Having just spent the weekend in Goth central, a.k.a. Nottingham, it's probably as good a time as any to dust off the All About Eve records, apply the eye liner and indulge ourselves in some dark Action Adventure antics. The original Devil May Cry established itself as an instant classic on its release shortly before Christmas 2001, with its relentless blend of sword and gunplay, dressed up in some of the finest gothic visuals gaming has ever seen. The prospect of a quick-fire sequel was certainly welcomed, but it was hard to see what Capcom could do to improve upon the original in such a short space of time.
Then word started to filter out of Japan and the US that all was not well with the DMC mark two. Surely not. How could Capcom make it less appealing than the awesome, albeit tough, original. This isn't how sequels work, is it? Certainly, our first impressions six weeks ago seemed to confirm these reports that the game was almost embarrassingly easy for anyone in possession of two functioning thumbs. But seeing as we'd only made it through half of the Dante levels, we felt it best to at least get to grips with Lucia's adventure before we delivered our final verdict on the game.
Dreams can come true
To recap on the who what where when why, Dante is the 'ultimate devil hunter'; a chisel-jawed, platinum blonde-haired half-demon hard bastard, with more moves than a body-popping Matrix wannabe. To cap it all, he's armed to the teeth with a giant sword and dual pistols just to prove the point. In tow is the second playable character, Lucia, an equally athletic sort; a kind of white, Goth Gabrielle, with an odd tendency to wear her hair over one (dodgy?) eye. They've got some beef with corporate ne'er do wells, and in one of the most pointlessly constructed in-game stories of all time it's time to work your way through 18 Dante levels, and 13 Lucia levels - each housed on their own disc as standalone, but almost identical games.
If we were to mechanically list all the moves and features in DMC2, it would probably sound like the ingredients for a stonking game. Both characters have a long list of attacks, pulled off with various combinations of triangle, square and directional buttons. In practise they look pretty swish too, and you'll gasp as Dante runs up walls and flips over high in the air, allowing you to fire off shots as you hurtle to the ground. The list of skills goes on. But what point is there in going through all these elaborate, well-animated moves when all you ever need to do to defeat just about any creature in the entire game is to double jump (X) and then bash square as quickly as you can? In just over three hours we managed to breeze through all 13 of Lucia's mission doing just that, occasionally tapping triangle to bash the more lightweight meanies (and to stop us falling asleep at the repetition). Similarly, Dante's missions play almost exactly the same, and despite the supposedly different moves, the net result is exactly the same. Jump. Bash bash bash. Jump. Bash. Game completed, goodnight.
That's not all there is to it, of course, as we found out during our recent interview with the game's producer, Tanaka-san, but it may as well be for the vast majority of you. Ok, a hard mode unlocks, and the game becomes more of a challenge, but the prospect of playing the whole thing again with slightly harder enemies isn't really our definition of a reward. Complete the game as both Dante and Lucia and play the whole thing again as Trish from the first game? Do us a favour; look, we're fed up with the same old same old as it is. And don't even get us started on the ultimate 'Bloody Palace' mode. 2,000 levels of intense arcade-style combat freezes the blood in our fingers as we type.
I know. Let's make it look worse…
But it's not all two-button tedium. Aesthetically the sequel manages to break something that didn't need fixing, too. Although you can't help but admire some of the detailed environments, somehow they were so much more impressive the first time around. The levels seemed to be intricately designed before, whereas although the engine has supposedly been improved this time around, you'd be hard pressed to find one single location in DMC2 that looks better. The camera work wasn't exactly helpful last time around, but this time you barely stand a chance of seeing what you're shooting at. But it matters little, as the auto targeting means you can just hop around with your eyes closed shooting blades at whatever the CPU deems is your nearest target. You'll win in the end. Daft isn't the word. To make matters worse, on some levels you don't even have to bother fighting; just run straight past these endlessly respawning cannon fodder until you meet the boss and repeat the double jump and fire formula discussed. But at least it's in 60Hz this time, eh?
If this was the first Devil May Cry we'd probably be reasonably impressed with certain aspects of the game: the system of orb collection and gradual weapon collection/upgrade is still a good way of coaxing you through the game, and gives some incentive to battle your way through the endless drones. Graphically it's still impressive enough to be one of the best looking games out there, and the range of moves available to you is a pleasing novelty compared to most action games. Shame you hardly ever need bother to learn them.
The heart of the matter is that the game's original creative driving force, Shinji Mikami, had little input into the sequel, and whatever vision he had that made the first in the series work so well has seemingly been overruled and diluted by Tanaka-san, an inexperienced producer (a former games journalist, believe it or not) who has been lumbered with a project that has been rushed released with scant consideration for the long term benefit of the franchise. Whoever's to blame, it's just not good enough, Capcom knows it, the critics know it, and hopefully the public will soon, too, before it's too late.
Devil May Cry into his beer
Regardless of whether you've played the original, the bottom line is that Devil May Cry 2 is a deeply flawed combat-based action game that offers a mere fraction of the depth and the challenge of the original. That's not to say it's completely terrible, because it's still a reasonably enjoyable and pretty beat 'em up while it lasts, but it's a shock to see the mighty Capcom let its standards slip in such a dramatic fashion.
Devil May Cry review (PS2)