As high-concept pitches go, 'Dead Space meets God of War... in Hell' takes some beating. The devil in the detail, however, is that the developers of 2008's cult hit Dead Space are basing their big 2009 blockbuster on... a 700-year old poem widely regarded as one of the seminal works in literary fiction.
[More info and a exclusive screenshots are in the full article, found in issue 111 of PSM3 magazine, on sale now. ]
However, as unlikely as it sounds, Dante's Inferno is perfect videogame material as PSM3 discovered when we ventured to EA's HQ in San Francisco to bring you the first details and screens this side of Hell and Earth.
Why are we so excited? This time last year, no-one had heard of Dead Space, until EA's sci-fi horror revealed itself as the perfect sublimation of Resident Evil-style third-person shooting and vintage Silent Hill-era tension, wowing critics and proving 2008's big surprise hit. In 2009, the same core team - assisted by God Of War 2's lead designer and a mystery Hollywood screenwriter - are crafting an action game worthy of Kratos himself. In the same way that Dead Space stole Resident Evil 5's thunder, Dante's Inferno might just work the same infernal curse on God of War 3.
The source material belongs to Dante Aligheri, a 14th century Florentine poet, whose book The Divine Comedy describes a nightmarish journey through the nine circles of Hell. The devs had to take some liberties, mostly with Dante himself who's now a muscular six-foot tall knight with magic powers, a giant scythe and a bloody cross-shaped tapestry sewn into his chest that depicts the worst moments from his life. Again, it's a Kratos tribute.
His milky skin isn't the result of a vitamin deficiency - mild spoiler - it's because he's stained with the ashes of his dead family. Rather than stroll ponderously through Hell like the poem, Dante's fighting his way through Lucifer's minions to save his lost love, Beatrice, who has been killed and wrongly sent to Hell.
It's a Hollywood liberty that'll have Oxford dons choking on their pipes, but the game is surprisingly faithful to the poem's structure. Give or take the odd screen-size demon.
The game's been partly designed by artist Wayne Barlowe, the guy responsible for the grotesque creatures in Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy movies. His famous book. Barlowe's Inferno, was based on Dante's poem, so his involvement in the game was a given from the start according to the game's producers.
We could spend paragraphs describing the controls, but it's easier to say this; it's God Of War in Hell. Button-for-button the controls are identical to GOW's - from using the right stick to evade, to regular and heavy attacks being mapped to r and w. The similarities may be shameless, but the system's ideally suited to a third-person action game - it didn't hurt FIFA to borrow the PES controls, after all. We'd much rather a developer implemented something tried-and-tested than invent a 'novel' new control scheme for the sake of it.
Dante's size belies his grace of movement. Combos (easily strung together by simple presses of the light and heavy attack buttons) see his scythe move in a blur, swiping enemies legs away and slicing them in two. Holding u and pressing r lets you knock enemies into the air Devil May Cry-style and keep them hovering with a volley of rapid, light attacks.
It's standard third-person action stuff, but the fluid animation makes it feel satisfying and smooth. Fallen enemies disappear in a burst of energy, dropping health and magic orbs that Dante can absorb. Orbs can also be collected from chests, opened by tapping e. Whether it has the depth of Onimusha and its Issen system remains to be seen, but Dante has numerous unlockable powers that the developers couldn't reveal.