Hit & Run: Abandon all hope, it's Dante's Inferno: the game

Wednesday 24 February 2010 01:00
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Midway through the course of this our life, computer game developer Electronic Arts woke to find itself lost in a dark wood, for the straightforward path of Rock Band and Medal of Honour had been lost. To return to the true path, EA has decided to reference something more commonly found on the shelves of professors than in the paws of the gaming community. For salvation it has turned to the poetry of a man who, 700 years ago, wrote about losing his way, and the journey through Hell to find it. EA has taken a sizeable bet that 14th-century Italian scribe Dante Alighieri has what it takes to whet the appetites of 21st-century gamers and turn around its fortunes after 12 consecutive quarters of losses.

On hearing of the release of the video-game version of Dante's Inferno, many of those who have studied the Florentine poet would have thumbed the well-worn pages to Canto III, and the inscription above the gates of Hell: "Abandon hope, you who enter here". Sceptics don't have to wait long for their fears to be confirmed. Dante has been beefed up into a blood-hungry crusader, and the date has been rewound by 100 years.

The problem for the developers is that Dante paints himself as a man constantly on the verge of passing out in fear of what confronts him. He doesn't, at least in the version I studied, kick open the gates of Hell and invite the evil dead to bring it on. Yet the poet painted a vast and terrifying landscape in the Divine Comedy, with miserable souls facing punishments that still sear the imagination. And the developers have realised this terrain with great relish – it's hard not to be swept up by the sheer scale and gory glory of the game. While a few of the basics may be wrong, there is a pleasing number of characters from the source material and, as the developers point out, each of the nine circles are written by Dante (pretty much) with an "end of level boss", finishing with the ultimate boss in Lucifer.

So maybe Dante won't be rotating in his grave and would enjoy perfecting the keypad combo required to cleave Minos' head in two. It may not be part of the core curriculum, but playing as one of the world's greatest poets wielding a scythe is well worth a trip to Hell. Nick Clark

Thrills, and all the frills

The plight of 19-year-old Sarah Calascione, the gap-year teenager who spent two days on a lifeboat off the coast of Brazil, has reached a happy conclusion. If it had been completed as planned, her year-long trip aboard a tall ship, at the cost of £25,000, would have been the squarest gap year of all time. At least a dramatic capsizing gave her a story to tell her friends; it might even prove "character-forming". Not what you'd expect from a luxury cruise on the type of craft more usually favoured by tweedy military-history buffs and National Trust card-holders.

Traditionally, the ideal gap year comprises either snorting mescaline in the Central American jungle while huddling by a campfire made from your parents' money; teaching English in an orphanage in Kampala; bungee jumping in Wellington; a stay on a kibbutz in a far-flung corner of Israel. (Heaven knows, in these cash-strapped times some teens might even stay put, and get one of those, you know, jobs.) It does not, repeat NOT, cost £25k – and you return with a suntan, not a suitcase of pricey souvenirs.

And yet Calascione's experience also demonstrates how even the best-laid, most lavishly-funded round-the-world plans can be upturned. Shanti Andrews, 23, a Law graduate from the University of Sussex was sentenced to 16 months' community service in Brazil last year after exaggerating an insurance claim. "All I could think about was how I'd let down my family," she tells the current issue of Grazia (some good, at least, has come of this).

Since when do teenage travellers learn how to be criminal masterminds while on a hedonistic trip? It used to be enough to take scuba diving lessons.

In fact, canny kids are rejecting the beach-bum option. "It's especially popular at the moment to do some work experience that's relevant to your degree, especially as competition for university places has gone up," says Tom Griffiths, founder of gapyear.com. "Other than that, a gap year should be a life-changing experience, something where you act outside your comfort zone, while of course being aware of any risks".

One wonders how much Calascione was really stretching herself with Class Afloat, the organisation that combines cruising aboard the three-masted Concordia with sailing classes that can count towards students' university courses. Maybe she'll expand her mind at university. Rob Sharp

The hair making headlines

Andrew Rawnsley accuses the Prime Minster of giving underlings the hair-dryer treatment, but on Monday's Newsnight the End of the Party author looked as if he'd been on the receiving end, too – albeit in the literal sense.

Channelling Heseltine's regal sweep and the length and lavishness of an Afghan hound, Rawnsley, 48, sported a bouffant luxuriant and glossy enough to make a Lego man reach for the Regaine. "You would need a blow drier and a round brush to create something like that," explains celebrity hairdresser, Lee Stafford. "And if you're going that far, you're not going to be shy of a bit of hairspray. It's not something I'd recommend but he does have an enviable head of hair – there's no doubt about that." Simon Usborne

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