I recently played through Dante's Inferno on the 360 all the way and like usual, I was evaluating and scrutinizing the combat the entire time. But it doesn't help anyone else to have all that evaluation information stuck up inside my brain so I'm starting a column here on the blog that's dedicated completely to the combat of existing beat 'em up games. For Dante's Inferno, I played all the way to the last boss on normal difficulty.
- Successful hits feel good and I appreciate the sense of impact I get from the game's attacks.
- There are a lot of really satisfying and pretty effects that make mundane actions feel far less mundane.
- The game utilizes a Super Flexible mash flow and it lets you pick and choose the next attack in the combo from two types of attacks: weak (hits multiple enemies but does little damage) and strong (hits only the enemies right in front of the character but does more damage).
- Enemies have way too much health. The game got incredibly tedious very quickly as I repeatedly whittled down on a handful of enemies that can absorb way too many full combos. Even the very weak and non-threatening enemies take too long to kill and it not only makes mob control boring but it compromises my sense of power and hurts the game's overall pacing. The thing that very thrilling beat 'em ups do so brilliantly (particularly God Of War; Dante's Inferno's most obvious influence) is give the player a handful of threatening but fragile enemies that only take a few moments to destroy before shuffling the player into a new area with its own sights and sounds. The player may ultimately be doing the same thing over and over again but it just doesn't ever feel like it.
- Because of the high health of enemies, I almost never used the weak attacks. I was overcome with the tedium and opted for the strong attacks 95% of the time in order to feel like I was making the fight resolve quicker.
- There are a lot of meaningless attack mechanics. There was two separate trees of unlockable mechanics and I only ended up utilizing a few useful mechanics from either tree. And I did not just assume they weren't useful, I actually purchased and evaluated every mechanic.
- There is an enemy type that dashes into you very quickly and throws out a couple quick attacks. The problem is that this attack is nearly impossible to see coming and react to, and whenever it hit me it would abruptly kill my flow and demotivate me greatly. It got to the point that I would feel very frustrated simply seeing this enemy type approach me and it made those encounters immediately less fun.
- Enemies are not conscious of what they do from off-screen. There are only a couple enemies with projectile attacks but they all will perform them from off-screen and it's very frustrating. To me this is a violation of a golden rule; don't hit the player with things they can't realistically react to. I understand the threshold of realistic reaction is different from person to person but eliminating the opening visual tell of an enemy attack from the player's tactical frustum simply feels unfair, even if it's not necessarily unfair.
- There is a block mechanic and a dodge mechanic and I almost never used the dodge. Because of how vulnerable you are at the end of this move, I didn't feel safe using it unless I was dodging directly AWAY from the enemies and that isn't fun to do because then I'm breaking my combat flow by having to run back into their faces and attack. Sometimes you have to use it (one particularly large enemy and bosses) and so I did but otherwise I was just compulsively holding down the block button until an opening appeared.
- You have the ability to use a projectile attack that eventually gets pretty powerful. Unfortunately some enemies are prone to it and don't know what to do with it so certain fights against certain configurations of enemies was just me sitting in the corner of the playspace spamming this projectile for a demotivating amount of time.
- Dante's Inferno does this irritating thing that a LOT of games with bosses do; they save your position right in front of the boss where you have access to things that refill your various meters but you have to go through the motions every single time. If that wasn't irritating enough, Dante's Inferno meter refillers are these ugly objects you have to mash a button to get the goods out of. This is another thing that God Of War put forth into the world but it's also super irritating in God Of War so I'm not sure why this has been perpetuated.
- Quick time events. In my honest opinion, game developers have mistaken the novelty they had when God Of War 1 introduced them for something legitimately enjoyable. And the only reason they work in the God Of War games is because they're incredibly gross and satisfying, and even then they still BARELY work as fun mechanics. Dante's Inferno's quick time events are poor imitations just like everyone elses. I'm not trying to be cynical, I just hate how much collective time I've spent in various quick time events instead of playing a fun game.
- WHY DO I HAVE TO MASH A BUTTON TO OPEN DOORS?
- There was a large array of inventory items that had various effects on the moment to moment gameplay but not enough of an effect to be noticeable at all, rendering the system meaningless. I just didn't care at all what I had equipped.
- There was no incentive to employ variety in my attacks. None whatsoever. There was no tactical reasons, as all enemies are prone to all attacks, and no broader reasons either because there were no systems in place giving me any reason to. To the game's credit, it rewards you for very large combos by giving you additional currency with which to buy mechanics but achieving this in most situations isn't fun or exciting. I could get even grumpier with this particular issue by bringing up the fact that I shouldn't have to be buying combat mechanics in the first place, but I figure I've ripped on the game enough at this point.
The overall synopsis of the game is that it feels good to hit things but it's just so fundamentally straightforward that it stops being fun after a very short amount of time. Like I mentioned above, my combat flow quickly deteriorated into me blocking until something struck me and then letting out a couple boring combos or a few minutes of projectile spam before starting that very simple loop right over. Boss fights were often frustrating due to their very quick tells and punitive attacks and my "last feeling" in the game was one of "I'm glad I'm done with this". :(