Dante's Inferno: Deja vu all over again

Much has been made about the game's similarities to the God of War franchise, so let's see if Dante's Inferno stands out by itself.

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Dante's Inferno is loosely based on the first book in the classic poem, "The Divine Comedy." In it, you assume the role of Dante, a Third Crusade-era warrior who must travel through the nine circles of hell in order to avenge the loss of his beloved Beatrice.

Much has been made about the game's similarities to the God of War franchise, so let's see if Dante's Inferno stands out by itself. Having been to hell and back, here are our final thoughts:

Jeff:
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the case of Dante's Inferno it borders on the lines of straight-up plagiarism. To be clear, we're not saying the game isn't enjoyable--far from it--we just can't remember the last time we've seen such blatant carbon copying in a video game. Dante's Inferno borrows so many elements from the God of War franchise that at times we forgot we weren't actually playing the latter. From health, magic, and soul pickups, camera movement and angles, to quick time events and save points, there's not much that separate Dante and Kratos.

Perhaps even more upsetting is that the title's developer is Visceral Games, the studio responsible for 2008's instant-classic Dead Space; a game touted for its survival-horror revival and impressive antigravity gameplay. With such a studio in charge of Dante's Inferno, one would imagine that creative spirit would translate to another new franchise, but whatever original content is present here unfortunately gets drowned out by the similarities to God of War.

Though we have seen attempts like this before, Dante's Inferno is by far the most technically accurate. Yes it does borrow plenty of mechanics from God of War, but it pulls them off very convincingly. Not everything is familiar, though; as you make your way through the nine circles of hell, the game does a great job at making you believe you've really entered the underworld. Plus, there are some enemies and themes here that provide plenty of shock value rarely attempted in gaming. Whether you consider that a "win" is another story. We also enjoyed the unique art style of the animated cut scenes that connect the jump to a new level and the holy/unholy leveling-up system is a nice element that adds a little dimension to an otherwise conventional action game.

When all is said and done, there's still plenty of fun to be had with Dante's Inferno. We just wish it carved more of a unique niche out for itself. The adapted story occasionally drifts in and out of consistency and there are a few frustrating moments scattered throughout the campaign. With the game releasing just over a month before its muse, God of War III, it's tough to recommend purchasing such a similar game right now, especially to those gamers who own a PlayStation 3. From what we've seen and played of the PS3 exclusive, we're just not sure Dante will be able to match the experience God of War III looks to provide. For Xbox 360 owners with no plans on owning a PS3 any time soon, Dante's Inferno is the closest thing you'll get to a Kratos adventure.

Scott:
Received with no small amount of press incredulity, EA's game adaptation of the epic poem Dante's Inferno is an odd duck. First, why adapt Dante's Inferno in the first place? The final game, which plays as so many of noted as a near sequel to God of War, doesn't seem to need any such literary license. It's as odd a graft as "The Great Gatsby" on a clone of The Sims.

Second, why release such a game just weeks before God of War III? Dante's Inferno may play like a semi-next-gen version GoW, but Sony's own next-gen sequel looks ready to perform at a far higher level. Considering the years that have elapsed since God of War II, it's a wonder why EA didn't release this game a few months ago instead of now.

Still, the level of polish on Dante's Inferno is impressive. Like a movie caught on cable that you didn't expect to be good but nevertheless has you watching captivated, the game has its pacing down pat. Sprawling landscapes and disturbingly designed demons present nice eye candy, although the dungeon-esque settings get a little repetitive. For 360 owners hungering for a piece of the God of War action, Dante's Inferno is a fair simulacrum. But PS3 owners will have little reason to pick this up unless they're dying for one more go before March.

Dan:
Calling Dante's Inferno a blatant knock-off of the popular God of War series is about as unoriginal a concept as the game itself--but only because it's an obvious conclusion that has gained near-universal traction among industry watchers.

That said, using a 14th-century literary classic as the backbone of a video game is a highbrow idea that deserves praise, at least in theory.

Though the Inferno portion of Dante Alighieri's epic poem La Divina Commedia does indeed take its narrator into the various circles of hell, meeting with historical figures and frightening creatures, the game veers sharply from the established narrative. Dante is recast as an ass-kicking Crusades-era warrior, rather than a poet, and the quest to save a lost love seemingly kidnapped by old Scratch himself is straight out of Genre-Plotting 101.

In practice, the end result is akin to making a game inspired by "Moby Dick," but actually about a cybernetcially enhanced bounty hunter whale who rides a turbo-charged speedboat called the Pequod.

Yet, by borrowing so liberally from the deservedly popular God of War games (the carbon-copy movement and camera controls are especially telling), Dante's Inferno hits a certain level of competence and, dare we say, fun. Like a Syfy Channel B-movie that you keep watching through just one more commercial break, the game propels itself along at an engaging clip, working just enough plot, action, and T&A to keep us interested.

It may not rise to the level of guilty pleasure, but it's at least a guilty time-killer. However, we weep for the inevitable first high school student who tried to crib a class assignment from the game's plot instead of at least springing for the Cliff's Notes version. If you thought writing a book report from the movie adaptation was shady, we can't wait until kids start using video game versions.

About the author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.

Dan Ackerman

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of laptops, desktops, and Windows tablets, while also writing about games, gadgets, and other topics. A former radio DJ and member of Mensa, he's written about music and technology for more than 15 years, appearing in publications including Spin, Blender, and Men's Journal. See full bio

Jeff Bakalar

Jeff has been at CNET for more than five years covering games, tech, and pop culture. When he's not playing ice hockey or pinball, you can catch him live every day as the host of CNET's infamous daily show, The 404 Show and every Friday in CNET's first-ever tech comic, Low Latency. See full bio

 

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