Devil May Cry
From out of nowhere, Capcom does these things, call them quirky fits and starts, call them meltdowns, or call them genius. You'd be right on all counts. Capcom goes about making sequel after sequel of Street Fighter or Resident Evil or Mega Man and just when you're finally fed up with the monotony, bam! The creative minds in the Research and Development labs deliver something totally genuine, something sexy, something new and by all means desirable. While Resident Evil long ago reached its height and is now at a development crossroads, and Onimusha came very close to the mark of greatness, Devil May Cry blazes past the high-water mark of serious kick-ass action, and reaches right into the limitless sky.
Offering a flash of two-fisted gun action coupled with a deadly devil sword, Devil May Cry's rock-and-roll gunslinger, Dante, is a dark anti-hero kind of guy you that even a down-in-the-dumps, disgruntled teenager would love. He's loaded with attitude, means what he says, and fights like a Tasmanian Devil, only with a flashy kind of rocker coolness about him few characters have ever shown in a videogame.
Devil May Cry is an action game in the truest sense of the word. It blasts through level after level of juggling combos, guns and swords alternating to and fro, and a skill-level that continually makes the game worthwhile. It's also packed to the gills with a litany of enemy classes to fight (upward of 20), an amazingly luxurious graphic environment in which to fight them, and a large arsenal of weapons, each with multitudes of upgrades to take on everything. There's no doubt about it, Capcom's Devil May Cry is tour de force of fisticuffs and intelligent arcade gameplay that's unequalled on the consoles today. It's a pure burst of brilliance.
A Devil of a Story
The story, in case you hadn't already heard it, sounds kind of familiar, and if one were to simplify, one could say it sounds like a cross between Castlevania and Blade. Dante is the son of the legendary Sparta, a devil lieutenant with a heart for humans who turned against the Devil Prince more than 2,000 years ago, and in doing so turned the Usurping Devil Prince's evil dreams on their head. He conquered the devil, permanently trapping him, and then left his evil past and the Underworld, so as to live with humankind. He married a woman who bore a half-devil, half-man child, Dante.
At the game's start, Dante is kind of a maverick head-hunter, free-agent type who only takes the weird jobs, and always the ones with devils or spooky bad guys. This time, a stranger who is a part of Dante's mysterious past and who goes by the name of Trish, challenges him to stop the Devil from making a comeback. Dante naturally agrees and they both travel to a mysterious island mounted with a gigantic castle on it.
As the story progresses, gamers find out more about Dante's family, about his father's role in the past, and in the game itself, which side Trish is on, and you meet up with a motley crew of beasts, servants and creatures, all of which serve the Devil Prince, who's freed himself and is now once again preparing to take over the world.
Cameras and Controls
More often than not, I've started discussing the camera angles with games such as these because they're so heatedly argued. Since everyone wants to know how the camera angles affect gameplay, we'll begin right with it. Like Resident Evil and Onimusha before it, Devil May Cry uses still, fixed cameras for gamers to see and play. Here, the camera angles are fixed in usually large rooms, providing plenty of room to see where you need to be. Hallways and smaller rooms still exist, too, and cinematic techniques are used heavily through each level. Given the extraordinary level of music and graphic design, the various camera angles produce tension, subtlety in moods, fear and create great surges of adrenaline in every player, and help to form a nearly perfect world. They're not perfect, but they're damn good.
There will always be problems with this camera setup, and thankfully several enhancements deal with the fixed perspective in Devil May Cry. Oftentimes the camera actually moves a little with the player, following without loosing sight of him. Other times the camera is set quite high, giving the player a better sense of where they are in relation to other objects and enemies. Many of the environments are huge in scope, such as the Coliseum, Courtyard, and the Pirate Ship. They provide plenty of room to get comfortable in, and to get a handle on the enemies.
But the most satisfying aspect that helps the fixed camera out is what we've all been screaming for, for what seems like five-plus years: Fast, functional control. The fixed cameras on their own are only half the equation; the other half is control. Devil May Cry controls like a dream. Dante packs an automatic lock-on system that targets the closest enemy on screen, when players press R1 (when it's not pressed, he's free-moving). He's fast and responsive and 99% of the time he's quicker than his enemy.
You can watch Dante for only a second and instantly come to the same conclusion that almost everyone has reached, which is, "Wow, that's sh%^$t awesome." He strafes, with guns pointed and enemies, and blasts unendingly at every target near him. He juggles enemies up in the air with his sword and then switches to his guns in the blink of an eye and blasts them to pieces. He rolls away or jumps out of harm's reach, he can perform a summersault single jump or a double jump to climb even higher. He can aim and shoot in air, or walk and shoot at the same time. The control happens without you having to think about it, and it works like a champ. I'll get to more on control later on the review.
Devil May Cry stirs in a multitude of arcade elements with a robust fighting system, and enables players to fluidly play through 10-15 hours of gameplay that seems very much like it's been seen before, but just never quite in this energetic or busy a package. If Devil May Cry were considered a man, it would be considered a fighter, not a lover: 90% of the game is pure beat-‘em-up goodness, the rest is finding keys, watching great cut-scenes, and exploring the vast and gorgeous levels.
Players are given Dante, an athletic half demon, half man who wields great strength, quickness, agility, and lots and lots of guns (Keanu Reeves wishes he could be Dante). Dante is essentially immortal, and seems to withstand anything. Yes, he can die, but he's stronger and more resilient than your average superhero. He starts off by packing a sword and two handguns. The first sword he calls Woozy, the second is named Alastor, and the third weapon, a pair of fiery gauntlets, are dubbed Ifrit.
With Alastor and Ifrit, Dante performs several kinds of moves by using the R1 button and either X or Circle button, and/or toward on Dpad or back for more complex ones. Dante quickly finds a shotgun, too, which is excellent at close range to substitute for the less powerful handguns. Oh yeah, and Dante later picks up a slow moving grenade launcher, which comes in very handy indeed, and isn't as over-the-top as it may initially seem. Later on he gets a few other weapons that I won't spoil for you, but trust me there's more.
Maybe the game sounds like it's made too easy, but Shinji Mikami and company decided to provide an unending supply of ammo for all of the weapons. Given the quantity and ferocity of the enemies, an unlimited amount of ammo works great for me. It keeps the action flowing like an action movie or a good arcade game, and you never have to stop and reload. It eliminates clunkiness. And after all, it's a videogame fer Christ sakes, so he's got unlimited ammo. Deal. In any case, the guns-and-hand weapons play combine to make a brilliant duo of attacks. Players can use either one or mix them together to create great combos, mixing in jumps, air-combat, and later on even more spectacular stuff.
Dante upgrades his weapons through a shop that's found throughout the castle. Players can power up with dozens of upgrades in normal mode or in Dante's Devil State (explained a little further down). Some of the upgrades include the Stinger (a powerful stab that can be upgraded to at least three levels), the Air Hike (a jump from mid-air up even higher), to the Air Raid (an flying electrical attack while in Devil State), to the Round Trip (a sword chuck). With Ifrit he has roundhouse kicks, flaming uppercuts, and fireballs, to name a few. The menu system is stunningly easy to use, and it and the game do things for you that I have always subconsciously wished I didn't have to do, such as automatically opening doors, enabling orbs to magnetically attract to you without having to walk over every single one, and enabling weapon switches without using the menu. Also, load times are just a matter of seconds, less than five usually.
Another major aspect of Devil May Cry is the excellent collection system. Dante collects all kinds of unique items that only get used once, such as shields, gems, and stones, but he also constantly gathers all kinds of colored orbs throughout the game. (The game's not about collecting, to be sure, but it's there as past of the fighting.) The central orbs are green for health, and red, which is the equivalent of cash. The more enemy butt he kicks, the more red orbs he collects, and with them he can open doors to new levels, and buy things to upgrade his defensive and offensive campaign. There are all kinds of orbs, from Yellow (extra lives), to Purple (increases Devil Time Gauge), to Blue (four quarters extend his life bar), and Stars, which make Dante untouchable or restore his Devil Time Gauge.
An interesting aspect of Devil May Cry is the Devil Time Gauge. Players are given a five-point gauge at the bottom of the left-hand screen, and when it's full, and Dante is equipped with either Alastor or Ifirit, he can transform into a more powerful, devil character, with unique powers. He's stronger, quicker, and deals more damage, but only for a limited amount of time. The gauge refills as Dante attacks enemies; players can also collect purple orbs to instantly enact Devil Time. Players simply press L1 to engage it, and then can pull off other moves, by pressing R1 while jumping, or R1 and Circle, etc. The result is that players are super enhanced for a short period of time. Devil Time is especially needed against powerful bosses, which constantly re-occur, and grow more powerful in each encounter.
With enhance-able weapons, Devil May Cry becomes a more complex fighting game. Players must balance their orbs by buying defensive items (extra lives, extra Devil Time, or extended life gauges) with offensive upgrades such as level three Stingers or Air Raids, and more. Even further, the first part of the game's enemies are best fought with Alastor (a better air combat weapon), while the second set of enemies require Ifrit (which gets underneath low-lying characters that have heavy armor on their backs). So, later on, depending on which upgrades you've chosen, you might switch weapons several times in a boss fight for the optimum battle.
After playing more than 15 hours of Devil May Cry (the game ranges between 10-15 hours on medium level), I can honestly say that it's extremely well balanced and well tuned. Players are given a healthy blend of straight beat-‘em-up levels with a boss at the end, to timed levels, chase levels, and if you're paying attention, there are more than a handful of extra secret missions, too. The game changes about half way through, too, as new weapons are introduced. Alastor and Ifrit feel very differently even though they still do some of the same things; but the introduction of Ifrit definitely changes the game to a more close-combat game. It'll be interesting to hear what people have to say about the differences. I personally like the guns and sword combination better, but the fire gauntlets' power cannot be underestimated, and upgrading them makes all the difference in the world.
Devil May Cry offers some great levels, too. It appears that Capcom had to chop them up into small sections, to get them all into place with a 60 frame-per-second rate (and it did). Players get to explore one large castle, the surrounding island, which includes a coliseum, a courtyard, tons of countryside settings (caves, mountains, waterfalls), a killer pirate ship, and the Underworld. The level play includes straight fisticuffs, a few physical puzzles, lots of key finding, and several sections in which Dante swims and fights underwater. Visually, the levels are all gorgeously designed. But despite the gorgeous amount of detail and level design, I found that sometimes, I wish the boss areas were a little less designed, that they were created more openly. Despite the fact that objects turn invisible when they get in between you and Dante, sometimes the enemy gets in front of the character, and when a giant spider and a huge griffon get in your way, "that's problems," as they say. Again, it's an inherent problem with fixed cameras, but the dilemma could be fixed by raising camera spots and opening up the levels, and by eliminating needless columns and things that get in the way.
Not surprisingly, Devil May Cry is a major boss-battle game. Dante constantly faces up against incredibly tough sub-bosses, and very tough major bosses. (When I say this, I mean that the standard game, played on medium, is well balanced and challenging. I don't mean the easy mode, which is incredibly easy, especially the boss battles.) Each boss, from Shadow to Nelo Angelo to Griffon, has its own patterned attacks and weak spots to exploit, once you get over the initial scare. With Devil May Cry, bosses return for second and even third visitations, and they grow stronger and more aggressive in their later visits. I found that the boss fights were some of the best fights I've played in years. Even though I figured out the patterns and beat the bosses, I still wanted to go back to perform better, and even when I did, they surprised me.
As most people know by now, Devil May Cry originated, sort of surprisingly, from Resident Evil 4. So naturally the first castle, kind of like a mansion or police station, might seem a bit familiar. But it's far, far from that. When Mikami sensed that his art designer was on to something way beyond the realms of Resident Evil, more gothic and decadent in flavor and more devilish than Umbrella-ish, he worked to create an entirely new game out of it, which became Devil May Cry.
The final result certainly has more texture, more grit, more ghoulish depth to it than Resident Evil. It's dark crimson red, not just red. I mean just looking at Dante himself, coiffed with silver straight hair, adorned in a blood red trench coat, with lots of straps and high boots, he looks like a rather perfect Goth kind of dude. But it's not just Dante or the leather-clad Trish who give the game its flavor, the heavy textures, dark palettes and organic level design flesh out a visually stunning game.
It's like entering into a huge Goth bar, decked in valour-covered walls, dark pine and stained mahogany woods, and decorated with ominous statues, high curved ceilings, ornate window frames, fancy chandeliers and elegant upper deck porches. What's amazing is that the fully polygonal, textured mapped backgrounds you can see are as ornately detailed and highly specialized, perhaps even more so, than the pre-rendered backgrounds in the best looking Resident Evil games. It's so astounding that, especially in the later levels, when worlds start twisting and growing more surreal, you can see that this game is a piece or artwork, not just a pretty game.
Two points in the game really crystallized the game's visual status for me. In one section, Dante leaves the mansion, and walks onto this long walkway that hangs out over the sea, without any bracing. It's round at the far end, and it's beautiful, but it's the view back at the mansion that is just mind-blowing. The mansion looks like something out of Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy X. But that's just simplifying things. The other area that really did me in was the Pirate Ship, which recalls the ancient, mythic Greek River Styx and the Disney amusement park Pirates of the Caribbean. Both areas are absolutely gorgeous in every aspect, from the level construction to the various intricate textures to the detail of everything on the Pirate Ship. The game is simply a marvel to look at.
And if that weren't enough, the creature design is jaw dropping. Every creature is exquisitely created. The spider, knight, reptiles, scythes, marionettes, panthers, blobs (or I can use their proper names, Shadow, Nightmare, Frost, Nelo Angelo, Phantom) are all proportionately created, and horrifically beautiful. They all have they're own particular moves and personalities, and whether they're close up or far away, they look amazing.
While they don't stand out so much as to praise the almighty gods above, the cutscenes in Devl May Cry work exceedingly well. They use in-game models to portray the action and they wrap the gameplay up in subtle, smooth bits. Along with the quick loading times and great menu systems, Devil May Cry's cutscenes convey a great sense of awe, scope, and mood to complement the game's brutal fisticuffs.
Devil May Cry's good looks comprise a studious comprehension of what the PlayStation 2 does well. The PlayStation 2 generates a crapload of polygons for making large landscapes, and it's excellent with lighting effects, transparencies, particles, and special effects, such as chroming and translucencies. As you can see by looking at Nelo Angelo and Phantom, lots of the characters have light effects designed into them. Nelo Angelo is striped with lights that ripple and stream as he moves around, much like the crafts in ZOE do. The spider-scorpion creature Phantom looks like a combination of flowing lava and spider/scorpion parts, with one part looking like lighting effects, and the other part polygons and textures. Griffon is a rather hideous boss, but he's nonetheless slavishly detailed, with huge feathery wings, scruffy feathers, and a wretched scrunched up face. Also, later on in the game, lighting plays a key issue. Day turns to night, and with a translucent stone to guide your way, realtime lighting like that seen in Alone in the Dark or in Silent Hill 2, becomes crucial to progressing. It's fantastic to cross by a set of windows and watch as they lighting flashes in through them, casting perfect stretched shadows flaring onto the walls. And if you pick a special upgrade for Dante, he becomes entirely lit with fire as he jumps onto enemies, casting light all around him as he jumps around.
But its clear that none of the great textures or effects would have been made possible without genius level design and architecture. When I first walked into the chamber room with the bulging, flowing animated columns, and the twisted arches and bending wood beams (this room was in demo, too), I knew that this game would only become more insanely imaginative as I progressed, and I certainly have been impressed. These designers went all out, with fantastic environments and structures, and rule-bending designs. The game is just as much of a tour de force visually as is the gameplay.
What comprises Devil May Cry's score is a collection of industrial and hard rock melodies created by Capcom that are intermixed with a background ambiance, and frightening sound effects. The ethereal background themes alter in realtime when enemies appear on screen, and that's when the hard guitar comes slashing in, once again changing when they're all killed.
In the voice-acting department, Capcom's voice talent appears to be holding a steady at the same level as Onimusha did. While the game uses American voice acting for what appears to be American voices, Dante is quite believable, at least in that he's a very deliberate, bas-ass guy with an attitude, and the level of camp is just subtle enough to appreciate. But what I like is that he doesn't talk too much, using swords and guns to do the talking instead. I appreciate the lack of talk, and the intelligent use of the notion "few words taking on more meaning," than blather. Through his hard-edged tone and pissed off attitude, you feel a great sense of apathy. He just doesn't give a damn unless it's about killing demons.
source PS2 IGN
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