Version tested: PlayStation 2
Devil May Cry is the latest game from Shinji Mikami, the designer behind the Resident Evil and Dino Crisis series. Devil May Cry is about as far from the horror survival genre as you can get though, with the focus firmly on over-the-top madcap action rather than shambling zombies. You play Dante, the son of a devil knight and a mortal woman. Setting the tone for the rest of the game, the opening cutscene sees a beautiful blonde in a revealing leather corset come crashing through your door on a motorcycle to impale you with a sword. Apparently this is just her way of being friendly though, because before you know it the pair of you are off to a mysterious castle on a distant island where the devil prince Mundus is preparing to invade the land of the living. The result is twenty five missions chock full of carnage as you guide Dante around the castle and the caves beneath it, with occasional field trips to nearby sites such as a mausoleum and a colosseum. Along the way you will be indulging in the wholesale slaughter of some of the most bizarre looking creatures you will find this side of American McGee's Alice. There are grim reaper phantoms with lethal scythes, fast-moving lizardmen warriors that burst out of the ground in a cloud of dust, cackling ghost witches with what look like giant shears, and life-size marionettes which drop down from their strings to attack you.
The action is fast and furious almost from the outset, and in stark contrast to the awkward controls and stilted movement of Resident Evil's heroes and heroines, Dante leaps athletically around the scenery, swinging his sword wildly and blazing away with his guns. The controls are incredibly intuitive, and even the special moves are fairly easy to pull off. Indeed, it could be argued that the controls are a little too simple, because at times you get so sucked into the game that it almost feels like it's playing itself. Whatever you do with the analogue stick, as long as you keep hammering the circle button Dante will perform an intricate but lethal ballet, slicing up enemies, thrusting and slashing with his sword, hurling bodies several feet into the air and splattering blood everywhere. The results are always spectacular, and the longer and more involved your dance of death becomes, the more the game will reward you for it. Simply slicing an enemy with a series of wild swings will bring you a message of "Dull" at the top of the screen, but this turns into "Cool" if you keep the blood flowing for long enough or throw in a special move or two. Taking on a large number of enemies simultaneously in an orgy of claret spraying action, you can extend that to "Bravo" or "Awesome", eventually reaching the lofty heights of "Stylish". It's not just an ego-massage either; the higher the carnage rating of your kill, the more red orbs the creature drops when it dies. And orbs mean prizes.
Well, actually orbs mean power-ups. At the end of each mission you are given the choice of spending some of your red orbs on buying special items such as yellow orbs (which act as continues should you get killed mid-mission), holy water (which damages any nearby enemies when you use it) and blue orbs (which increase your maximum health). All of these items can also be found hidden in dark corners throughout the game if you hunt around a bit. More importantly, red orbs can be spent on new special moves, thanks to the game's devil trigger system. You start out with only a big hulking family heirloom of a sword inherited from your demonic father and your trusty pistols Ebony and Ivory, which are guaranteed not to leave anybody living, in perfect harmony or otherwise. But as you battle your way through the game you will come across new weapons - the thunder sword Alastor and the flame gauntlets Ifrit - which can unleash the devil within you. Below your health bar you will see a series of runes lighting up as you slash and swing with your chosen weapon. Arm yourself with with Alastor or Ifrit, and once three or more of these runes are ignited you can go into devil mode by pressing L1, giving you access to a whole new set of insane special moves for as long as the runes stay lit, or until you hit L1 again to return to human form. You can fly through the air, turn your bullets into fireballs or electrical bolts, create an inferno which spreads around Dante damaging anything it touches, and generally create mayhem.
Spanish Castles In Space
These special powers become particularly useful when you take on the vast demon boss characters, which include a giant lava spider and a skeletal eagle the size of a small jet liner. The game only includes four real bosses, plus Mundus himself, and you will meet each of them three times, but luckily most of them will behave slightly differently each time you fight them, with new locations, powers and strategies to overcome. It's not all good news though. Battling the icky looking nightmare boss does get rather repetitive, and the game in general tails off a bit towards the end. Most of the monsters are introduced in the first half of the game and just become more numerous and more powerful later on, while less attention seems to have gone into the dramatic camera angles in the closing stages of the game. Most of the time these do an excellent job of showing off the spectacular scenery around you without hampering the gameplay, but there are a few points in the later missions where this doesn't work quite so well. This is really nitpicking though, and apart from a few brief lapses Devil May Cry is an incredibly enjoyable and well-designed game. It also sports some of the most impressive graphics I have ever seen on any platform, with the real-time 3D world in which you are fighting putting the pre-rendered backdrops of yore to shame. From the curvaceous castle turrets and semi-organic cathedral to the lush foliage of the overgrown gardens and decaying splendour of royal bedrooms, the graphics are nothing short of spectacular. The audio side of the game is also excellent, with decent voice acting, solid sound effects and a soundtrack mixing classical-style background music with pulsing industrial-strength Prodigy-style techno for the battles. If this doesn't get your blood pumping, you're probably already dead.
Devil May Cry is perhaps not the deepest of games, revolving as it does around slaughtering demons and finding the appropriate key-substitute to open the next door, but it's certainly one of the most stylish and downright entertaining I've played in recent months. It also has plenty of replay value, because although I finished all twenty five missions in around six hours, each time you complete the game you will unlock new modes with more powerful and more numerous monsters, and additional special powers for both Dante and his enemies. In fact, if anything the game was even more fun the second time through than it was the first. What, are you still here? Go out and buy this game now!
9 / 10