Although the Dante Alighieri of historical record was skilled with the quill and scroll, the Dante of EA's upcoming literary-adaptation video game, Dante's Inferno, prefers to get things done using the business end of a huge bone-and-metal scythe. That's bad news for the minions of hell as Dante plunges headlong into the underworld, searching for the love of his life, Beatrice, in a third-person action game that owes as much to the God of War series as it does to the classic poem on which it's based. At EA's recent spring press event, we had a chance to take Dante a bit deeper into the bowels of eternal punishment to see how the game is coming along.
The demo level on display picked up in a familiar spot, on board Charon--the living ship that ferries doomed souls across the river Styx. We saw Charon in our previous look at the game, and the encounters on board still play much the same. First up was a group of minor enemies that we took out with a few swipes of the scythe. They were followed by another group of minions and a couple of demonic-looking bad guys, as well as some flying enemies that were vaguely reminiscent of the Mutalisk in Starcraft. After that, it was the biggest baddie of them all, a huge, lumbering beast that climbed over the side of Charon to stand on deck. The beast was being piloted by a humanoid riding atop the demon's neck, and to take him down, we first had to soften the demon up with some scythe strikes before climbing on top of it and engaging in a short quick-time event, a la God of War. Once you complete the quick-time sequence, Dante will defeat the demon's rider and take control of the beast himself.
From there, the demo took us through more familiar territory. After Dante ripped the head off of the living ship Charon, it crashed into the side of a mountain, and he scaled the sheer cliff and ran into the hellish castle that housed King Minos, the mythological judge of the dead. It's here that Dante once again ran into the infamous blade babies: tiny infants who, because they were unbaptized during their brief lives, were sent to hell upon their death, only to be reborn as hideous monstrosities with blades for arms. Individually, the blade babies are easy to defeat, but once they surround you with sheer numbers, you'll find that babies with swords for hands are a very big problem indeed.
With the blade babies dispatched, Dante continued his climb up the tower to his face-off with Minos. Once at the top, he was confronted by the menacing judge of the damned himself. In keeping with the gruesome tone of the surroundings, King Minos is a hideous beast: a huge, eyeless, serpentine creature with a long, forked tongue and a necklace made of human corpses. The boss fight featured several stages. The first part started with Minos trying to gouge Dante with his powerful tail. Simply running around in circles was enough for Dante to avoid those attacks, and soon enough, Minos brought his huge face in close enough for Dante to do some wet work on Minos' grill. Reeling in pain, the overlord then reared back, exposing his guts, which we immediately attacked with Dante's scythe.
After wearing Minos down enough, you'll move to another quick-time event that has Dante leaping and swinging around with his scythe. Perform it accurately, and you'll finally take Minos down once and for all by grabbing his forked tongue and yanking his head toward and onto a huge spiked wheel. With Minos' head in place, Dante sets the spiked wheel in motion, essentially tearing the demon's head apart in the process. At that point, it was game over for the demo.
The gameplay in Dante's Inferno was similar to that found in our original look at the game, with moments of combat strewn between dungeon-crawling and even some light puzzle-solving. The combat animations are impressive, with Dante doing all sorts of fancy flips and tricks as he wields his deadly scythe. We'd like to see a bit more contextual animations on the enemy side as a result of Dante's amazing attacks. This is especially the case with larger bosses, who barely seem to react as you're slicing away. Considering that some of the development talent on Dante's Inferno came straight from the team responsible for Dead Space (a game that reveled in its contextual enemy damage), here's hoping some of that same philosophy carries over to this game.
Given that the bloody King Minos fight occurs in Limbo, the first circle of hell, it stands to reason that things are bound to get a lot tougher and considerably more grim as Dante makes his way through the eight other circles. Having familiarized ourselves with Limbo, we're hoping that our next look at Dante's Inferno takes us deeper into the cavernous realms of the undead. The game is due for release in 2010, and we'll be following through to its completion.