Of course, this being a trip through Hell, it's not going to be easy to be good. When you're given the choice to absolve or punish, the former requires far more effort, with a time-consuming, boring, button-tapping mini-game testing your holiness to its limit. It's far easier to just press a button and stab the poor soul through the gut and skull, but doing so won't earn you as many souls and won't help you level up your unholy level. Badly placed checkpoints that force you to replay these punish or absolve moments over and over again simply add weight to the case for the easy option. Whether you punish or absolve has no impact on the game's storyline (something that would have made each decision more taxing) but the system does provide a neat way to tailor your combat options.
As much as Dante can get away with some button mashing, he's got all the moves you'd want him to have. Blocking at the right time will let him counter an enemy's attack with a devastating blow of his own (with either the scythe or the crucifix), he's able to dodge attacks using the right analogue stick and magic can be mapped to the four face buttons - activated when pressed in combination with a modifier button and when the mana meter has enough juice. My favourite and most useful is the shield, which also recharges health once upgraded, but the other more offensive options all have their uses.
Perhaps more important, and able to shape the gameplay to your own style, are relics. These can initially be equipped to two slots, and grant you bonuses such as an increased chance of a critical strike on an enemy and a faster filling redemption meter - when activated Dante's moves can be performed at a faster pace. These are also home to my favourite item ever in a video game: the relic that reduces damage caused from excrement attacks. That's right. One of the most disgusting enemies in the game will poop on you in the nastiest way imaginable. Relics will upgrade as you use them, too, so it's not a good idea to constantly switch to a new one unless you feel it will really benefit your play style.
On the whole the combat system is fast, fun and easy to learn. There's depth here, provided by the use of magic and relics, and the countering will take time to master. Most importantly, it looks great. Dante's unholy cross produces the most striking visual effect, filling the surrounding area with a cool light blue glow as enemies go flying. When you're able to pull off stunning moves with relative ease you'll want to do it again and again, and go deeper into the system to learn the more complex moves. Genre snobs might turn their noses up because this isn't punishing on a Ninja Gaiden level, but it's not trying to be.
Given that Visceral had the poem's vision of the nine circles of Hell to play with it should be no surprise that each is quite brilliant in its depiction of vileness. It's hard to see the game as impressive looking, such is the level of depravity on show, including rivers of blood complete with souls forever committing suicide; walls covered with trapped souls, all moaning in an attempt to be set free; and bodies adorning the walkways, each sitting rather uncomfortably on a spike. At times there are flashes of roughness, with scenery being a little too angular, but on the whole the circles of Hell are gloriously depressing to play through.