Visceral Games satanic slasher is not based on the seven deadly sins as some misinformed people may lead you to believe, but rather the nine circles of Hell as described by Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth-century poem the Divine Comedy. As Dante embarks on his quest to free his lover he has to fight his way through Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Violence, Fraud, Betrayal and Heresay. I know that the winners of 2001’s Pop Idol weren’t the best group ever, but I don’t think it particularly fair that they’ve ended up in Hell.
If you’ve played any of the God of War games then you’ll feel a sense of familiarity here. The combat system is well thought out and versatile, allowing for air combos and counter attacks while every foe bestows souls when destroyed that can be used to unlock new moves and upgrade existing ones. When finishing off an enemy you can choose to absolve their sins or punish them which will determine whether Dante follows the Holy or the Unholy path.
Following the Holy path will give better magic attacks and stronger defenses while the Unholy path gives more brutal attacks. Dante also comes across historic figures such as Boudicca and Pontius Pilate which too can be punished or absolved for their sins via a button matching mini-game. There aren’t enough souls to go around to follow both the Holy and Unholy paths in one game, which gives incentive for a second play through.
Magic attacks are quite weak at the start but by the end Dante’s projectiles are powerful enough to button bash your way through most of the battles. Oddly, its the gigantic screen filling bosses that are quite easy to defeat while the smaller ones that aren’t much bigger than Dante can be a right pain. This isn’t a bad thing – there’s nothing wrong with a bit of a challenge. The save points are however a little erratically spaced. They’re quite close together at both the start and end of the game but around half-way (Gluttony and Greed) they’re scarcely found.
To break up the hectic combat there are a few puzzles involving pushing blocks around which are more inventive than the usual block shoving puzzles found in games of this ilk. The best puzzle by far though is one that resembles a M.C. Escher picture in which Dante enters a distorted reality and has to push switches and walk on walls to find an exit. There are plenty of rappelling sections too where you have to swing on ropes and climb down cliff-faces as Dante descends further into Hull. Sorry, Hell.
Although it doesn’t affect the core gameplay as such the art direction is a jumble of ideas that don’t really gel together. Most of the cut-scenes use cartoon animation while others are stunningly realistic CGI. Moreover, some areas of Hell, such as Violence with its flowing rivers of blood and bodies implied on spikes, look particularly grim while others – such as Lust and Gluttony are almost comical. Lust has pillars shaped liked penises and doorways resembling ladies’ rude bits; Gluttony has oversized enemies that have “excrement attacks”. Also: the Devil has a penis that wobbles around when he walks. It’s huge.
Phallic nonsense aside EA have provided us with a pretty solid solution to the fact that the Xbox 360 doesn’t have any games comparable to Sony’s God of War series. If you’ve been waiting for such a solution then by all means buy this – there are a few frustrating moments, but for most of its 10 hour duration it manages to captivate. PlayStation 3 owners though should probably wait for Kratos to show up.