Dante's Inferno

Oh no he Dante!

It certainly raised eyebrows. As impressively brutal and pummelling as Dante's Inferno appears, the question is why on Earth - bar it being a licence that's handily in the public domain - would you decide to take a 14th century Italian poem and turn it into a modern God-of-War-esque fighting game? A cynic could ask: what's next from EA? Grand Theft Hamlet?

Executive producer Jonathan Knight has a Bachelor's Degree in fine art and is more than ready to rise to the challenge along with your eyebrows. "It's funny you mention Hamlet, as I'd say exactly the same thing about Shakespeare," he says. "The more you actually look into Dante... well, Dante wrote in Italian in the 14th century. That was completely unusual for the time, when most people didn't read or write at all, and if they did, it was in Latin. What he did was set out to write pop culture.

"He wrote a poem, which was a love story, in the vernacular of the time, so people could read it aloud and share it with each other. It was highly unusual for him to do that, and it speaks to his desire to use the medium of the day to reach the masses. It might sound a little bit lofty to say that's what we're doing - or that he'd be proud of what we're doing - but I don't think it's that far off. Guys like Shakespeare and Dante would probably be working in videogames today, because they're all about taking the new technology of the time - whether that was the theatres in London or the Printing Press."

In other words, the question isn't why should we do Dante's Inferno as a game, it's why hasn't anyone taken this twisted vision of the afterlife and brought it into the popular vernacular of the fighting game before. That is, games with punching. "Entertainment will evolve and progress long after we're dead, and there's no real stopping that. Dante has been brought forth in every popular medium since he wrote the poem - and we're trying to carry on that tradition," says Knight.

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Kill the rider and you get to ride him. This was in canto VIII.

As such, as a game, much of its charm comes from its attempts to visualise Dante's visions of the afterlife. It's not just relying on internal talents either, with Hellboy and Hellboy II character designer Wayne Barlowe bringing forth visions of characters from the book. And as far as books go, the Inferno is incredibly concrete. With its concentric rings of the damned, it's the GameFAQs of the underworld, allowing it to sidestep the Christian issue into the realm of fantasy. For all its crucifixes-as-ranged-weapons and general stink of damnation, Knight argues, it's not a theological game.

"The poem is fiction, is fantasy," he says. "Arguably Dante is the first fantasy writer of Europe. That's basically what piques people's imagination - that his imagination was so insane. This is a chance to bring some of that imagination to the screen." If in doubt, they return to the book. Which leads an interesting question of what the team decided not to include, and the answer seems to be allusion rather than straight excision. "We'll do a nod to that - we'll build a statue or an environment which gives a nod to [something] in the poem, but we'll move quickly through it because we don't really want to get mired down in it," says Knight.

That's key. It is, after all, a game about biffing. If you want to biff, you don't want to be worrying about Beatrice and Virgil and all that. "The game operates on two levels," explains Knight. "If you're really into the fiction, the mythology, the literature, that'll be there for you. As you punish and absolve these shades, you can just jam a cross in their head and absorb their solve... or you can see each one has a name. As you absolve them, that name will be called out and you can go into the menus and read about them, as all those names have been drawn from the poem. Virgil is in the game as a narrator, but he's optional - you don't have to listen to him if you don't want to. If you just want to kill demons and have a great time, you can do that. But if you want to have a little more a narrative, literary experience - with fighting - then it's there."

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