E3 2009: The Five: Dante's Inferno
So, here we are in 2009, looking down the barrel at Dante's Inferno, a videogame based on an 14th-century epic poem. There's no movie coming out, no toy line preceding it. If you've got fancy college-book learning like Mr. MFA here, you may have read "Inferno," which details poet Dante Alighieri's fictional journey through Hell. But, chances are, you haven't thought about Dante and his masterwork since you threw away the CliffsNotes. EA's probably counting on that.
1. Executive Producer Jonathan Knight did admit that Visceral Games takes its liberties with the first cantica of the "Divine Comedy." The real-world Dante had a past in the battlefield, and Dante in the game is a haunted soldier accounting for past sins. His reason for storming the gates of Hell? That would be Beatrice, Dante's love interest. She's been kidnapped by Lucifer, and Dante's fighting his way through Hell to get her back. In the third cantica of the "Divine Comedy," Beatrice is Dante's guide through Heaven. Like we said, liberties are taken.
2. But the game does try to remain faithful in its way. The player's guide through the underworld in the game, just as in the poem, is the ancient Roman poet Virgil; and the basic journey through various circles and locales of eternal damnation remains intact. While crossing the river Styx with Phlegyas the boatman, Dante encounters Filippo Argenti, a character from the poem. Knight says other figures from the poem show up, too, and that all of Virgil's lines come directly from the core text -- so you may be able to answer a few SAT questions as a result of playing the game.
3. There's no getting around it: Yes, Dante's Inferno looks and plays a lot like the God of War games. But Dante's not killing gods and Titans. In fact, we saw him using a giant crucifix as a sort of magic, so the Holy Trinity must be down with his actions to some extent. His main weapon, though, is Death's Scythe, which extends across the screen in ways that resemble Kratos' familiar chained blades. Dante's Inferno traffics in the same kind of gothic, gory action that made Kratos a household name, but may be more poetic about it.
4. Guess what overused mechanic shows up in Inferno? That's right: moral choice! During the game, you'll encounter damned people whom you're prompted to Punish or Absolve. Either choice gives you a certain amount of souls, which are the currency of the game. It wasn't clear what effect this will have on the story paths of the game.
5. There's an indirect Hollywood connection in Dante's Inferno. Wayne Barlow -- an author and illustrator who's worked as concept artist with Guillermo del Toro on "Blade II" and both Hellboy movies -- provided character and environmental designs for the game. Expect to play through the same kind of baroquely bizarre visuals that made those films memorable.
The Crispy Forecast: Mostly cloudy. With God of War III on the horizon, there's just not enough differentiation to make folks see Dante's Inferno as anything other than another derivative beat-'em-up-in-ancient-times game. Unless Visceral breaks some new ground, it may be "abandon hope all ye who enter."
This preview is based on a developer-driven demo of the game at E3 2009.