Dante's Inferno

As an interpretation of the poem it's a muddled, ridiculous mess. As an action game, it's a decent brawler with some impressive levels and some annoying platforming.

Dante's Inferno

Publisher: EA
Price: $59.99
Players: 1
ESRB Rating: Mature
Format: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3
Release Date: 2010-02-09

This is not Dante's Inferno, it's Visceral's Dante's Inferno. And the main character is not Dante Alighieri the famed Italian poet. He's Dante the Crusader, who's kind of a dick. And this Beatrice isn't the Beatrice of Italy that Dante Alighieri loved from afar, nor is she the character/spirit guide who appears in The Divine Comedy. This Beatrice is the wife of Crusader Dante, and she has made the dumbest decision known to man: making a bet with Lucifer. I know. It all gets kind of confusing. The point is, this isn't a theological tale that meditates on God's plans for man in the afterlife but rather an action game where a dude can steal Death's scythe and go toe to toe with The Devil in a magic-filled super-brawl. Visceral has taken the setting from Dante's poem, including many of the monsters and characters, and transformed it into a playground for the other Dante's adventures. As an interpretation of the poem it's a muddled, ridiculous mess. As an action game, it's a decent brawler with some impressive levels and some annoying platforming.

Dante's Inferno excels above all in its look and design (except for the end, see below). The cut scenes are some of the best-looking that I've ever seen, and the various circles of hell are sometimes actually awesome to behold. Visceral doesn't hold back with the horror, and there's a lusciously lurid variety of tortured souls and vast, infernal vistas. While the game is great to look at, Dante himself looks (in my opinion) ridiculous with his over-sized scythe and bizarre self-hating couture, but he's no more ridiculous than many game characters and is usually small enough on screen while whirling around in deadly motion that I only noticed during the cut-scenes. For the visuals alone (and maybe only for the visuals), I recommend giving Dante's Inferno a look. Along with these great images, there's a well-presented but rather overblown and uninspired story. It does it's job of moving the game from level to level. It also did a good job of making me dislike both Dante and Beatrice for making some really dumb decisions and then being very melodramatic about the consequences.

The parts where you kill things are fine too. You've got your over-sized, heavy-metal-inspired bone scythe, and of course, you can shoot deadly crosses of white holy energy at people. As you defeat enemies or run across certain famous damned individuals, you have the option to absolve or damn them, which earns you holy or unholy points. The more holy you are, the better you get with the cross. Unholy behavior is good for your scything skills. As of this game, I am now officially over the good/bad dichotomy in games. It always pays to pick one and keep going, and I seldom want to play a game through twice. I chose holy because, well, I thought the God of this game was a jerk for treating people so badly, so I wanted to free as many of his poor victims as possible. That meant that I scarcely used the scythe at all beyond basic hacks and slashes. It also raises questions about the game's weird theology, wherein a sinner like me somehow gets to contravene God's judgment just because, well, I'm not sure why.

Then there's the platforming and the puzzles, which involve a lot of pulling levers and running over somewhere else just in the nick of time. I'm not a personal fan of these kinds of puzzles, but this game does them well and they're often visually interesting (although Hell has a lot of levers). The main problem is that the game uses a fixed camera perspective throughout, which sometimes proves a major hindrance, especially when precision jumping is required. I found it very hard to judge distances when jumping forward “into” the screen with the camera fixed above and behind my character. On the whole, I didn't much care for these sequences, but then again, I generally don't. They're well done but not so well done as to win a hater over to them (unlike a game like Uncharted 2 for instance).

The game all but falls on its face in the final levels. The very, very end is fine, a fairly typical end-boss fight against, of course, Lucifer himself. There's a whole confusing plot thing going on in which somehow Dante's actions might or might not free him from hell, but like the rest of the game's theology, none of it makes much sense or is well explained. Still it's on par with the rest of Dante's Inferno. Immediately preceding this battle, however, are some of the least imaginative sequences that I've seen in a modern game. Playing them, all I could think of was that the designers had either run out of ideas or time. Maybe both. Instead of the story-based conflicts of previous levels, Dante finds himself descending through a series of identical, boring (by this game's otherwise excellent standards) rooms. After reveling in the game's looks above all else, the low-quality aesthetics would have been bad enough. But no, instead Dante must at each of these levels defeat enemies using certain moves such as air combos or without the benefit of magic. Dialogue boxes pop up to inform you of the strictures without even a nod to the game's story or setting. And when you fail? Well, I only failed one of them, but a dialogue box popped up and said, “FAIL!!!!!” Really. Multiple exclamations points and everything. It's not unforgivable, but it is stupid and lazy.

Dante's Inferno is a lavish production, and you can see where all that money and time went. But beyond the visuals, every other aspect of the game falls squarely in the fair-to-middling range. Except for those last levels, there's little that's wrong with the game, but there's also nothing that left me wanting more. It fails to live up to its lofty, literary inspiration in almost every way except for some astonishing set-pieces. Fans of the poem will see plenty of allusions and references that others won't, but they won't necessarily respond to them better than those who have never read a single stanza.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.