Dante's Inferno

Dante’s Inferno, developed by Visceral Games and published by Electronic Arts (EA) in 2010, is a game that will likely never see the light of day again. Are we jumping the gun a bit? It’s hard to say.

Dante’s Inferno originally debuted during the peak of the seventh generation of consoles. 2010 would mark the semi-competitive release of the PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect. Revamped redesigns of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 would soon hit store shelves, and production of the Nintendo Wii would eventually begin winding down after introducing an unprecedented amount of consumers to the world of home consoles. By this point, the first generation of high-definition consoles had garnered their own complete franchises, with titles like Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 2Assassin’s Creed, and way too many others to count, all cementing themselves as must-play titles. The long-awaited third entry in Santa Monica Studio’s God of War franchise, God of War III, would simultaneously serve as a temporary conclusion to the series as well as one of the PlayStation 3’s flagship exclusives.

We mention God of War for a specific reason: Dante’s Inferno is very similar to it. As in, almost shamelessly so. They’re both action-heavy games that rely almost purely on spectacle at a glance, featuring gruff heroes facing off against monstrous creatures with an almost sadistic level of brutality. While some significant deviations are made in order to differentiate the two properties, for better or for worse, Dante’s Inferno is, by and large, a product that targets a very specific audience in a very specific period of gaming history.

We’re more than a decade removed from its original release date, and the franchise it aped has since come back with both a shiny new coat of paint and a focus on cinematic storytelling. Does Dante’s Inferno still hold a candle to its contemporary competition?

Dante Alighieri’s Inferno

Dante's Inferno

But let’s back up a bit: what exactly is Dante’s Inferno? This action-adventure game loosely — and we mean “loosely” — adapts Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, the Divine Comedy. Specifically, the story adapts the most popular portion of the poem, Inferno, while turning it into a gruesome twosome of hellish imagery and arcade-y combat. Dante, originally portrayed by Alighieri himself in the source material, is now “Dante:” a Templar who served in the Third Crusade. If you’re at all familiar with the Crusades, you’ll know that we’re already entering some collar-tugging territory.

The story kicks off in an instant. A direct order from King Richard I to keep a group of prisoners safe in exchange for the True Cross, delivered by Saladin himself, goes horribly awry when Dante mercilessly slaughters them. He had done so out of reasoning that, because they were heretics, they had no value in being left alive. Dante is subsequently ordered to take the Cross from Saladin by force. Of course, after walking into an open field, Dante is somehow stabbed from behind. Death himself appears to Dante shortly afterward, swiftly condemning him for his sins — which we’ll see in great detail as the game progresses — before promising a swift trip to Hell. A confused Dante pleads that his sins were “forgiven” by one of the bishops in the Crusade. After he comes to a grim realization, knowing that those he loves will be damned for his sins, he refuses to go quietly into that good night. Dante kills Death itself, stealing the reaper’s scythe and violently bifurcating him with it before we time-jump into the future. This all happens in the span of about half an hour.

RELATED: ‘Fallout’ TV Series Release Date Revealed in New Teaser

Having sewn a cross-shaped tapestry into his chest in an effort to reflect on his own sins, Dante returns home to Florence to reconnect with his lover, Beatrice. However, both she and his father, Alighiero, are found brutally murdered. Just as Beatrice’s soul manifests itself before Dante, she is swiftly dragged to Hell by Lucifer as Dante gives chase. Armed with Death’s scythe and a holy cross blessed by Beatrice, Dante is tasked with descending the nine circles of Hell to rescue Beatrice, all while facing off against the numerous sins he has committed in his past. A ghostly figure, Virgil, aids Dante throughout his journey.

If you’ve read Inferno yourself, you’d know that we’re pretty off-base when looking at the original story. In making the transition from a written work to an interactive game, some concessions had to be made in order to assemble a narrative that involved fighting hundreds of demons. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Simply using an existing story as a backdrop for something original can turn out fairly well. After all, Nosferatu was, for all intents and purposes, an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The same can be said for the many, many elements “borrowed” from Japanese films used to produce Spaghetti Westerns throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

A 2010 Game Developer interview with Jonathan Knight, a creative director for Dante’s Inferno, shined a light on how and why the poem was originally chosen as a source of inspiration. When asked about why such a classic piece of literature had been used as the game’s foundation, Knight had this to say:

“Well, we were really interested in doing a game set in Hell, and I think that was really the initial impulse. . . And I was interested in, specifically, the medieval, Christian version of Hell, you know, as a place of structure, where sinners go and are punished; and I think that a lot of us had a sense that that was a really sophisticated mythos.
And when you start researching that topic, one name kind-of always goes to the top, and that’s Dante Alighieri. . . [he] synthesized hundreds of years of medieval thought, as well as ancient thought, about the afterlife. And he creates such a vivid depiction of it that I thought there was plenty of material, enough material to create a whole game.
And rather than just borrowing ideas here and there, we set out to systematically bring his vision to life in the game.”

A one-to-one adaptation of Inferno is more than possible nowadays, but it’s important to remember the context in which games existed at the time. Games had firmly remained in a space where creative decisions were largely determined by publishers to combat financial restraints, especially in a market dominated by strictly controlled home consoles. Indie game development, in particular, was drastically different than it was now, with games like Limbo, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Super Meat Boy hitting the scene for the first time.

It was an era that seemed to discourage experimentation, especially for wider releases handled by big-name publishers. You know what was definitely in vogue at the time, however? Action games. Seeing as how Dante’s Inferno was released only a single month before God of War III hit shelves, it’s a little easier to see why they went in this direction.

God of War, but in Hell

Dante's Inferno

Is the action good in this action-adventure game? Well, it plays like God of War, if that’s a good descriptor. Being a third-person game, Dante’s Inferno features a wide-angle camera that follows Dante at a great distance. You’ll often engage enemies in small arenas, which you’re often blocked from directly leaving until all enemies are defeated. Dante can jump, dodge roll, and swing his scythe around with light and heavy attacks. Dante can also block with his scythe, which can interrupt most of his regular attacks. This’ll become a necessity for reasons we’ll talk about later. His cross, a gift from Beatrice, can shoot giant white cross-shaped projectiles to attack distant foes, and he can later gain access to a variety of magical attacks that each serve different functions, be it quick burst damage, protective shields, and other benefits.

Being a member of the Knights Templar — and also being able to tolerate sewing an entire tapestry into his chest — Dante is also pretty fit. Platforming challenges put his fitness to the test, with wall-running, climbing, jumping, and general acrobatics making up downtime between fighting the demons of Hell. Though you’ll occasionally see the combat and platforming cross over at points, it’s nowhere near to the degree that you’d find in, for example, God of War. There’s a pretty clear division between the two types of gameplay, and though you’ll occasionally get compelling moments that show off some impressive visuals, it becomes very “stop and go,” which does admittedly put a damper on things.

RELATED: ‘RoboCop: Rogue City’ Demo Review: A Playable RoboCop Movie

You’ll need just about all of these skills to survive the game’s numerous challenges. There’s a definite flow that you can find once Dante officially begins descending the circles of Hell: you’ll fight a room of enemies, do a quick platforming challenge, maybe complete a unique set-piece exclusive to the current circle of Hell, and repeat. You’ll occasionally fight bosses, rarely solve puzzles, and sparsely hunt for secrets across an average length of about eight hours.

With all this said, it’s unfortunate that Dante’s Inferno plays the way it does. The comparisons to God of War are more than just sarcastic dismissals — the two games are alike in numerous ways, almost to a comical degree when you consider just how much is being aped here. The wide camera, sweeping attacks with a colorful combo system, graphic executions utilized via on-screen button prompts, magical spells, simple puzzles involving moving a block around, and even colored fountains that refill your health and magic are all elements shared between the two franchises. It’s effective, sure, but there are minute differences between the two that start to wear on you the longer you play.

Platforming really doesn’t carry any real challenge. It amounts to simply ferrying you from point A to point B, and while seeing Dante climb walls made of pleading lost souls is neat at first, it rarely ever becomes interesting afterward. Actually, let’s rephrase that: for the first few hours, as you keep finding new obstacles to deal with, it’s interesting for a little while. Then, the new challenges just stop.

Dante's Inferno

The same applies to enemy variety. The settings you fight things in change frequently, and you’ll even find some unique set pieces that shake up what would’ve been sluggish brawls. A good example of this would be the very beginning of Anger, wherein a giant demon gives chase across a number of combat encounters. His attacks don’t discriminate, and some portions of the brawl even rely on him attacking his own kind for you to succeed. The enemy variety, however, suffers. You’ll be fighting the same creatures for the majority of the game, with a trickle of new enemies slowing down to a small drip the further you get. Oftentimes, the demons you fight are just lifted from other circles of Hell for no particular reason. It comes off as being inconsistent, but it can be forgiven with how short some of the circles of Hell are.

I had actually attempted to play through the game on the hardest available setting, Hellish, prior to bumping it down onto Zealot. Suffice it to say, I stopped short of Lust, the second major portion of Dante’s descent. It falls into the same pitfalls associated with the worst kind of “difficulty,” where battles are made into tests of attrition more than anything else. The smallest of enemies can slash away at nearly a fifth of your health bar in a single attack while taking multiple combo strings to finally put down. Even on Zealot, the annoying attack patterns several enemies utilize — especially those from Temptresses — are often handled by launching them into the air and mindlessly mashing away until you both hit the floor again. In the game’s hardest battles, where you’ll get more than a handful of these annoying monsters at once, it almost becomes a necessity to make some breathing room.

RELATED: Revisiting the 1995 Sega Genesis Oddity ‘The Ooze’

Dante’s offensive and defensive options are pretty limited, too. The go-to method of simply launching an enemy into the air and slashing away is not only encouraged but is rewarded by being one of the most efficient means of fighting. Attack strings on the ground seem to rely on some sort of dice roll where they may or may not interrupt an enemy’s attacks. While you can interrupt yourself to block, ground combat then amounts to wailing away as much as you can, occasionally dodging out of the way of unblockable attacks and subsequently parrying anything that comes your way for a free hit. It’s not necessarily mindless, but there’s an obnoxiousness in some encounters that’s hard to avoid.

There are noticeable delays between waves of enemies, and what would’ve been regular puzzle or platforming sections are interrupted with brief enemy encounters for some bizarre reason. Is it really that important to have a timed puzzle forcibly interrupted by a fight that I can’t circumvent, only to just restart the puzzle again sans a fight afterward? Bosses thankfully avoid this through unique attacks or different means of defeating them, at least.

Hellish Presentation


Is Dante’s Inferno fun, then? Sure, at points. It is very much a game from its era, rolling around in established mechanics and light role-playing elements like a pig in mud. It’s just that when you look at what Dante’s Inferno does differently from its contemporaries, you can’t help but think about what could’ve been.

We have to mention the connections to the original poem. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for jumping to a very specific conclusion: that this is simply lifting names and concepts from the original work before cracking them over the head with a scythe. You may be surprised to learn that quite a few elements from the original story have made a somewhat faithful transition into this reinterpretation.

Take some enemy designs, for instance. There are some particularly inspired demon designs that take direct inspiration from Alighieri’s work. The “Hoarder/Waster” enemy is an effective example of this. A representative from the circle of Greed, Hoarder/Wasters takes the appearance of two humans attached at the hip, with a large gash nearly splitting the two in half vertically. A bevy of endless gold coins spills from its innards, which one-half of the creature greedily tries to hold onto. The other half swings a large mace made entirely of gold, complete with an annoying spin attack that sends rattling coins all over the landscape.

RELATED: Top 10 Spookiest Horror Games on the Sega Genesis

Though the demon doesn’t actually make an appearance in the original Inferno, Dante does mention that he viewed both hoarding and wasting as not opposites but as equal sins of Greed. The Hoarder/Waster is, in the most practical sense, a representation of this concept. One attempts to hoard the gold spilling from its own body, and the other seemingly wastes its own wealth by recklessly slinging it everywhere.

Historical figures laden throughout the original poem can also be appropriately found throughout the descending circles of Hell. Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, is appropriately the boss of Lust, albeit with some. . . “creative” liberties taken with her appearance. The same can be said for her lover, Marc Antony, who’s given a similarly gnarly makeover. Cerberus, the three-headed monster of Greek mythology, is featured both in the original poem and as a boss in the game, serving as a boss fight in the circle of Gluttony.


Many of the “Damned” that Dante can either punish or absolve of their sins off the beaten path are also based on real people, if not being them outright: Atilla, Pontius Pilate, Boudica, Mordred of Arthurian legend, Hecuba, and so on. If you’re a history-slash-classic-literature buff, there’s plenty to appreciate here. If anything, it’s hysterical to watch Dante ram his scythe into the face of a famous historical figure.

And Hell itself is absolutely gorgeous at points. Yes, fire and brimstone remain a common motif throughout Dante’s eponymous journey, but you’ll quickly come to find that each and every circle of Hell you traverse has a distinct visual style to it, with their own reoccurring designs, colors, and concepts borrowed from Alighieri’s poem. Greed is caked in molten rivers of gold and gaudy displays of wealth amid the broken architecture. Gluttony is as fleshy and unpleasant as you’d expect it to be, with puddles of bile breaking up the sticky walkways lined with gnashing mouths and piles of cascading flesh. Anger is a swampy mess, broken up only by frenzied screams, shattered infrastructure, and muscle-bound giants. Though the circles aren’t one-to-one with the source material, enough is here to somewhat recreate an experience of descending deeper and deeper into Hell.

RELATED: ‘Postal’: Looking Back at the Controversially Raunchy Game Franchise

The ending, in particular, is especially cool for both those familiar with the source material and those who aren’t: the icy plains of Treachery, home to the three-faced Lucifer himself, are rarely, if ever, depicted as the demon’s domain. Even the subtlest details are captured in something as mundane as Dante’s wall-climbing, with wailing walls of lost souls crying out phrases directly related to the current circle of Hell.

What’s especially intriguing about Dante Inferno‘s presentation is its utilization of mixed media. While some prerendered cutscenes take on the gritty, gothic look of the actual game, a surprising number of 2D animations illustrate the game’s numerous story beats. The tapestry sewn into Dante is for more than just a gnarly character design, as we’ll often zoom into a specific portion to see a fully animated illustration of one of Dante’s numerous sins. These scenes are heavily stylized, with thick shadows, saturated colors, and a lack of pupils found on specific characters to convey their sinful nature. It was shocking to see, and it’s ultimately appreciated for being so bold and unexpected. This is the kind of off-color presentation you’d find in something from the indie scene or maybe a smaller publisher nowadays.

Dante’s Inferno Is a Product of Its Time


Why did Dante’s Inferno end up feeling like this? Was it because of the competitive release date with God of War III? Was it because it had been heavily tailored to the sensibilities of a Western audience? Was it because few, if any, action games had risen to a similar level of prominence as God of War at the time? Was due in part to the Great Recession, which saw a number of high-profile franchises, both domestic and international, shifting more towards an approach for general audiences? The truth ultimately lies somewhere in the middle.

That’s not to say that Dante’s Inferno is a terrible game. It’s one of the few seventh-generation action games to natively run at 60 frames-per-second, a feat that wouldn’t even be matched by God of War III, and its visceral romp through classical literature provides some pulpy fun if you’re willing to tolerate its downsides.

RELATED: ‘Armored Core’: Looking Back at PlayStation’s Humble Mecha Game

It also reflects a period of time when EA really threw its weight around as a publisher. If they had a franchise they wanted to promote, they would do so in some of the most outlandish ways possible. Their major horror franchise, Dead Space — which was also developed by Visceral Studios — saw an incredibly provocative advertising campaign that featured multiple spin-off games, a pair of animated films, an entire comic series illustrated by Ben Templesmith, and even several novelizations to help promote its horrifying world. While Dante‘s Inferno wouldn’t see the same amount of love, it saw a similarly wild advertising campaign.

For one thing, EA mailed several game journalists $200 checks with a message condemning the recipients for giving into greed or prodigality, based on whether they cash it or not. More packages would be sent following this, albeit in the form of a box that endlessly played the song “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. Upon smashing the box out of anger, a note could be found on the inside condemning the assailant for their wrath. Fake mobs of protestors would be hired by EA to protest outside of the publisher’s building as a means to drum up some outrage. A fake company that would help users commit adultery pointed to a page that condemned them for lust. Cakes that had been shaped like human limbs would be sent out to reflect the sin of gluttony. The game even marked the first time EA paid for a Super Bowl commercial, with Super Bowl XLIV airing only two days prior to the game’s release.

Dante's Inferno

An animated tie-in film, appropriately named Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic, would be released only a few days after the game became available to the public. In a bizarre case of adapting an adaptation, An Animated Epic would take its own direction in depicting the events featured in Dante’s Inferno, albeit with a uniquely creative edge. Dante’s journey throughout the numerous circles of Hell would be broken up into unique segments handled by a different director, with a total of seven separate directors giving their respective circles their own creative vision. It wouldn’t be a perfect movie by any means. But it’s a project that reflects a different era of marketing to a game’s intended audience, conveying the atmosphere of the game itself and giving those who bought into its hype something else to attach themselves to. If it had anything going for it, it was thankfully more true to the actual game itself than the animated Dead Space films.

Was it tasteless? A little bit. Did it work? Sort of — though Dante’s Inferno would sell over a million copies in its lifetime, it wouldn’t be enough to justify more than just a handful of DLC releases before being shuttered for good. A prequel, Dark Forest, serves to more closely adapt the first passages in Alighieri’s original poem. The Trials of Saint Lucia, a dedicated co-op expansion, featured a new playable character in the form of Saint Lucia and emphasized the creation of player-made fighting arenas. A handful of costumes were also made available, with one being Isaac Clarke’s engineering suit from Dead Space.

RELATED: ‘Condemned: Criminal Origins’: Revisiting the Urban Horror Game 18 Years Later

Seeing as how Dante’s Inferno aped its contemporary competition so much, maybe it could work once again in the modern day. God of War successfully reinvented itself as a “sad dad” story, complete with a change in setting and perspective more closely tailored to gamers’ interests nowadays. Who’s to say that Dante’s Inferno can’t do something similar? Even EA’s own ill-fated Dead Space saw a modern-day remake, which most agree to be one of if not the single best entry in its respective series. With how other horror franchises have returned to the positive limelight, maybe there’s an audience for this devilishly devious action-adventure title.

Dante’s Inferno is available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PlayStation Portable. If you want to give the game a shot, you’ll be happy to know that it is fully backward-compatible on Xbox Series X/S as well as Xbox One. Unfortunately, there is now no official means of accessing the game’s DLC.

We’re hardworking geeks who love to geek out, but we can’t do it without you! If you enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, please consider tipping our writers. Also, as an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.