Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
There’s no denying it: violence is an excellent staple for a video game.
“But we have to look at the effects it could be having on childr-”. I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. The volume is too loud, and I’m consumed with the visceral thrill of Capcom’s new action adventure title, Devil May Cry 3.
“Violence is a morose game concep-” Shh. Here, take this sword, and that large gun. Now go! Go and destroy! Destroy everything.
“…Oh …I see.”
You are the loud mouthed, white haired young half-demon, Dante, and you’re just about ready to open up a new shop. What the establishment deals in is not clear, but that’s ok, because evil monsters with glowing eyes will soon be pouring out of the woodwork - leaving you little time to consider your character’s trade details. Players of the previous games will have no problems picking up this one, but for the rest of us it’s an unforgiving learning process. Fixed position cameras, and the often crowded combat situations occasionally make it hard to pinpoint exactly who you’re targeting. You can end up doing the wrong move for this reason – getting you killed. But while it may take a few hours to grasp, you certainly wouldn’t want it any other way once you’ve got there.
What makes learning the controls so hard at first is the off-hand ease with which enemies will destroy you for your mistakes. The game really is phenomenally difficult. The time it takes you to recover is long enough to prevent you escaping easily, particularly when there’re multiple enemies around you. Sometimes you’ll get hit once, and the rest of foes will pile in afterwards, reducing your health by a third in a bat of an eye. Thankfully the ‘easy’ difficulty setting is unlocked after dying three times, (which you will in a small number of seconds). This gift of pity relieves a level of frustration that would have stopped me playing not far in. Make no mistake though; easy mode on Devil May Cry 3 is still harder than most other action games on normal.
And, unusually, it gets easier. As you learn to understand the standard button presses, you can start to look more closely at the combat system. It’s an intuitive, deep and complex model, utilising both melee and ranged weapons in gloriously over-the-top combinations. For example, how about sweeping your enemy into the air with a massive upward slash of your broadsword, back flipping 10ft up to join them and hammering duel pistol fire into their writhing figure, keeping you both in the air with the force of it, before changing weapon and landing in an attack of swirling fire that destroys not only the falling enemy, but also the others on the floor around you.
Points are earned for elaborate combinations of attacks, and the more you mix them up for deadly ends, the higher the reward coughed up by an enemy on their passing. Points are called ‘Orbs’ in the game, and can also be gained by completing a mission as efficiently as possible or found around the maps. With these you can buy the usual selection of items, as well as ranged weapon upgrades and new moves for melee.
It’s as you progress through the game; becoming more fluid in combat and gaining weapons and abilities, that the action’s complexity really becomes apparent. How easy a mission will be might depend on using appropriate weapons, but if you’re not used to those, maybe you’d fair better using your most practiced choices. Of the six melee pieces, every one of them plays differently, and must all have moves bought separately - often costing all you can afford.
At the same time that you’re considering your weapons, various ‘styles’ are also available; four to begin with, and two unlockable ones later on. The default, ‘trickster’ allows you to perform quick dashes, run up walls, and effect your movement in the air. Another, ‘sword master’, offers more moves for each of your weapons. Every style is levelled up with use, and the number of moves each of them allows you to perform increases until the final, third level.
The depth to Devil May Cry’s combat model makes you feel like you’re always learning something new, right throughout the whole game. Only by the very last sections might you have all your favourite equipment and style choices confirmed and max-ed out. It’s a great, pseudo-RPG implementation that ensures the plentiful combat is never boring, compensating for a slight lack of diversity in enemies.
To break up the combat are the game’s puzzle sections. There’s nothing unique or intelligent here. Take the weights off the lift to make it raise, push the statue into place or find the green crystal. These door unlocking and crank pulling portions serve to push you between areas on fetching tasks, often with rooms of respawning enemies. The game can sometimes feel like a homage, a retro throwback to console action games of yore; this is why. Conventions the culture was starting to grow out of, rears ugly heads to provide the game’s level structure. Does it serve to compliment an arcady ethos? Or does it provide a retrogressive excuse for map repetition and bad level design? It could be argued either way, but I’d lean towards the latter.
Having said that, it’s hard to against backtracking through the same environments when they look this good. Retaining only a gothic theme across all the locations, the maps are diverse and artistically accomplished. Whether its inside the stomach of a giant flying serpent or across a particularly stunning demon world, every setting contributes to the stylish melodrama of the game. A fixed camera emphasises this, with some really striking angles, worthy of any Hollywood storyboard.
Speaking of Hollywood, DMC3’s in-game cinematic sequences rival any box office title you could hope to mention. Directors must wish they could do action scenes like these. Short, frequent, beautifully animated scenes move the story along, and put some human contact into the mix, where the playable sections lack it. Just try not to listen to what they say. A good storyline would have been the icing on the cake for Devil May Cry 3, so it’s a shame that it lacks one. However, the game is so accomplished in everything it aims to do that you shouldn’t find yourself cringing too inwardly at lines like “You will never defeat me!” and “I am your father!”
What Capcom have here is a flagship of a genre. Devil May Cry 3 is a showcase title, typical of the twilight years of an aging console. The game’s only downsides - painful difficulty and uninspired level structure - contribute to the old school theme, so whether it’s a post-modern reference or an ultimately shallow backtrack comes down to personal preference. Otherwise, its a detailed, consistent, artful slice of action adventure, bursting at the seams with the quality of the combat and visuals, optimised admirably by a developer who has learned the PS2 through and through – you wouldn’t want to miss out on that, would you?
Eight out of ten