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April 19, 2005

Review: Devil May Cry 3 - Dante's Awakening - Devilishly cool!

I'm in love with Dante. Not in any sexual or intimate capacity, but just as a person. Capcom has created a truly novel character in Dante, and have fully fleshed him out in this incredibly amazing game. Neck-snapping, spine busting, and demon demolishing karate, Kung-fu, and tai-kwon-do are just par for the course. Dante takes the term badass, and elevates it to all new levels. Balls; something Dante has a lot of. It takes a man like Dante to stare a rocket head on, only to lasso it into a jet propelled hoverboard, merely to let it loose into a stone ceiling, causing rubble to sprinkle down like rain. If there is one word for Dante, it'd be Badass. Not the badass that simply just turns his shoulder to every nay-sayer in the world, but the kind that turns his shoulder while doing a mid-air 360, dodging a tornado of bullets and sickle blades. Devil May Cry 3 is the prequel to the acclaimed Devil May Cry, and Devil May Cry 2 (though not so acclaimed). The goal from the start-up was to recreate a true successor to DMC, and not only give fans the sequel they wanted for so long, but to surpass their expectations, and offer a truly fluid, and malleable game to suit any gamer that happens to glance their way at DMC3's sexy box-art. In few word: Mission Complete.

Devil May Cry 3 begins with Dante starting up his demon-slaying business he later titles "Devil May Cry", in the game creatively enough called Devil May Cry. Even though the whole "Devil May Cry" thing is a little overplayed, the name has meaning. To keep it short, devils shouldn't cry, Dante cries, therefore Devils may cry, but usually don't, because they're too busy being evil, bad ass, and getting all heavy metal on demonic heiny. Busy dismissing premature callers, Dante is approached by the tall, dark and not so handsome Arkham, inviting him to reunite with his twin brother Vergil. Inevitably leading to one of the most kick-ass action sequences in history, Dante is jumped by Arkham, only to be ambushed by a swarm of Hell spawns. Piercing his muscle ripped torso, causing him to drop his beloved pepperoni and cheese pizza on the floor, Dante retaliates by shrugging off the demons like miniscule specs of dust. Leaving their scythe blades protruding out of his body, Dante promptly picks up his pizza, and plays himself some fightin' music, directly kicking the asses of the demons who ambushed him with the very same blades they pierced him with, still residing inside his arms and legs. The fight that follows while ultimately cool, is only icing on the cake.

Renowned japanese cinema legend Riyuhei Kitamura (Versus, MGS TTS), directs all of the cut-scenes in this game, and as usual, he doesn't disappoint. The situations, camera angles, and ability set Kitamura gives Dante, is most befitting. Bullet-time and crazy martial-arts styles are only the price of admission. He goes above and beyond, expanding on those things by creating some truly remarkable, and memorable fight scenes. Dante VS Vergil is a great example: Dante firing 5 bullets straight for Vergil, Vergil capturing the bullets via twirling sword (a la Grey Fox), and returning fire with his whiplash like reflexes, only to have Dante sever all 5 bullets in half, deflecting each half away from him. Words cannot do these situations justice. Seeing is believing in this case.

As for the game itself, it appears as though the original rendering engine is used, only tacked together with some cool anti-aliasing abilities, and incredible water effects. Whether or not Capcom claims it's a new rendering engine or not, the game is polished to a highly reflective, glossy finish. The character models of Dante, Lady, Vergil and Arkham are very well done, and animate with life-like dynamics (most likely due to the fact that mo-cap was done for nearly every blink and twitch in every single cut-scene). The environments are a little more compact, allowing for a broader range of details and decals to be painted and plastered onto the textures, with visible effectiveness. Cracked brimstone wreckage of a colossal tower emerging from the underworld, the auric glow of candle light in an underground theatre, and the crystalline shimmer of ice furnished gateways really pull the gamer into this world that Capcom has created. Even though there are games that graphically outclass this game on the Playstation 2, the game itself glimmers in the action game hall of fame.

While beautiful, and pleasant to look at, the primary draw of Devil May Cry 3 is the combat. Most of the moves you witness in the cut-scenes are entirely reenactable during real-time combat. First, let me start by saying this game is difficult. In some cases, it's an exercise in frustration, and will have you throwing the controller directly at the screen, followed by the obligatory cursing and middle fingers that only you yourself actually end up taking anything away from. In the majority of these cases however, your death is caused by a mere lack of skill on your part. I'm man enough to admit, at first I sucked at this game. I openly admit I just wasn't good enough. Admittedly, there are 3 or 4 instances in this 20 hour game, where camera angles cause some unwanted discord; though these instance are so rare I can't really recall any specific cases that stand out to any significant degree. Your ass will be handed to you again and again, but you will eventually get better. Every enemy in this game emits warning sounds or actions, that spell out disaster if you stay too close for too much longer, or don't prepare an evasive maneuver immediately. Every attack is announced, and once you learn the visual and aural cues from the enemies, achieving SSStylish combat ranking and taking zero damage become not so impossible feats. I firmly believe this is action-packed game design at it's finest.

The combo system of Devil May Cry 3 is also a feat in game design. The ability to switch melee weapons at the touch of a button, is a welcome addition. Chain whipping a group of enemies with Dante's triple-ice-chuks, followed up with a high time from Dante's sword Rebellion, switching back to ice chucks to give them a mid-air lashing, only to switch right back to the blade to send them hurling back down to the ground, is common ground in DMC3's combat. There are a total of 5 melee weapons, and since most combos are customizable to each gamers taste, the fighting engine behind this game is in essence, a "build-your-own-combo" system. The 5 total melee weapons too are very different from one another.

If long-range combat is your thing, then combination of the electrified guitar-scythe Nevan, and Dante's default sword Rebellion is perfect for you. For close range, the combination of the holy empowered gauntlets Beowolf, and the triple-ice-chuks, Cerberus are your best bet. Any combination in between however, is fair game, and result in some truly spectacular combo creations. From there, you decide how complicated and elaborate your combos are. Keeping in mind that the game grades you on how well you create your combos. Mashing away at the attack button with a single weapon won't yield a very high rank, though switching up the the melee weapons, changing things up by adding direction and rhythmic timing to your sword slashes, mixing it around with the occasional gunplay, will more than likely launch you straight for the S, SS and SSS ranks.

It would seem that to Capcom, simply allowing the player to customize the game to each and every play style wasn't enough, they went and added the "Style" system. Though not nearly as deep and complex as the combat engine, choosing a play style has unique effects on each players experience. Choosing the trickster style for example, allows you to perform quick dashes to and from enemies, mid-air dashes, and run up and along the corridors of this games many and varied environments. This allows the player to cover a lot of ground whilst dodging every imagineable attack that comes your way. Chosing the Gunslinger style enables the player to make effective use of their guns, by letting the gamer perform tricks and charge shots with them. For example, using this style with the handguns, Ebony and Ivory, allows Dante to shoot in two simultaneous directions and perform the "Rain Storm" technique, where he launches himself straight up, inverting himself to relenquish a cyclonic flurry of raining bullets upon the enemies below. Similarly, with the Shotgun, using this style allows Dante to wrap himself with his Shotgun in a nun-chuk-ular fashion, which many gamers have intimately nicknamed "Gun-Chuks". These are but 2 of the 6 total styles to chose from, and each offering a very unique experience.

Swordmaster; the ability to master melee weapons and combos, Royal Guard: the attack-reversal and counter-attack style, Quicksilver; the ability to slow time to a crawl, and Doppleganger; the essential style allowing two players to play simultaneously, comprise the rest of the available and unlockable styles. Choosing one of these styles, upgrading it, and combining it with the stylish combo system, make a gaming experience unique to each and every person who plays. Even further, warranting multiple playthroughs since each style and melee combination lend themselves to completely different and useful strategies during common combat and boss fights.

On the topic of bosses, this games gives them to you in spades. While most of them have simple attack and retreat tactics, there are a handful that surpass most other boss fights in all other games. Bosses like Cerberus and Nevan simply repeat an attack pattern, which you memorize and simply evade from, moving in for a few quick strikes, or wait for their moment of vulnerability, and chop away at their health bar. Other bosses, such as Beowolf, Agni and Rudra and Virgil, have predictable attacks, though charge at you, attack, defend, and pincer attack you in such a random fashion, that they create some of the purest forms of strategic and skillful combat in recent memory.

Not only is getting into that position where they're vulnerable difficult, you'll need to employ some deep and complicated combos if you're going to attain that S or SSS rank while fighting them, as bosses attack often, and hard; the proper mixture of evasion, dodging and complex combo craziness, will in no time yield the coveted SSStylish rank, and an overall S rank in the mission. The game rewards you for these ranks as well. If you sit back and cowardly grenade, snipe or shoot every enemy on screen, your ranking stays down, and in the end, your bonus orb reward is pittance (orbs being your only currency/trade item). Striving to become better, and wanting to be skillful melee master, is reward in an of itself, though the game showers you with orbs if your skill can hold up through the arduous and ball busting mission difficulty.

Devil May Cry 3, though home to some of the craziest and most insane combat seen in any action game to date, is also home to a killer soundtrack. Mixing symphonic melodies and harmonies, hybridized with heavy and death metal hardcore clash fests, the audio in DMC3 redefines what a fitting soundtrack should be. These songs spiritually embody what DMC3 is all about: being hardcore *insert Jack Black "No you're not hardcore..." jam session*. At the core, DMC3 is a deep and complex fighter/action/adventure game. On the surface, Devil May Cry 3 is the perfect personification and exemplification of the entire genre of heavy metal music, cult classic martial arts, and head-to-toe arrogance (Dante being the primary fountain of arrogance). On top of that, the dialogue is delivered with pristine clarity, and the plotline is markedly deeper than any of the two previous installments. Though nothing near RPG standards, DMC3 sets new bars for competition to reach for.

Overall, the presentation of the game is adequate, as the interface while perusing menus and data files is oftentimes oversimplified, the feel of the game gets two thumbs up. The prologue and epilogue of each of mission are reason enough to understand that garnish goes a long way. As for the obligatory Ninja Gaiden comparison: there is none. Ninja Gaiden is a vastly different experience from this game. Where Ninja Gaiden captures the look of hardcore gamer-hood, DMC3 pulls it off in practice. Where Ninja Gaiden is challenging due primarily to poor camera angles, and some challenging AI, DMC3 is tens times more challenging, though only sometimes due to poor camera angles, and more often then not, true challenge. DMC3 ends up forcing the gamer to hone their gaming skills. Whether or not you are as hardcore as this game wishes you to be, the game does offer several difficulty modes, even the traditional easy-auto, where the game performs stylish combos for you. Though the best combos are reserved for those who can synthesize them themselves.

With a smorgasbord of unlockable costumes and characters, a gallery of extras, artwork, behind the scenes footage and special trailers and videos, this game has more than enough reason to replay this game, and easily attain a playtime of above 50 hours. Upgradable weapons and skills, great characterization (especially the remarkable recreation of Vergil and his polar oppositeness of Dante), and gameplay that shoots to kill, Devil May Cry 3 is what no other action could be. It's the most innovative action game to date, and the cut-scene direction is just damn impressive. I would say Devil May Cry is easily one of the best contenders for Game of the Year thus far, and you'd be hard pressed to find a sizable game worthy of even being called "similar to" Devil May Cry 3. The sequel to surpass the original, and make apologetic amends for it's successor, DMC3 will rock your ****ing socks off.




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