As I died for the 23rd time on the same section, I couldn't help but wonder whether the developers of Dante's Inferno are geniuses worthy of praise and study, or just incompetent. I'm betting on the latter.
The quickest way to describe how Dante's Inferno plays is "like God of War, but awful." The mechanics of how Dante swings his scythe and traverses the environment are identical to Kratos and solid enough, but the enemies and level design are frustratingly bad. The vast majority of enemy types can be tossed into the air and easily destroyed, eliminating all challenge, but the ones that can't just feel unfair, even on normal difficulty. You can switch difficulties on the fly, but there's such a ridiculous divide between easy and normal that neither are satisfying. The difficulty curve overall is so sporadic that by the end of the game, I just left it on easy to get it over with.
Where things get more interesting is with the level design. It's tough to tell whether the developers intended for the levels to be infuriating or not, but they definitely succeeded. For instance, while navigating my way through the Greed circle, there was a room that required me to jump from platform to platform, avoiding rotating blades and flying enemies, and if I fell, I'd have to fight a set of moderately tough enemies before climbing back up. I entered that room with essentially zero health, so getting to the exit was challenging enough, but just beyond it was another platform with a bonus collectible on it and an arbitrary pit of lava beneath.
Something about that platform made it impossible to jump to, so I died every time I attempted. But I wanted that collectible, so I kept going. I must have died at least 30 times in that room trying to get that stupid thing before I just gave up and moved on with my life. So are the developers geniuses? They certainly taught me a hard lesson about the ills of greed. But I think that's affording them way too much credit. When playing God of War, it feels like focus testing was used to make the experience as fun and streamlined as possible. When playing Dante's Inferno, it feels like focus testing was used to make the experience as aggravating and maddening as possible.
But that's how comparisons between Dante's Inferno and God of War go: with Dante's Inferno on the losing end. As hard as I tried to judge it fairly and keep God of War comparisons off my mind as I played, Dante's Inferno fought harder to emphasize them. Constant interruptions to give Dante's backstory are a much more unrefined and jarring take on God of War's delivery of Kratos' tale. Unlike games like Darksiders that use other games for inspiration but have unique takes on them, Dante's Inferno just feels incredibly derivative and lazy, not helped by the fact that it does nothing better than or even as good as God of War.
Even when judged on its own merits, Dante's Inferno's story is a clumsy mess. It spends every single cut scene explaining why Dante is a vile, despicable person, but then gives him the authority to judge and either punish or absolve famous Greek figures for their sins. There's never any justification for his ability to judge others and it only gets worse as the game tells you more about Dante's past sins. The plot feels especially poorly conceived at the end when the game tries to pull off a twist that is completely undeserved and contradicted by multiple events throughout the game before fizzling out to set up for a puzzling sequel.
I'm a huge God of War fanboy; I'd like to make that clear. At first, I was willing to cut Dante's Inferno some slack because it doesn't start off that badly. But the further I got into it, the more it degenerated: It directly lifted sections of level design from God of War. It reused sound effects from Dead Space. It became more erratic and sadistic with its difficulty curve. It made less sense from basic narrative and theological standpoints. It became a hell built just for me, my own personal descent into madness, so I stopped cutting it slack and started holding it more accountable for its flaws.
In the end, Dante's Inferno mostly nails the core mechanics of God of War but fails to do anything original or even competent with them, instead crafting a frustrating, inconsistent experience that isn't worth your time or money.Dante's Inferno / $59.99 / PS3 [reviewed], 360, PC