Perhaps it’s the string of amazing fall games to have hit consoles recently. Maybe it’s the lofty and often outspoken ambition of recent developers such as Quantum Dream’s David Cage or Lionhead’s Peter Molyneux to raise the bar in terms of thought-provoking, interactive entertainment. Or perhaps it’s a sign that my personal tastes are changing. Any way you look at it, I’m not too excited for Dante’s Inferno.
After playing the PS3 demo last weekend, it’s clear to me that EA has put a fair share of effort into their Q1-release brawler. First unveiled during last year’s VGAs, it’s hard to describe the graphics and play mechanics of DI as anything less than a God of War clone. Make no mistake – I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It doesn’t hurt that the constant bone-crunching, blood-gushing action is aided by a silky smooth 60 fps. If you squint really hard, you’ll swear that Kratos has leaped his way into another fighting epic to take on as many demons as will quench his blood-lust. However, in a rare stroke of irony, although several games this year have suffered from a great-concept, poor-execution syndrome, EA’s first 2010 effort seems be exhibiting exactly the opposite problem – great execution, awful premise.
Look into my eyes…
Have you ever seen the movie “Equilibrium,” starring Christian Bale? If you haven’t, let me summarize: Bale plays an “awakened” cop in a post World War III dystopia in which emotion is outlawed. Although it’s a seemingly hopeless world, he joins a resistance movement to overthrow the nation’s disembodied leader “Father,” and finishes the film performing a “gun kata,” gracefully shooting all of his enemies and freeing the captive society. It’s perhaps one of the most entertaining, yet thinly-veiled 1984 rip-offs I’ve ever seen, and does little to alleviate the feeling that the writer’s inspiration was to make the plot revolve around “kicking Big Brother’s ass.”
Although it can be argued that video games are often skewed towards an entirely immature audience, I was struck with the same damn feeling after getting my hands on Dante’s Inferno – it’s as if a college student were slaving through Alighieri’s classic poem for a literature class while being tempted by a fresh copy of God of War. “What if Dante kicked Hell’s ass!?” I’m thrilled that we’ll finally get to answer that insightful question this February.
Sarcasm aside, Dante’s Inferno sticks out like a sore thumb when lined up side-by-side with EA’s other self-proclaimed “original, high-quality” titles released over the past few years.Â Mirror’s Edge, Dead Space,Â Brutal Legend, The Saboteur – all irrevocably original games that have helped shed EA’s “dark empire” image and forced us, as the enthusiast press, to reevaluate what we think constitutes a good piece of software. So please excuse me when I say that I’m a little disappointed that this concept got green-lit in the first place. I expected a little bit more, John.
A thinking man’s game.
And it’s not to say that Dante’s Inferno won’t be an enjoyable experience – I’m sure I’d be just as satisfied hacking apart the nine circles of Hell as I would ripping out the eyes of hundreds of Greek cyclopes. But being a somewhat well-educated gamer that’s familiar with the source material, it just really feels like it’s missing the mark.
But perhaps the biggest let-down is that the source material is extremely interesting to begin with. It details the journey of a man, Dante, led by the Roman poet Virgil, through a walking tour of the medieval concept of Hell. Symbolism abound, it’s an incredibly lyrical and fascinating poem that’s had a very long-lasting impact on religion and society in general – to call it a classic is a bit of an understatement. It’s sad to see that reduced to a bloody “hack and slash” when we have Konami’s chilling Silent Hill 2 and Jonathan Blow’s incredibly intriguing Braid to look to as successful ventures into the human psyche, commenting on human suffering in both subtle and eye-opening ways. Oh, and did I mention that Heavy Rain is coming out early next year too?
I’m not usually one to complain about ridiculous concepts or lowest-common-denominator type games – if my Bayonetta preorder doesn’t prove that to you, I don’t know what will. But after thinking about DI and its’ surrounding context, I’m left feeling slightly insulted and rather disappointed. There are ways to incorporate classic and historical symbols, concepts and personalities into a game while both appreciating their value and allowing them to enrich your story. Just ask the Ubisoft Montreal guys – they’ll tell you what’s up.
And although I’m not shy in the least to share my enthusiasm about Ezio’s killings, Nathan Drake’s fortune-hunting or Kratos’ blood-soaked retribution, I’d hesitate, as a passionate gamer, to tell my friends and family about the concept of EA’s Dante’s Inferno. I can hear their bemused scoffing in my mind as they shake their heads – proof that gamers don’t understand history or art so much as killing everything on the screen. Kids these days.
So good luck to you, EA, when February rolls around. If you survive the bloodbath of new action titles arriving in Q1, I hope you make enough money on Dante’s Inferno to fund another high-quality, original IP, and not a sequel.
Two steps forward, one step back. Just be careful not to fall into that hole – it’s pretty deep.
In bocca al lupo.