Preview: Dante’s Inferno “Gates of Hell” Demo

I’d like to cordially invite you into Hell. Yes, the fiery pit of despair that it’s said you’ll be banished to if you commit enough sins in your meager mortal lifetime. Throw away your inhibitions and ready yourself to witness copious amounts of filth, despair, desolation, and self-loathing. Really, you’ll be glad you did. There’s nothing to fear, especially if you’re on a mission to reclaim your lover’s soul from the likes of Lucifer while wielding the scythe of Death himself. So walk with me through the nine vicious circles of hell. Fear nothing, as you have now become death. You have become he who walks amongst the shadows. You are Dante. And your game is set to rival one of gaming’s heavy-hitters if it plays its cards right.

The most recent demo of upcoming Dante’s Inferno, the “Gates of Hell” excursion released exclusively on the PlayStation 3 for now (Xbox 360 gamers must wait until December 24th) takes a look at the uneasy protagonist (the term is applied rather loosely) Dante as he sets off on an agonizing journey to be reunited with his captive betrothed Beatrice, nestled deep within the bowels of Hell. As you begin the demo, you’re given a glimpse of Dante himself, alone in a hallowed forest, lit only by the amber glow of a campfire. A seemingly peaceful scene, until it’s made apparent that the easily broken man is sewing a cross-shaped tapestry into the flesh of his very chest, eyes transfixed on something in the distance. He utters no cries of pain and simply grunts with effort until he nears the completion of this gruesome task. Then, suddenly unleashing an agonizing animal wail that settles into the darkness around him, we are treated to a flashback that further illustrates Dante’s unfortunate fate.

As we soon learn, the self-mutilation is merely penance for Dante’s deeds committed back in the days of the third Crusade. As a knight of the service of King Richard, Dante and a great deal of Crusaders held a glut of the citizens of the city Acre hostage until holy man Saladin would participate in negotiations for a holy relic. Saladin refuses of course, and the knights, in an exercise of frustration, unleash their rage upon the countless citizens held within their grasp. The poor townsfolk do not take this lightly of course, and it’s then you’re launched into your very first battle within Dante’s Inferno.


Armed with a poleaxe, a quick and dirty tutorial is initiated, running down the basics of the game without being intrusive or unintuitive. Simply speaking, if you’ve played God of War, you should feel right at home here, with most mechanics being mirrored down to the quick time events that occur should you pull off a particularly grisly maneuver. Dante may hack and slash through the oncoming hordes of peons like a hot knife through butter, as they pose no real challenge. It’s here you’ll become familiar with the same moves you’ll employ throughout the rest of the demo. I will say that Dante’s arsenal of moves does seem to mirror that of Kratos’s in God of War, as does most of the rest of what is presented here to us in “Gates of Hell.”

However, the action takes a sharp detour as Dante moves away from the action to detour through a courtyard — shockingly, an errant assassin lodges a knife in his back. Instantaneously in this moment of sheer terror and excruciating pain, Dante can feel his life draining away from his mortal vessel. It is then he comes face to face with the hooded nothingness that is Death. The skeletal behemoth gravely informs Dante that his soul is damned to Hell, doomed to suffer there in torment for all eternity, thanks to the poor man’s transgressions in the past. Never one to take no for an answer, Dante challenges the deity and your first taste of a miniboss battle commences.

The frenetic battle with Death is one meant to challenge your newly-acquired evasion prowess as well as several of the moves in your arsenal. Rather than swatting Death away like the flies that were the enraged citizens, this contest requires much more finesse and precise timing. Silky-smooth combos paired with rapid blows are the pathway to success, and the combo system really begins to shine here. At the climax of the battle, Dante pulls off some truly stunning and aesthetically pleasing moves, commandeering Death’s almighty scythe in the process — not something any regular mortal should be capable of. Successful quick time events are the key to coming out of this fight unscathed, shaming Death and essentially assuming the role of the spectre yourself. The entire confrontation was most certainly one of the most memorable moments of the entire demo, and one that you won’t likely forget anytime soon.

With Dante’s return home to Italy after completing his work in the Crusades, he arrives there to find his lover Beatrice ravaged and murdered, with his dwelling and belongings in complete disarray. A broken man emerges from his previously brutal yet valorous persona as the soul of his deceased soulmate rises before him. Her porcelain skin, flowing blonde hair, and pert breasts are a sight to behold as previously CG and animation merged together to give the scene an entirely organic feel. Dante’s time with Beatrice is brief and futile, as Lucifer whisks her soul away. In his wake, waves of the undead are summoned to slow the grieving man’s progress in reuniting with his lost love.


With Death’s scythe, battle has changed and improved dramatically. While you can still pull off interesting melee attacks as well as gruesome slicing and dicing, a new dynamic has been tossed into the mix — the harvesting of souls. Souls can be put to use to attain new attacks and abilities to facilitate Dante’s journey through Hell. However, it’s not as simple as slashing up enemies and simply receiving the type of souls that you need. You’ll be given the choice to punish or absolve the minions of Lucifer via usage of Death’s scythe, and depending on which path you take, you can gain either holy or unholy points. Unholiness is rewarded much less since it makes sense that torment and anguish runs rampant in the depths of Hell already, so if you take the high road and forgive the damned you will earn more souls. This, however, takes a bit more time and you gain a different tree of skills than you would from unholy souls.

It’s an interesting move to say the least, challenging the player to either walk a path of righteousness or to give in to the darkness and become a hateful, vengeful killing machine. While it’s not a Mass Effect in terms of awarding Paragon or Renegade points, the choice is yours to make regarding how you’re going to play the game, and your skill set will mirror the type of person you mold Dante into. This was one dynamic that truly set Dante’s Inferno apart from God of War for me. Despite their undisputable similarities, you do not have this type of choice within Sony’s darling, and it’s something I applaud Visceral for implementing.

Another addition to Dante’s arsenal is the Redemption meter seen at the bottom of the screen, which fills up with each combo you manage to pull off. Activating Redemption mode allows you to move at faster speeds and deal heaps more damage to your enemies, much like Devil Trigger provides in Devil May Cry. It’s nothing terribly innovative, but surely useful since it’s upgradable via the same skill trees that open up when you choose to punish or absolve.

Jumping right back into the plot of the demo, after Dante defeats the hordes of the damned, he makes his way into the church Lucifer disappeared to. The supposed sanctuary crumbles to pieces right before your very eyes — a bizarre and unsettling sight at that — and Dante is led down a pathway that ends at the titular Gates of Hell. In front of the gates lingers Virgil, who has been sent by Beatrice as a sort of tour guide through Hell. This revelation is empowering as Dante must power through yet another wave of demons and a much larger demon with a rider on top of its massive shoulders. Through a chain of quick time events, including some interesting new moves involving both analog sticks (I won’t spoil it for you here), Dante eventually makes his way to the top of the brute and commences to impart some serious damage unto the unholy beasts scurrying beneath his feet — think of certain sequences from Batman: Arkham Asylum. When you turn to enter the gates right behind you, however, the next screen doesn’t load, and you’re left with the startling realization that you’ve reached the conclusion of the demo.

And what an explosive ride it was.


Suffice it to say if you’re not a fan of the burly accursed Kratos, you won’t find a sanctuary in this identical yet stylish brawler. Visuals could stand a bit of sprucing up, but Dante’s Inferno plays like a dream. Its sense of dread couple with familiar mechanics, reputable studio backing, and clever design as evidenced in dev diaries should give you the push you need to regard it as much more than a God of War clone. Remember, God of War didn’t start the fire, per se, and it’s going to be a breath of fresh air to experience a similar adventure without being limited to Greek mythology and the same characters. Granted, I’m a rabid God of War fan, though it’s going to be a toss-up between which new release will please me more. It will all come down to plot progression, additional combo moves, and my undying love for Kratos being pushed out of the way, but I’m tickled to death to see one of my favorite franchises inspiring another in so many fantastic ways.

It may not be perfect, and it could most certainly stand for some tweaking. Purists will ignore the game outright due to its subject material and how far it strays from the classic epic poem. From a gamer’s standpoint, it’s shaping up to be another hit; familiar, but a hit nonetheless. And these days, I’ll take substance over fluff any way I can get it.

On February 9, 2010, I’ll see each and every one of you in Hell.

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