Review by Smirnoff

Reviewed: 02/10/03 | Updated: 02/12/03

Lightning, castles, bats....goths apply within

This game, you may remember, started life as Resident Evil 4. But once in development, its central themes became so deformed it wasn't even recognizable as an episode of that famous survival horror series. It was disowned - Devil May Cry was no son of theirs. DMC was whisked away to fend for itself, to a locked place where its madness could only breed and its ideas only become more warped. And like poor old Dr Frankenstein, Capcom's experiments created a monster. Dante's a character which has been on every gamer's lips, and the experience he and Devil May Cry provide couldn't be any more different to those of Raccoon City. Forget the whole survival horror thing. That was then. This is now.

The game's developer refer to it as 'stylish hard action', and although that sounds more like the tagline for a porn film with a plot by Will Self rather than a game genre, it's not far off the mark. It was their express intention to make everything in this game 'cool' - a badly overused word. But, damn my blackly hip post-modern cynicism, they've done it. It is undeniably and unstoppably cool. Only the coldest of hearts won't respond to the colossal battles against crazed opponents, the dramatic gun/blade combos, the bone-shaking acrobats and the beautiful surroundings. And only the smoothest of poker players will be able to stop the occasional roar of triumph escaping their lips. It's that good.

First then the plot. Once upon a time there was a shard of purest testosterone, compressed like the heart of a star into the shape of a man. This man was Dante, son of legendary demon hunter Sparda, a man who sent the very devil back to hell many years before. Dante likes a drink, plays pool, patronizes the chicks (note irony) in a very funny way and never, ever gets flustered. Even when he gets impaled by a girl called Trish. The devil, meanwhile, is still a bit annoyed and is planning revenge. Which side is Trish, who actually became his employer after the whole stabbing/pain/blood thing, working for? What the hell, exactly, is going on? You're going to have to shatter the ribcages of absolutely everything you meet to find out. And boy, are you going to enjoy it.

Though in early demos Devil May Cry ran continuously, much like its distant relatives in the zombie business, the finished item comprises a series of missions. These avoid the disconnected, aura-draining feel of many mission based titles, as each starts just where the last left off, instead of introducing an entirely separate are and alternative objectives. In essence, the mission boundaries are just well spaced save points, as it's only after each mission's completed that the save option becomes available. And your rewards are greater than just that. Each 'mission completed' screen presents you with the time you took, a grade for your efforts and a bonus based on that grade. The time and grade system add obvious replay value. More instantly useful are the bonus orbs, which are vital if you're going to upgrade your attacks to anything like an acceptably frantic level.

Wiping out your enemies also reveals orbs. And the more stylish you kill them, the more orbs are left when they finally rocket off this mortal coil with your crackling sword rammed through their arses. The game judges your efforts each time, starting with 'Dull' for an ordinary blow, rising through 'Cool', 'Bravo!' and 'Absolute' to 'Stylish'. One of the easiest (and most dramatic) combos to pull off involves both weapons - scoop an enemy into the air with a big underarm swipe of your blade, then juggle them overhead with pistol fire. Switching between guns and swords is easy, as the sword needs only a press of the triangle button, and gunfire will erupt if you hold R1 and hit square (a faint genetic artifact from Resi). There's hardly a break between the two.

There are new and excitingly shaped guns to uncover as you progress (you don't quite explore, the pace is simply too high for that), and each gun is naturally more powerful than the last. While briskly checking each area for Useful Stuff is wise, one thing you won't be doing is hoovering around every inch for carelessly forgotten ammo. All of Dante's guns have unlimited rounds, freeing you from this tedious action adventure staple. You may worry this might take things too simple and easy, but that's like worrying space travel would be boring if computers work the air conditioning. DMC is all about great combat, and nothing should get in the way of that.

While I'm on the subject, there is one thing that occasionally does get in the way of the combat. Every now and then the camera loses sight of its priorities, choosing to show lovely shots of Dante taking all manner of freakish damage, but no enemy. Obviously this makes fighting somewhat difficult. The reason is simple: much like its survival horror forefathers, DMC favors edgy, cinematic camera angles to heighten the drama. But the original purpose was to induce fear as much from what they didn't show as what they did, and that's clearly not a desirable aspect in an entirely action oriented game. Don't get the impression this is a massive (or even frequent) problem though, as for 99 percent of the time the camera swirls energetically and with an almost unbelievable fluidity through it all. And once you're aware of the troublesome spots, you can stay clear from them; although it's still slightly peeving to fail because all you can see is the back of an enormous chicken wing. Yes, chicken wing...

You've never seen enemies as great as these. All right, the poultry attacker I mentioned just now is, in all technical and official respects, a griffon. But sod that. I simply cannot be stopped from thinking of it as The Laser Chicken, a feathery giant birthing eggs of compressed light all over Dante's skinny ass. As with many of Dante's oppressors, it's immense. And it's really, really annoyed. With you. You may even live to regret all those omelettes, if you're lucky.

The game starts easily enough, with bizarre marionettes taking the place of common garden zombies, but soon ramps up to boss-like entities. These include sabre-toothed cats made of shadow, lanky straw nightmares throwing voodoo wheels of fire, all manner of scythe and scissor wielding shades, giant scorpion-tailed tarantulas made of lava, and plenty more besides. And then, there's Angelo Nero. You fight Nero at several places, as he orbits very close to the center of the game's story. Actually, several of the bigger enemies make multiple appearances, and they only get tougher.

The developers expressed a desire to create an old-school game for 'hardcore gamers' and they've done just that. Don't be put off if you're not one of these archetypal nerds - if you don't hang around in chat rooms using names like 2co0l-4U and Doodledaman. Devil may Cry is a game that will surely appeal to almost everyone, simply because it's so over-the-top exciting to play (not to mention gorgeous to look at). What Capcom has implemented is good old boss action, with patterned attacks to overcome and Achilles heels to be found. their solutions aren't just creaky old left, fire, right, repeat-until-victory dances either. There's no simple set of moves that will assure triumph, particularly as - unlike so many of those older games Capcom aims to evoke- the battles take place in three dimensions, often in enormous arenas. And they just keep getting bigger and harder and more and more spectacular to behold. It's not an easy game, but its defining brilliance is that it's not tough by being unfair. Play well and you'll conquer everything. No gaming mechanism could make the victor's sense of satisfaction any deeper.

The ultimate addition to Dante's powers is Devil mode, a transformation which vastly powers-up all attacks. Extra-damaging new moves must be bought (and sometimes upgraded) separately, but the power to transform can be earned from the start. As if swords and guns weren't enough, you'll eventually get the Ifrit, flaming gloves that let you fight with fists and feet as well. More powerful hand-to-hand moves are also available.
You're given the opportunity to 'power up' before each mission by spending your balance of orbs on new attacks or extra items, such as Vital Stars to replenish your health or Devil Stars to refill your energy. There are two other items for sale that can be very handy indeed: the sphere of Holy Water and the ruinously expensive but seriously effective Untouchable star. Both of these can be selected and deployed at any time, although I suggest using them when you're really desperate.

Also worth buying are the Yellow Orbs. These are essentially 'continues', which obviously take some of the sting out of death, something your local vicar may not have mentioned. If you have a Yellow Orb, Dante will start from behind the nearest door to the place of your final dismemberment. Careful use of these is strongly advised, as it's not a good idea to wash up late in the game with none at all, or you're going to spend more time than you'd like watching loading screens. It's a source of considerable joy, then, that the loading times are so brief. but nevertheless, be aware this game is frequently nails and hoard those little yellow guys like drops of dew in the Sahara or the little yellow blobs of Happy lubricating big rusty wheels of Sad. Or something.

In fact, the big rusty wheels of Sad barely touch this game. A very, very occasional bout of camera malpractice is simply the only fault I found, and it came nowhere near spoiling the fun. Oh, and the story is a load of toss, but I guess you figured out that much already. At least, I hope you did, for the sake of your own sanity. But then again, this game doesn't need a compelling and innovative story to grab the gamer's attention. Fast-paced and brutal action, that what's it all about. RPG's and adventures like Broken Sword need a strong story-line.
Dante's world is almost jewel-like in its brilliance. DMC is the start of something big. It looks and moves beautifully, provides hours of challenge and even achieves that nebulous condition of 'coolness'. If you're breathing in and out and there's electricity in your street, you must own this game. It's as simple as that.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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