in the poem, but who is here depicted as a gargantuan, serpentine horror who’s disposed of by impaling his tongue on a spiked wheel, which is then reeled in (via quicktime event, of course) to stab through his chin and ultimately rip his face right the hell out of his head.

Above: If ever there was a face that deserved to be torn off…

A later glimpse at the Anger circle of Hell revealed an even more gigantic creature to contend with, the demon Phlegyas, who wears a crown so huge that it alone makes a sizable vessel for Dante to ride around in. And he’ll get plenty of opportunities, as later parts of the level involve taking control of Phlegyas, at which point he appears as a normal-sized character (relative to your screen, at least) and Dante is barely visible as a speck on his head.

Also setting Inferno apart are the weirder, creepier touches apparently inspired by medieval Christianity. These include the blade babies, vicious souls of unbaptized infants who swarm Dante, and Dante’s own cross, which provides an energy-weapon alternative to the scythe. And then there’s the ability to “punish” or “absolve” the souls of characters from the Divine Comedy, which so far as we can tell – having only seen the “punish” option – involves stabbing them in the face. Apparently, your choices at these junctures will determine which skills are available to you as Dante levels up. We don’t yet know what those are, but we’re pretty sure we can guess their nature by this point.

Worthy? Inferno already shows considerable promise, although at this point it’s still second-string promise. Still, the huge bosses and revisionist take on the classic have gotten us intrigued; now it’s just a matter of seeing how the rest pans out.

Likelihood of defeating God of War:

Darksiders: Wrath of War

Of all the games on this list, Darksiders has the biggest potential to completely stomp out from underneath God of War’s shadow, although you’d never know it if you just went by what was being shown on the floor at E3. If you judged it by that alone, then you could be forgiven for thinking Darksiders is a lumbering, somewhat bland take on God of War’s formula. Beefy protagonist War – as in, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – clanks around like one of the armored goons from Gears of War, swinging a broadsword (how passé!) at zombies and climbing specially textured walls in a crumbling version of Earth set 100 years after Armageddon. Which, incidentally, was won by Hell, a travesty for which War and his fellow Horsemen have been wrongly blamed.

Above: Samael there is hopefully about to get a nice taste of War’s steel

It’s fun enough, in a meaty, hulking kind of way. But behind closed doors, we saw the real Darksiders, and while the combat might be blatantly GoW-inspired, the game’s structure will be anything but. Instead, Darksiders is structured like a post-Armageddon Zelda, in that War explores a big, open, demon-conquered overworld that’s connected to puzzle-filled dungeons. Each of these will feature some weapon or item that’s key to solving the dungeon’s puzzles and defeating its boss. And speaking of bosses, THQ has promised that they’re going to be ginormous. To drive the point home, we were shown one of the game’s “smallest” bosses, a grotesquely huge bat-dragon named Tiamat who can be defeated by sticky bombs.

Above: OK, so she looks a little small here, but the perspective’s off in this shot

We also caught a glimpse of an arena in the Ashlands, a desert playground for demons in which War has to bring down a series of demon warriors for the entertainment of the crowd. It’s all a plot to get to the monster who’s running the place, as said fiend stole War’s horse, Ruin, after the apocalypse. Once the demon is dead, War re-tames Ruin by refusing to harm it – apparently the first sign in the game that he cares about something - which then enables him to ride and summon Ruin anywhere in the overworld, even when he’s leaping off a cliff. Ruin also enables War to get around quickly in the hard-to-traverse Ashlands, which then opens up more areas to explore and more monsters to kill.

Finally, there are the weapons, and while War’s primary means of annihilation is that massive broadsword he carries, it’s by no means his only one. Over the course of the game, War will be able to use two alternate weapons, which – in a nod to the fact that players of these types of games tend to stick with the default weapon – just provide secondary attacks to supplement his sword combos. And those don’t include guns – during our demo, we saw War shooting pistols while on horseback, and trudging through a long hallway carrying a really huge cannon, third-person shooter style.

Above: Sure wish we had some pictures of those guns. But in the meantime, here’s some horse action

Factor in buckets of gore, a few enjoyably simple puzzles, an intriguing premise and a menacing sidekick voiced by Mark Hamill in full Joker mode, and we’re excited to see what else is in store for War’s big adventure.

Worthy? Tentatively yes. The basic action has gotten a lot stronger since the last time we saw Darksiders, but it could still potentially be dismissed as a weak God of War imitation if the Zelda-inspired stuff doesn’t turn out to be something special (which it already looks like it could be).

Likelihood of defeating God of War:

June 11, 2009

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