Never have we felt so dirty for liking a video game (except maybe this one). In principle we should despise Dante's Inferno for shamelessly ripping off God of War pretty much wholesale.
We know this will be the sole reason many other reviews will kick it down a point or two. But we're not going to. We love God of War and, whether or not you're willing to admit it, Dantes Inferno does a pretty awesome job of mimicking it.
We WILL admit that Dante's is a more full-on copycat than most other games. Most games - like music and films - take influence from those that came before. Almost nothing is completely original. But the mind boggles over what must have been going through the collective heads at developer Visceral as they put Dante's Inferno together.
It's cut-and-paste territory. We wouldn't be surprised if the briefing went something like: "Pretend you're making God of War 3, only set it in hell and re-skin the lead character, please. Lawsuits and all. Thanks."
Imitate to accumulate
The fighting system is identical. Many of the moves and combos are identical. The way you hold Triangle to slam enemies into the air and automatically leap up to do a mid-air floating combo; the way you tap block at the last second to counter attacks or return projectile fire; the orbs that float from defeated enemies into you restoring health an magic; hammering Circle to open crates and doors; flicking the right analogue stick to parry. All identical.
Wait, we're not done. There are the crate-pushing puzzles (and your ability to give push-able objects a hearty shove with the Circle button); the slow-spinning levers that you hold R1 to grab and turn gradually; the giant bosses that you can sometimes see in the distance before you fight them; the gathering of orbs to spend on new moves and abilities in a progressive upgrade system; the QTE takedowns that have you cutting faces off and ripping eyeballs out. All absolutely, shamelessly identical.
And yet, we're not complaining. Not one bit. Like we said, it almost feels dirty to admit it, but we enjoyed every second. In a similar way that we'd be happy for Super Mario Galaxy 2, Halo 4 or Half Life 2: Episode 3 to be simple extensions of their predecessors (because we love them so much), we don't mind that Dante's Inferno is basically God of War without Kratos.
There are certain things, dare we say it, that Visceral Games does even better. This writer, for one, has never had even the slightest fascination with Greek mythology. All gobbledegook. And so I find the dark and twisted depths of hell a far more imaginative, impactful and disturbing setting than the familiar castles and chambers of ancient Greece.
A huge cathedral with stain-glass windows looks nice. But an enormous chasm full of lava, gruesome pulsating fleshy walls, skinned, squirming bodies impaled on giant blood-covered spikes and spinning blades slowing grating into the flesh of eternally alive is far more shocking. The team of artists and designers at Visceral recreate these kind of brilliantly unnerving environments in their sleep.
A flameball-throwing giant is very cool (yes, like the one in the GoW III demo). But an equally enormous, demonic Cleopatra spitting mini monsters from the nipples of her giant, exposed and extraordinarily bouncy tits is just that little bit cooler.
Welcome to Hell
The level design in Dante's really is marvellous; It's a fantastically gross and often disturbing depiction of Hell, with demonic growls and the cries of the suffering filling the air.