January 30, 2010
Abandon All Poetry, but Enter Hell With an Attitude
By DAVE ITZKOFF
There’s a new edition of Dante’s “Inferno” that’s recently begun appearing in bookstores. Same words. Different cover. It’s got a big picture of a muscular fellow in a spiky crown and an overline that says, “The literary classic that inspired the epic video game.”
It’s true. “Inferno” is now a video game, with a brawny, armor-clad Dante as its protagonist. Like a fallen soul, it is facing some stern judgments, both from prospective players and Dante scholars who wonder why a classic work of Western literature needed updating at all.
But the game’s creators say there’s an audience for it. Their research showed that most people had heard of “Inferno” but few knew what it was about. This, they say, gave them license to make a few improvements.
“If you’re trying to make an action game, it’s thin,” Jonathan Knight, the game’s executive producer, said of the original text. “It’s Dante, who’s kind of passive, and he’s a poet and he’s philosophical. We had to take the bold step of saying, ‘How do we make this guy an action hero?’ ”
The Dante’s Inferno game, which Electronic Arts is releasing for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles on Feb. 9, is its own epic undertaking: an unapologetic attempt to build an entertainment franchise around a 700-year-old literary masterpiece. It comes after a yearlong marketing campaign that will culminate on Feb. 7 with a television commercial during the Super Bowl.
But players may find that this version of that pitiless (if strangely satisfying) part of “The Divine Comedy” doesn’t necessarily correspond to their memories from comparative literature classes of yore. In the video game Dante is no longer a reedy, introspective poet but a knight who returns home from the Crusades to find that his beloved Beatrice has been brutally murdered. Her innocent soul has been taken captive by Lucifer, and Dante must chase the archfiend into hell, fending off wave after wave of advancing demons with a mighty scythe.
Maybe it's the constant barrage of Playstation and Xbox news. Maybe it's nostalgia. But right about now I could really get behind a Dreamcast 2, and it looks like I'm not the only one either.