When I first went to sit down with the PSP version of Dante’s Inferno, I made it a personal goal, for the duration of the game, to cast aside my knowledge of and respect for the source material. I knew without doing so, my brain would fall victim to a series of aneurysms that would ultimately lead to my untimely demise.
With my mental preparations set to defend against literature genocide, I dove into hell with really no expectations whatsoever. When I resurfaced, I was damn well pleased with the outcome.While Dante’s Inferno may share the name of one of literature’s most highly regarded works, it’s only very loosely based off of Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy. Rather than taking the role of a feeble old man, you play as Dante of the Templars during the Third Crusade, who has pledge himself to his one, true love, Beatrice. Yet, one’s faith apparently can only go so far, as Dante succumbs to temptation and sin of the flesh throughout the crusade, damning Beatrice’s soul to the depths of Hell for all of eternity.
After defeating and escaping from Death due to his murder at Acre, Dante returns to Florence to find Beatrice and his father slain, and chases Beatrice’s soul through the nine circles of Hell to reclaim his love. It’s pretty cut and dry, and it’s definitely not going to win any awards, but it does a sufficient job at keeping your interest by not taking itself too seriously. While the general idea is from Dante Alighieri’s Italian masterpiece, the game forms an identity of it’s own that’s entertaining enough without making a mockery of the source material. Besides, that is, your guide Virgil and his unnecessary quotes from the Divine Comedy.
Like its PS3 and Xbox 360 counterparts, Dante’s Inferno plays exactly like any other third-person action game you’ve played in recent years, particularly borrowing from the time-tested God of War series and its PSP iteration. It may not bring much in terms of innovation, but it works perfectly for the handheld. Many times, action games for the PlayStation Portable are fraught with camera problems, seeing that player and camera movement are impossible to control simultaneously.
However, very much like GOW:Chains of Olympus, Dante’s Inferno utilizes a fixed camera that shifts and rotates as Dante traverses the inner circles of Hell with near-flawless presentation. I very rarely, if at all, encountered a poor viewing angle, even during platforming sections, effectively eliminating the most frequent and annoying aspects that affect action games on the PSP.
In order to rescue Beatrice from the clutches of Lucifer, you’ll fight your way through the mass hordes of demons with Death’s scythe in hand, a Holy Cross imbued with Beatrice’s powers and an array of trusted magic spells of different elemental effects. Like most action games, gameplay is third-person and handled by comboing, blocking, and dodging enemies throughout each circle of Hell. Dante’s Inferno isn’t groundbreaking by any means, yet the action comes in solid, heavy doses, and is surprisingly fluid. Dante flows as effortlessly as he does on next-gen consoles, but more frequently tends to get quite repetitive due to the lack of relics, new weapons, and the absent “hyper” mode.
As you trounce the demons of Hell, you’ll collect their souls (sound familiar?) in order to upgrade your scythe, Holy Cross, or your set of spells, though Dante’s Inferno puts a little twist on the formula. Death’s Scythe and the Holy cross, as well as certain spells, are only upgradable by spending souls in the Unholy or Holy skill tree, respectively. Modifications range from increases to health and mana to more advanced and devastating combos for your weapons.
You’ll have to raise the level of the corresponding skill tree by punishing or absolving your enemies to access the more powerful upgrades. Fighting certain monsters will lead to quicktime events that will require you to either Punish the soul and gain Unholy EXP, or Absolve the soul and receive Holy experience. To hasten the process, you’ll encounter more prominent sinners figured from the Divine Comedy, leaving you to decide if they should continue to burn in Hell or not. The skill tree is a welcomed addition to the already over-used soul system, as it creates a deeper sense of customization that’s hard to find in the genre, even if the weapon and skill upgrades feel a little generic.
Similar to the feel of the skill tree, Dante’s Inferno’s visuals also fall victim to a generic look, in what is essentially a stripped down version of its console brethren. The CGI and animated cutscenes are crisp, backed by some unexpectedly great music and sound work, but the rest of the game has been toned way down, even by PSP standards. Yet, in deciding to soften the graphics, developer Artificial Mind and Movement were able to keep a consistent fluidity in both Dante’s and his enemies’ movements, where framerate issues were basically non-existent. It may not be visually breathtaking, but I’ll take superior functionality over slightly improved graphics any day.
Clocking in under ten hours and missing some key elements from the console version, like additional moves, equippable relics and armor, and more challenging boss battles, Dante’s Inferno for the PSP is a far shot away from being a must-own title. Yet, what it does do – great controls, stellar combat, and a decent story – it does quite well, especially with the PSP’s limitations. If you’re looking for another solid action game to followup God of War: Chains of Olympus, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better option than Dante’s Inferno.
Although the visuals may be lacking, there are virtually no framerate issues and the game is incredibly fluid, especially with the wonderful camera work.
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Combat is thrilling and flows with no hiccups whatsoever, and the controls are perfect for the PSP's limitations.
The voice work sports the same average talent as the console version, but also holds the same great music and effects.
While the console version has relics to collect that alter Dante's actions, they have been stripped from the PSP version, taking away the replay value from an already short game.
While Dante's Inferno may just be a God of War clone, it's still an undeniably fun experience. The combat is solid, customizing options are deep, and above all, its fluidity is unrivaled. In terms of technical presentation, Dante's Inferno is a shining example of how an action game should be done on the PSP.