Dante's Inferno, a brand-new franchise from EA and developer Visceral Games, has a lot to live up to. On the one hand it's Visceral's follow-up to one of our favourite games of 2008, Dead Space; and on the other it so closely resembles Sony's God of War that comparisons beg to be made. With Kratos' next outing little more than a month away, Dante needs to put up a bloody good fight if he's to stand a chance of making an impact. After battling through the nine circles of Hell, taking on wave after wave of unspeakable horror, the sinning warrior might not have Kratos beaten, but he can definitely hold his own in a brawl.
There's been some controversy over the use of the Divine Comedy as the basis of a video game, but in truth the game is only loosely based on the first part of Dante Alighieri's grand poem. Dante, a warrior of the Third Crusade, witnesses the soul of his beloved Beatrice getting dragged into Hell. He follows in an attempt to free her from the clutches of Lucifer, but to do so must make his way through the vilest locations imaginable: the nine circles of Hell. On the way our hero has to come face to face with the sins of his mortal life and sacrifice or absolve the many Shades (spirits of the dead) trapped in the underworld.
All this is just the set up for a very traditional hack 'n' slash, in which Dante slices up nasty monsters, uses magic attacks, performs massive combos, upgrades his abilities and is generally a badass. In a genre dominated by a few heavyweights, Dante's Inferno is definitely in the Hollywood blockbuster camp currently headed by God of War, and isn't nearly as hardcore as the likes of Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta. This is a hack 'n' slash that at times positively encourages button mashing, but gets away with it due to the flashy action, impressively grim environments and ghastly enemies.
Dante only has two weapons: the unholy scythe, taken from Death himself; and a holy crucifix, taken from his fallen love Beatrice. This might seem light compared to games of the same ilk, but each offers plenty of attack options and upgrades, meaning you're not going to find yourself wishing for other items to pick up and use. Collected souls serve as the game's currency, allowing you to buy new abilities, combo attacks, upgrades and more, as long as you've reached the required holy and unholy levels.
The scythe is your melee weapon, with heavy and light attacks, as well as numerous special moves activated through certain combos and modifier buttons. On the other hand, and only with a single attack button, is the crucifix, which fires out monster-slaying holy crosses. Punish the enemies and the trapped souls that you encounter, and you'll level up your unholy level, letting you buy the more advanced unholy abilities, whereas absolving them will let you access the better holy upgrades. Depending on how you play you might end up with a fairly even mix of upgrades, but the crucifix becomes so powerful, doubling as an impressive weapon to use from a distance and up close, that spending souls on new scythe attacks seems somewhat useless. Become an expert with the scythe, though, and that view might be reversed.