"This game contains scenes of violence and gore". Cue a gigantic SMASH as Dante's size tens boot the television screen in. "Sweet dreams!". Talk about setting the tone.
Capcom knew that if ever a series needed to get back on track in bombastic style, it was Devil May Cry. After the beautifully stylish and brutal original, the single-button-pounding travesty that was last year's sequel spectacularly alienated its audience in a fashion rarely ever seen - certainly not from a publisher with a reputation like Capcom.
So, what we've essentially got here is potentially a rampaging return to form that ought to go a long way to righting the wrongs of the past while pushing things forward in a frenzied new direction that does all it can to be the most ridiculously over-the-top display of all-out hackandslash destruction ever seen. In short, Dante's been listening to Slipknot and practising gymnastics while juggling eight foot swords and loosing off very big, very powerful guns. And all this without ever messing up his platinum blonde barnet or, heaven forbid, breaking sweat. He's a bit of a self-styled badass, and, by gosh, doesn't he just know it.
Yes, dear fellow hackandslashers, Dante's return to his teenage roots in this prequel to the original sees how he was a rather big-headed precocious so and so once upon a time, full of chest-puffing asides of supreme testosterone-laden arrogance that leave no-one in any doubt how much he just admires his very presence on Planet Earth. Did this man spend too much time watching WWE or what?
If you're in any doubt whatsoever, in the game's first scene alone he treats a demon invasion of his soon-to-be-opened shop like a late-'70s-era John Travolta would treat a disco dance floor laden with FHM's Top 100 babes of the century writhing naked in baby oil. For proof, picture the scene: in a surprise attack, Dante finds himself set upon by a posse of Grim Reaper demons and in the blink of an eye has several two-foot long blades protruding from his legs and chest. But in a calm display of acrobatic grace the gothic maestro leaps around, despatching one after the other, slicing a demon's head clean off and spinning it on his index finger like a Basketball hero.
Pulling the blades out of his wounded body and stopping to munch on the pizza he was just tucking into before he was so rudely interrupted, he puts on a tune from the nearby jukebox uses his collapsed pool table as a ramp, and shoots the scattered airborne pool balls at the remaining demons. "The End? Don't bet on it", he growls. And then, dripping with irony-free US cheese Dante utters "This party's getting crazy. Let's rock!" And all to the sound of teen-angst-growl rock that 15 year-olds just love to piss their parents off with. Demographic targeting? As if!
I am Dante, possessed anti-being from the planet ROCK
In truth, although the slash-or-shoot gameplay is an evolution of what's gone before, this teen-version of Dante bears little resemblance to ice-cool gothic enigma of his later years, and in comes some sort of overwhelming crazy badass from the planet ROCK. Get used to it, there's lots more to come.
The game itself is based around the by-now-familiar premise that Dante's a half-man-half-demon that in previous adventures has had the ability to use his demon powers to cause all sorts of hellish destruction and mayhem on those who cross him. Except that, of course, he doesn't actually have those powers yet. Presumably we're about to see where he got them from? His less cool (what is it with his hair for the love of Cod?) but more evil brother Vergil is determined to unleash some sort of immense power that Dante apparently doesn't appreciate yet, and being somewhat miffed wants a showdown with his bro.
For reasons undoubtedly too obscure for Capcom to adequately explain, an enormous tower then proceeds to rip through the very heart of Dante's hometown high into the sky, and it's Dante's job to work his way to the top of it. Thus, what we get is another game of spectacular spiralling architecture, full of yet more materialising waves of demonic beasties with scythes, cretins with puffy exploding heads, a three-headed ice dog boss with vast snapping jaws, a frankly enormous flying segment-bodied insectoid boss that shoots plasma bolts at you, not to mention another dozen assorted giants that rain death in new and interesting ways. If you like behemoth bosses with powers that make you look like Walter the Softie, then this is the game for you.
In terms of action, it doesn't really get more mentalist than this, and just to prove the point it ratchets up the combat with a four-pronged selection of styles to choose from that give you a small added advantage in that particular section. Swordmaster, for example allows you to 'master melee weapons and maximise each weapon's power'; Trickster, as the name suggests, is all about avoiding enemy attacks using evasive movements; mastering Royal Guard allows you to 'minimise the damage of enemy attacks, and allows player to manoeuvre into strategic position'; while the final combat style on offer is Gunslinger, which needless to say gives you more attack power while wielding the various different guns on offer.
Usefully, though, regardless of which combat style you choose (which you can change either at the start of each level or at the designated Divinity Statues), the basic gameplay remains exactly the same. Think of it as configuring a special move that's the most important thing to you at that particular time as opposed to any massive difference in actual combat abilities as such. So, to clarify, you still get to use a gun or slashing weapon no matter what. In addition, you can, for example, still 'buy' new attack combos and power up each weapon as you progress, earned - as ever - through collecting the various coloured orbs that spew forth from downed enemies and lay littered around the levels considerately. As ever, red orbs count as the game's currency to spend as you see fit on new combat abilities or one-off/permanent health upgrades etcetera; green is a health boost; blue forms part of an bigger permanent upgrade to your constitution; with other one-offs that we, as yet, haven't discovered in the first five levels we've ploughed through so far.
As you might expect from having played previous games in this series, it's as much about learning how best to get out of the way as being powerful, and certainly while you'll bash your way through the first level unchallenged, by the end of the second the chances are you'll be paying far more attention to the evasive moves such as the Escape side roll (R1, X and left or right), or the Jump Back move (R1, X and back).
A million stabs
The game also drops in a few more hints on combos at various intervals, with High Time letting you shoot characters into the air, the sky high Kick Jump, the ferocious Million Stab or Wild Stomp - the latter available exclusively to Gunslingers. Throw in the numerous attacks available to buy via orb collection, and you'll soon build up a diverse selection of attacks. Although only in means personal to each player; there simply is never enough in the bank to buy everything at once, so it's totally up to you which areas you decide to improve on; or whether you want to spend ages building up a gigantic orb collection fighting respawning enemies in corridors or not.
So far, although the idea of Dante as some sort of smack-talking teenage gimp takes a lot of getting used to, these somewhat unsubtle outbursts are only limited to between-level interludes, so can be ignored somewhat. In terms of the actual game, it's far more in keeping with how we envisaged the sequel to be in the first place and is proving to be a much more challenging affair - even on the supposedly Easy setting (which is harder than DMC 2's normal in our opinion). With a couple of months to go until the game comes out across Europe, we've plenty of time to give the game a thorough going over, digest the storyline a little more and will bring you our in-depth thoughts on whether we'll we be wiping away salty tears of sorrow or joy at Capcom's latest hackandslasher shortly before its March 25th release.
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