As though a journey once through the nine circles of hell wasn't enough on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Visceral and EA now brings Dante's Inferno to handheld gamers on Sony's PlayStation Portable. Players once again take the reigns of Dante, a knight of the third crusade, as he hacks and slashes his way through the hordes of demons and circles of hell which are based on Dante Alighieri's poem, The Divine Comedy. Interestingly enough, Visceral and EA are packing everything from the home console versions into Sony's handheld, but the question remains if Dante's Inferno on the PlayStation Portable offers enough to warrant another tour through hell.
The story remains intact with players following the journey of Dante who, having committed atrocities aplenty and for breaking his vows of faithfulness to Beatrice his wife, throws himself into the pits of hell in order to save her from a very ghastly Lucifer. The narration is a mix of fantastically rendered cutscenes and cartoon sequences that reveal Dante's past and the sins that he had committed during the third crusade. The story slowly unveils just exactly what kind of person Dante was and the reason as to why his wife, Beatrice, was damned to hell in the first place as players progress through the nine circles of hell.
Upon reaching the gates of hell, Dante meets Virgil, a spirit that serves as his guide through the circles of hell. He describes the different sins and punishments that the damned will suffer for all eternity as players descend into the different circles. Although Dante's adventure doesn't exactly bring anything new to the storytelling table, it is presented incredibly well. Not only are the cutscenes detailed and beautifully rendered, but every character is superbly voiced, bringing a much deeper sense of immersion and believability to the game's world.
Dante's Inferno is, at its heart, an action packed hack and slash game. Players are equipped with a scythe and a cross that offers both close and long range attacks respectively. Combos are easily executed between them and trying out different button combinations usually yields a different string of attacks, albeit with similar animation. The game also requires a bit of platforming as well as puzzle solving, usually those of the pull-a-lever or push-a-block variety. However, the only reason these seem to be in the game is to provide some downtime between the hordes of demons that Dante has to face.
Unfortunately, while the combat, platforming and puzzle solving offer variety to the gameplay, the experience suffers extremely due to some shoddy and unresponsive controls. There are times when blocking simply doesn't register and enemies end up cutting through anyway. In addition, platforming becomes incredibly problematic when Dante simply refuses to jump across a chasm and instead runs off the ledge to his unfortunate demise. The camera poses yet another aggravating issue as it tends to get stuck in corners, leaving players to blindly fight their way through the Inferno. The frame rate also drops considerably when faced with a huge number of enemies on screen, especially when the larger ones begin to spawn. Dying certainly isn't encouraged, but it will happen more times than players might care for, and it does become quite exasperating when Dante is forced to relearn every spell and attack that was lost after the previous checkpoint.
As players progress through the Inferno, Dante will cross paths with several historical figures that players can either punish or absolve. This system provides players with experience depending on their actions. Punishing and defeating enemies with the scythe yields unholy experience while absolving with the cross earns holy experience. Although this is an interesting take on the skills system, the choice to punish or absolve is superficial at best and doesn't affect the story or gameplay in any drastic way except for upgrading Dante's attacks and magic spells. Even so, the combat can still be quite addicting and just hearing Dante's grunts of aggression as he slays hordes of demons can be strangely satisfying.
The visual presentation is a bit of a hit-and-miss issue. The cutscenes are fabulous, but the same can't be said for the in-game graphics for obvious reasons. Being a portable title, most of the levels and character models have been condensed and quite a bit of the demented and deranged details that the game is known for have been sacrificed in the process. The majority of Dante's trip through hell takes place in tight corridors and the occasional arena. However, the levels do open up on a couple of rare occasions to reveal some impressively large backdrops as well as titan-class enemies. However, as players progress further into the game, especially in the ninth circle, every area begins to look exactly the same with only a few variations which is disappointing. Even so, the general art direction is strikingly disturbing, in a good way. Not many games dare to explore such morbid and unpalatable design choices and Visceral, the very same developer that birthed the necromoths of Dead Space, have done a repulsively good job in delivering their deranged take on hell and its inhabitants.
Dante's portable adventure lasts a good 6-7 hours. However, aside from unlocking a graphic novel and new difficulty settings, and even with the ability to carry over everything earned on the first run through into a new game, Dante's Inferno offers very little incentive to go through hell again. The home console versions at least offered a challenge mode for players to tackle after completing the story and it's rather disappointing that it's been removed from the portable version.
Dante's Inferno for the PlayStation Portable delivers the same story and fast paced action as the home console versions for gamers on-the-go. However, while the combat is addicting and fun, the experience suffers greatly due to unresponsive controls, an occasionally sticky camera and an inconsistent frame rate. The art direction is striking, the cutscenes are gorgeous and the characters are superbly voiced. Unfortunately, it's all just obscured thanks to the issues regarding gameplay.