Screenshot courtesy of Electronic Arts

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Visceral Games must think SCE Santa Monica is the absolute tops.

Visceral’s latest, “Dante’s Inferno,” is pretty much a cut-and-dry carbon-copy of any game from SCE Santa Monica’s “God of War” trilogy, albeit with a medieval flare as opposed to Grecian.

Until a few years ago, Electronic Arts was not known for branching out to create new intellectual properties. Luckily, EA executives changed their stance, and brilliant games like “Mirror’s Edge” and “Dead Space” came out of that dedication to new ideas.

So did a gamble to create a game based on something old: an epic Italian poem written in the early 1300s by a man named Dante Alighieri.

Video games based on movies are certainly nothing new—although, for some reason or another, they are rarely good. A video game based on a book, though (and an old one at that) is something else entirely.

And thankfully, it is actually good. Though it shamelessly steals most, if not all, of what makes the God of War series good (fluid combat, hordes of enemies, easily performed combos and timed button press finishing moves), it manages to stand on its own.

The video game version of the first part of the Divine Comedy manages to retain most of the poet’s original intent, though a bit is lost thanks to Visceral’s (admittedly needed) retconning of the source material.

As it stands, the intro to the poem is a bit bland—Dante’s merely a poet, taking a sight and sound tour of Hell. Not very interesting at all. It served the purpose of the poem well, but as the basis for a video game?

No way. To start off a game about the fiery depths of hell, something more is required.

Something… badass.

Visceral’s Dante is an over-muscled soldier/tortured survivor of the Third Crusade who arrives home to see his beloved dead outside his home.
If this story seems familiar, well, it is—it was pretty much lifted right from the original God of War.

Dante follows the soul of his beloved, Beatrice, down to hell in order to win her back. A noble feat, to be sure, but his tour of the nine concentric circles will be a bit bloodier and gorier than the poet’s.

If it sounds like a high schooler’s English class daydream, that is because it pretty much is. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Despite the additions and omissions to the root story and the blatant plagiarism from a certain successful franchise, “Dante’s Inferno” manages to be a compelling experience.

The story is intense enough, with Dante being forced to confront his own sins as well as the sins his family committed and the atrocities he carried out during the Third Crusade. Lucifer appears often to the embattled and beleaguered hero, constantly taunting him with the knowledge that the Prince of Lies has his beloved Beatrice.

The game plays pretty much as expected from a God of War clone.

Perhaps most clever is the “Punish or Absolve” system, whereby Dante has the option to pursue either an Unholy or Holy path. Each enemy or damned soul he comes across in the bowels of eternal fire can be either punished or absolved for resulting holy or unholy points.

Visceral Games should be commended if only for the uncanny ability to turn a centuries-old poem into a more-than-decent video game. Sure, it borrows heavily from “God of War” but then again, if it is not broken, then do not fix it, right?

Grade: B