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Video Game Review: 'Dante's Inferno'

Full respect for the nine circles of hell

Posted: February 25, 2010 3:54 p.m.
Updated: February 26, 2010 6:00 a.m.

A scene from the video game "Dante's Inferno," where you can grant absolution or punishment.

 
If ever there was a work of great literature tailor-made for adaptation into a video game, it would be Dante Alighieri's "Inferno" from "The Divine Comedy," a three-part poem. It has hell's signature foreboding and a litany of monstrous entities that any game developer needs for a good head start.

Electronic Arts has treated Dante's vision of nine circles of hell with the care and respect it deserves in "Dante's Inferno" ($60; Xbox 360, PS3, PSP). It's a frightening journey to the underworld that earns every ounce of its "M'' for mature rating.

You play, of course, as Dante, who is in a Middle Ages midlife crisis. He must find his lost love Beatrice and rescue her from Lucifer and his minions while evading and doling out punishment (or absolution) to thousands of lost souls along the descent through hell. He also does some navel-gazing about some of his own decisions that have landed him in this fine predicament.

This third-person action game has a good feel to it, and reminds me in movements and level adversity to THQ's excellent "Conan" title of 2007. Slashing combat attacks and deft blocking are crucial to vanquishing the enemies with Dante's primary weapon, Death's scythe.

I played the Xbox 360 version. In an early level, after killing innumerable souls who thrust at me with crude weapons, I faced off against an evil boss who rode atop a beast, steering him by his horns. Fortunately I had acquired some slick fighting moves after cashing in a few collected souls, which serve as the currency of choice in hell. You beat up and kill some souls, then use them to buy better skills.

All along the journey there was wailing, crying and screaming. It echoed from beyond the walls, as souls seeking salvation begged for my help. Occasionally, I came upon famous characters in history and was given the honor of granting absolution or punishment.
For instance, I chose to push the "X'' button and punish Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who, according to the Gospels, allowed Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified. As he begged forgiveness, my scythe drove violently through his skull and his body fell before me. Likewise, I also punished Clodia, a notorious gambler and seducer of ancient Rome.

I chose, however, to absolve the Greek poet Orpheus, who glowed white and rose to the heavens. Then I had to grab his sins by pressing the X-Y-A-B controller buttons as orbs containing his sins floated toward the corresponding colors in the center of the screen. I grabbed enough to grant him absolution and earn some bonus souls.

Such were the decisions I made as I fought my way through the circles of Limbo, Lust and Gluttony.

"Dante's Inferno" isn't a title for the squeamish. After crossing the River of Acheron, I faced off against bloody toddlers with blades for arms. They hobbled around and slashed at me, and later reappeared when the female level boss plucked them from her bosom and sent them to attack me again. These "unblessed infants" are explained to be children facing damnation for not having been baptized.

The finishing moves are polished and exciting, the weapons and powers are fun to use. The lovely Beatrice, however, can barely keep her clothes on in any of the lively cut scenes. If Dante ever finds and rescues her, hopefully he'll have saved up enough Judas coins along the way to buy her something warm.

Beatrice looks cold, though comely, even in hell.

Four out of four stars.

On the Net:
http://www.dantesinferno.com/

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