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In the summer of 2007, Electronic Arts and the US military began a top-secret project aimed at creating a perfect clone of God of War II. Before it could be completed, the game escaped, undergoing minor cosmetic surgery and adopting a new backstory in an attempt to elude its creators. It used the name ... Dante's Inferno.

At least that's how we like to romanticize the origin of Dante's Inferno. In reality, it's more of a shameless God of War play-exactly-alike than X-Men Origins: Wolverine could ever aspire to be -- but at least EA chose an excellent game to ape. Read on for our travelogue of the first circle of H. E. Double Hockey Sticks.

EA's vision of Hell looks less like Hades from God of War and more like another Dante's game: Devil May Cry.

Our sit-down with the game kicked off in Hell's first circle, Limbo, with us fighting some demonic enemy fodder on a platform. We sliced away at the bad guys with Dante's scythe, which was capable of standard attacks, strong attacks, combo strings and -- when held -- a strong attack that launched our foes skyward, after which he'd leap up and become able to wail away on them in the air. Dante was also packing a crucifix which dispensed rapid-fire holiness at the tap of a button; holding it charged up a power spread of divine buckshot.

Taking it all in, we noted that EA Redwood Shores' vision of Hell looks less like Hades from God of War (well, apart from the walls lined with grabbing hands and bodies dropping out of the "sky") and more like another Dante's game: Devil May Cry. The enemies (and even the boss we later encountered) reminded us of that series' antagonists as well.

It wasn't too long before some minotaurs larger demons climbed onto the platform and tried their best to smash us. Luckily, after we'd battered one enough, a large, spinning "R1" appeared above its head. Feeling a strong sense of déjà vu, we pressed the button, causing Dante to leap onto the beast's back. We then had to mash the circle button really quickly in order to lob its head off. The whole ordeal left us low on health, so we ran up to a chest gargoyle adorned with a glowing green orb and held the indicated button. After a moment, the gargoyle popped and released its spoils: floating green orbs that our character quickly absorbed. There were similar gargoyles with blue orbs on them; we were told they held orbs that would recharge our magic meter, but that system had yet to be implemented.

There was one more enemy type to dispatch before continuing on to the next area: a giant cyclops demon being ridden by a smaller demon. Again, we gave it the business until we got a spinning button prompt, pressed it, and entered a short quick time event that ended with us on the creature's back, mashing the attack button to make it lurch about, wantonly smashing other enemies.

More QTE action and we were propelled -- still astride the beast -- onto a cliff face. We made our way to the top, ditched the demon, and fought some more basic baddies. There were some flying enemies as well, which we found we could (like their ground-based counterparts) grab and rip apart. Killing enemies, whether ripping them open or killing them with "normal" attacks, releases their souls for Dante to absorb and spend as the game's currency.

There's no getting around the fact Dante's Inferno is a blatant, mechanic-for-mechanic facsimile of God of War.

Shortly after, we were running along a collapsing bridge, leaping off at the last minute and grabbing a glowing spot on the ceiling using Dante's surprisingly extendable scythe. We swung to safety, climbed down a wall made of grabbing hands, ran past Virgil (who we couldn't hear over the room noise) and entered a sort of mountain temple. Well, actually, we had to stand in front of a door and mash circle to get in, then do the same to enter other rooms inside.

One room had a womb -- well, a statue with a womb, at least. It -- along with holes in the walls -- gave birth to toddlers that "walked" on the curved blades sewn on where their hands should be. They were tenacious, but we had shotgun-crucifix power on our side. Around this point we found ourselves wishing the game's designers had copied politely borrowed God of War's use of the right analog stick for dodging. So, of course, we accidentally hit the stick while fighting the next wave of enemies and ... Dante evaded.

We took a side path and encountered a damned soul, one of many the developers told us are scattered throughout the game. We were given a choice: absolve him of his sins or damn him for all eternity. We chose the latter and planted Dante's cross firmly in his skull.

After dealing with a few more low- and mid-grade enemies and popping open a few more health chests gargoyles, we pulled a lever by holding circle, revealing another glowing swing point. We whipped onto across a chasm for our private meeting with the level's boss, Minos, judge of the damned and guardian of the gate to Hell's second circle, reserved for the lustful.

This blind, snake-like creature yelled dialog we couldn't make out, but we'd venture a guess it was something to the effect of, "If you think you're getting past me, Dante ... well, you're probably right." The boss exhibited the standard traits of his ilk: a wave of similar attacks followed by an opportunity to unload on him up close. These got progressively more difficult, enemies were added to the mix and we finally had to complete a quick time event in order to vanquish him.

After playing it, there's no getting around the fact Dante's Inferno is a blatant, mechanic-for-mechanic copy of God of War. Fortunately, that means it inherently feels good to play, with satisfying combat and platforming. At best, the remaining eight circles will introduce some new gameplay concepts and EA's take on the classic story will shine through. At worst, we can picture the game becoming a decent way to practice our God of War skills before the third game in the series hits a few months later.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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