Dante's Inferno Updated Hands-On

We uncover another circle of hell in our latest look at EA's literary video game adaptation.

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In our last look at EA's upcoming adventure game Dante's Inferno, the hero, Dante Alighieri, was fighting his way through Limbo, eventually ending up in a mortal struggle with King Minos, judge of the damned. After splitting the king's head open in a thoroughly satisfying way, Dante will eventually make his way down into the furthest reaches of the Netherworld. Recently, we had a chance to see EA's latest build of the game--the one it's showing at E3, in fact--and got a chance to see Dante hack and slash his way through the fifth circle of hell: Anger.

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This being the fifth circle, it means that the demo we saw skipped ahead in the narrative to about halfway through the game. The demo we played of the Anger level begins with Dante encountering a lost soul named Filippo Argenti, who, it turns out, was a real-life political rival of Dante's and who also appears as a character in the epic poem that inspired Dante's Inferno. Like with other lost souls Dante finds in the game, you'll have the option to either punish or absolve Filippo; we've seen the punish option before (essentially Dante stabs the soul in the face with a cross), but we have yet to see how the absolve mechanic works, though we do understand it will be a minigame that has a certain measure of risk versus reward.

After dispatching Argenti, it was off to cross a marshy section of the River Styx. A handy raft was at Dante's disposal, and after stepping on, we began the slow crossing, all the while taking down flying demon bats with a combination of Dante's dangerous scythe and his cross, which serves as a ranged weapon that fires beams of righteous energy at his foes. The cross, it seems, is a particularly good form of crowd control, as it can be used to temporarily stun enemies, freeing Dante up to deal with more pressing concerns.

As we reached the far shore of the Styx, the raft we were riding on began to move strangely and, eventually, lift up out of the water. It then became apparent that the raft was not a raft at all, but rather the crown of Phlegyas, an enormous demon who, in the original poem, served as the ferryman across the Styx for Dante and his guide, Virgil. Phlegyas is no mere ferryman here; instead, he's a massive demon who's looking to destroy Dante, who's on his way to save his wife Beatrice. In fact, right after escaping Phlegyas' grasp for the first time, we got a sneak peek at Dante's beloved, who appeared hovering in midair wearing a queen's crown and floating side by side with the shadowy form of Lucifer himself. Producers were tight-lipped on the meaning of this appearance, but it seems that Beatrice herself will be transformed as the game progresses.

While we saw only a section of the Anger level, we can tell you that Phlegyas' presence is felt the entire time. Because of his size, you can't hope to defeat him; instead, your goal is to avoid his constant attacks, while still dealing with the peon enemies that will also appear. In addition to standard demons and blade babies, we saw a new enemy type--a grotesquely obese (and nude, we should point out) female gluttony minion. Though you actually meet the minion earlier in the game, this was our first look at her, and we're not sure which part of "Bertha" (as she's affectionately known by the dev team) was more appalling--her flabby misshapen body or her toxic vomit attacks. And, perhaps just for completeness' sake, she's also got a toxic attack from her other end, which was just as dreadful.

After fighting our way through a good chunk of the Anger level, we eventually guided Dante to take control of Phlegyas himself, at which point the final reveal of the demo was revealed: As Dante guided Phlegyas across a stone bridge and toward the fictional City of Dis, the camera pulled back to reveal an epic hellscape, complete with the never-ending cries of the suffering. It's within the City of Dis that the final five levels of hell are contained (Malice, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery), and it's a fitting setup for the second half of Dante's adventure, which looks to get more grim the deeper you plunge.

After the PlayStation 3 demo was over, we got a chance to try out the PSP version of Dante's Inferno. According to producers, it will have all of the content from the console versions of the game along with very comparable controls. Indeed, aside from the grab controls (which weren't implemented yet), the controls in the PSP version felt very similar to those in the PS3 game. The handheld demo featured the Limbo level leading all the way through to the end of the King Minos fight, and despite not having the flashy particle effects of its big brother, it looked to be pretty much on par with the console game.

Our only problem with the PSP version's look was the camera--when the camera pulled back during the King Minos fight, both Dante and the minions he was fighting became so small they were nearly unrecognizable and hard to follow onscreen. Producers told us they were aware of the problem and have a dedicated team working on the PSP version's camera in order to alleviate the problem.

Dante's Inferno is currently due for release in 2010. Look for more information on the game in the coming months.

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