'Dante's Inferno' a well-crafted adventure

Generations ago, Spencer Tracy starred in "Dante's Inferno," a movie that briefly depicted nude women in hell. That was in 1935, the beginning of a 30-year ban on film nudity.

The new video game "Dante's Inferno" (styled like "God of War") also fleetingly depicts nude women in hell, but not much more nudity than what you'd see in Tracy's old black-and-white film. (Except for the Devil's flash of full frontal, egads.)

If "Dante's Inferno" had used its little nudity for actually naughtiness on the level of an HBO show, it would have earned an "A" (for adult) rating from the politically pressured Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

The problem with an "A": No companies make "A" games, because politically pressured merchants won't sell them.

Put succinctly, games (like movies in 1935) are stuck with a de facto sort of Hays Code, the defunct censorship instituted after Supreme Court lunatics ruled films aren't art because people pay to see them.

So you can pay to view nude art in a museum. You can view crazy things online for free.

But if you pay $60 for a game, it will be spayed and neutered, because political forces either deny games are art, or they portray them as bogeymen.

Meanwhile, America absorbs violence as a substitute for sexuality, so "Dante's Inferno" is bathed in 2010 blood.

It's based on poet Dante Alighieri's 14th-century classic tale, set in the circles of hell. You portray a Crusader named Dante Alighieri. Dante's wife loses a soul bet when Dante sins. She, naked, is dragged to hell.

Dante then slays the Angel of Death, steals Death's huge scythe, and sneaks into hell to massacre demons while trying to rescue his beloved, damned lady.

The game play is a huge nod to "God of War." You swing your weapon sideways or slam it forward onto demons. You upgrade fighting techniques by collecting souls as currency. You open relics along your journey, to earn health upgrades and souls. The game makers should have just subtitled it "Dante's Inferno: God of War Copycat."

"Inferno" does have its own signature flair. Unbaptized babies crawl out of wombs-afire with blades stuck to their baby arms. Infants slash at you. You kill them or push a button to "absolve" them and send them to heaven.

If that offends you, know that the babies comprise a sliver of the game. "Inferno" actually feels religious. You kill or absolve demons by emitting white, magic crosses at them, and you fight the Devil.

The adventure is so well-crafted, I played it start-to-finish twice. Visuals are prettier and artier than most bloody (or naked) movies I've seen lately on HBO. Then again, "Inferno" isn't as pretty or mechanically fluid as "God of War." And it barely lacks "God's" narrative persuasive.

Here's the kicker. This game has been optioned to be turned into a movie. Movies escaped the Hays Code. Games haven't. What do you want to bet there will be 100 times more sexiness in the film than in the game?

("Dante's Inferno" by EA retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3 -- Plays fun. Looks very good. Challenging. Rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, nudity and sexual content. Four stars out of four.)

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.