I’d love to have been in the boardroom on that sweaty, dead-end day in 2007 when one of Visceral’s moneymen threw his arms up petulantly, crossed his legs, uncrossed them, took a deep breath and said: “Look, why don’t we just make God of War III. With a different name, obviously. Yeah, Bob, I know Sony have green-lighted God of War III already. So we’ll just launch our version a few months before theirs. Bam. Back of the net.”
Perhaps he leaned back with a satisfied air at this point, digging a handful of pistachios from the bowl in the middle of the table. Perhaps Visceral’s lead designers – bright-eyed true believers in Iron Maiden T-shirts – looked at each other in dismay.
“But what about all these cool original game concepts we’ve been working on?” One chap may have protested. “I’ve got this idea for a point and click adventure game based on Dante’s Inferno.”
Crunch crunch. “Dante’s the guy from Devil May Cry, right?”
“Well yeah, but the original Dante was a 14th century poet – ”
“That’s good. Devil May Cry’s good. Tell you what, we’ll put Dante in there.”
Visceral’s reputation for imitation isn’t entirely unenviable. The Godfather titles might have failed to win out over the crowd of Johnny-come-latelies vying for the status of Official Passable Alternative to Grand Theft Auto, but some critics consider offworld key-and-corridor odyssey Dead Space the game Resident Evil 5 should have been, loosening up Capcom’s plodding move-aim system a little and unleashing it on a gristly interior-scape straight out of Event Horizon.
Dante’s Inferno tries the same trick, clawing a feature set from Sony Santa Monica and parachuting it into Dante Alighieri’s Nine Circles of Hell, but the results, though commendable, aren’t quite so stellar.
It’s hard to overstate how much this game owes to God of War, but I’ll do my best. Almost every point of note, from the ethereal firewalls which pen you in with your enemies through the three-way balancing act between combat, puzzles and platforming to the spinning button prompts which herald sinew-snapping finishers, has its forefather in the exploits of a certain Spartan slaphead.
It’s not a question of broad similarities merely, but of the very tiniest details. Take the enemy hierarchy for instance. There are mobs of regular vanilla Damned (cf. “undead”), who keep your blade well-lubricated with blood in its passage from one worthier foe to the next; ubiquitous bat-winged critters (cf. “harpies”) whose job is to interrupt your combos with low-damage but hugely irritating fireballs; tough goat-legged mid-bosses (cf. “cyclops”) who yield a mouthful or two of health replenishment once QTE’d; slavering succubi (cf. “medusas”) who zip in and out of your hit zone with all but uncounterable haste.