It’s March now, and we’re in the height of “Christmas II”, when all the games that missed the holiday season come out more-or-less at the same time.
The last few days have seen a pair of rather significant releases in the form of Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite, which are seriously testing my resolve to not spend more than 20 bucks on a computer game, and the result has been that I have been avoiding signing into my Steam account so I don’t have to see most of my friends list playing one or the other.
Hence, I spent the week playing “Dante’s Inferno” on the Xbox 360, where I have few friends and where most of them are playing some game called “Netflix” whenever they DO log in.
Dante’s Inferno is an odd beast. It is, from what I am given to understand, a blatant knock-off of Sony’s God of War series that takes its inspiration very lightly from the 14th century poem, and managed to offend fans of both. Also there was something about Electronic Arts running a competition where the grand prize was a night with an escort service, which I suspect sounded like a great idea in a 4 PM Friday marketing meeting when everyone just wanted to wrap up for the week and they were out of better ideas.
So there’s that. Also, there’s the “hey, kids, naked ladies and violence at the same time” cutscenes pretty much as soon as you start playing, AND there’s a boss fight against Cleopatra at the end of the “lust” level which I really can’t even describe without feeling like I should slap an age restriction on this post.
I’m sure it’s on Youtube if you’re curious.
So, uh, yeah, the game is basically front-loaded with stuff designed to push the buttons of anyone who’s ever accused videogames of corrupting the youth of the world.
Once you get past Lust, though, it’s like the designers decided that they’d gotten the whole shock thing out of the way and they could get on to making a game where you beat the crap out of demonic hordes for vaguely justifiable reasons. This is where I started rather liking the game, because the beating-the-crap-out-of-demonic-hordes thing is actually quite satisfying. There are a rather limited number of enemy types, so they get a little tedious after a while, but the environments are pretty neat to run around – if, obviously, a little bit depressing after a while. It is Hell, after all, so the designers didn’t have a LOT of options beyond “put lots of spikey bits and screaming tortured souls everywhere”, but moving from “screaming tortured souls in lakes of sewage” to “screaming tortured souls in lakes of boiling blood” to (my favorite) “screaming tortured souls in lakes of molten gold” does at least make for variety in a sort of heavy-metal album art way.
Combat is a pretty normal affair. You have a weak spammy attack, a strong attack that’s kind of easily interrupted, and a ranged attack. There’s a combo meter, and building longer combos helps power up a “retribution” attack where you go all crazy for a minute. Occasionally you have mid-fight QTEs to finish off tougher enemies and, uh, I could pretty much copy this paragraph into any review of any brawler EVER and fill up space so I’ll move on.
Occasionally there are platforming and climbing bits, and there’s generally one plainly obvious path that takes you towards your objective and one rather less obvious path that takes you out of the way and leads you to a power-up or collectible of some type. Again, perfectly normal stuff, but the sort of thing that can be quite satisfying if you like hunting for hidden things.
It also has a morality system, because every game since Bioshock has needed a morality system. Granted, the game is about descending into the depths of Hell to seek redemption, so a morality system rather fits the theme, but it’s probably the most imbalanced system of its type that I’ve ever seen.
When you fight certain stronger monsters, or when you come across random damned souls, you’re given the option to “Punish” or “Absolve” them. Punishing them raises your “Unholy” level, while Absolving them raises your “Holy” level. As these levels raise, you gain access to advanced skills on either the Holy or Unholy side of things, which can be purchased with the souls released when you, as previously mentioned, beat the crap out of demonic hordes.
Of course, if you look through the skill trees, the last stuff on the Holy side is all about shielding yourself and regenerating health and getting health back when you defeat enemies and boosting your ranged attacks, and the last stuff on the Unholy side is rather geared towards melee combat and damage while not doing a bit of difference for survivability.
Furthermore, Absolving damned souls lets you play a mini-game which gives you absurd amounts of the souls you use to purchase skills, while Punishing them just raises your Unholy level with no side benefits.
So, well, it’s a really bad idea to play as a jerk – and, in fact, looking at reviews for this game, it’s pretty obvious which reviewers decided to go the Unholy path and which decided to go the Holy path because the reviews are split almost evenly between “this game is too easy” and “this game gets really hard and the bosses are unfair”.
There’s also a VERY cheesy tactic which I used to get through two of the rougher boss fights – you can buy health upgrades (which come with a full heal) at any time, so you technically have a very limited number of full heals.
The game was decidedly NOT balanced around this, so I was able to blow through the final boss fight on the first go even though I completely flubbed the bit where I was supposed to watch for a light on the ground and stand in the light and start a QTE to blah blah blah blah I just hit the guy with a big scythe until he fell over.
End result: I get to crow about actually beating one of these things on “Normal” rather than “Easy”, and that’s a good day in my book.