Review on PS4, copy provided by publisher.
Before there was God of War, Bayonetta or Darksiders, there was Devil May Cry. Originally released in 2001 for the Playstation 2, Devil May Cry (and its two sequels) starred Dante, the cocky half-demon demon hunter – clad in a striking red trench coat and sometimes also a shirt. Collectively, these games were massively popular, and set the standard for 3D hack and slash video games. Now, re-released for PS4 and Xbox One as a HD Trilogy, it’s time to reassess these past gems to see if, in a year where God of War is getting a new title, these games still hold up.
The Devil May Cry games are action games with a difference: whilst combat is challenging enough on its own, you are rewarded with a grade for pulling off interesting combos and dispatching enemies with style and without getting hit. This means that whilst you can cheese bosses and enemy encounters by tanking hits and spamming the same attacks over and over, the game will let you know how much you suck with a D grade at the end of each encounter. Whilst the grades are mostly cosmetic, this can provide gamers looking for challenge and replay value an incentive to replay missions and bosses to get those elusive SSS ranks.
The games’ premises are quite simple; you play as Dante, son of the demon Sparda and a human woman, who travels around fighting demons and teaming up with a succession of scantily clad ladies. Cutscenes are really silly, with incredibly over-the-top action scenes and ridiculously hammy and overwrought voice acting. That said, the whole thing generally goes over-the-top enough to circle around again and become badass, and whilst the game doesn’t really take itself very seriously at all, Dante’s adventures are generally a fun romp. If I had a complaint about the action scenes, in fact, it is that way too many cool action scenes happen in these cutscenes. Basically, it can get tiresome watching Dante doing a cool thing in a cutscene, when we would prefer to just be playing as Dante doing that cool thing.
It’s worth mentioning that despite simply being up-scaled PS2 games, the three Devil May Cry games are still very nice to look at. Whilst some of the jaggy models and barely-there lip-syncing may turn some modern gamers off, the Gothic architecture of the environments and imaginative enemy design definitely pull their weight in terms of keeping these games pretty.
And it’s good that the environments are nice to look at, because particularly in the first game, you will be seeing them a lot. The Devil May Cry series started out being developed as a Resident Evil game, and this is the installment where that heritage is most apparent. Frequent backtracking and puzzle sections, as well as a claustrophobic and unhelpful fixed camera, are well-suited to a survival horror game, but add several frustrations in an action game and often kill the pacing stone dead. That said, the game does show the potential that the series would eventually capitalise on, and whilst Dante feels slow and stiff compared to his later appearances, fights against enemies and bosses are still a lot of fun.
Devil May Cry 2, released in 2003, takes several steps forward and backward. Whilst there is still a fixed camera, environments are a lot more open and easier to navigate, albeit less detailed. The game comes with the bonus Lucia Mode, allowing the player to play through the game as Dante’s french sidekick lady, but she plays identically to Dante and the levels and bosses are mostly the same, so the bonus mode feels kind of superfluous.
Dante himself feels a lot different, having lost his trademark attitude in favour of becoming a boring near-mute for some reason, which disappointed a lot of fans. Furthermore, despite a greater emphasis on action in this instalment, the series’ trademark difficulty has been toned down quite a bit, and weapon variety was reduced as well.
Fortunately, 2006’s Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition, a prequel to the first game, was seen by most fans as a return to form. If you are used to more modern action games, like Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, then this will probably be the most accessible of the three games in the collection.
This is the game that introduced a manually controllable camera, which reduced the number of times I was sniped by an enemy that was hiding off-camera where I couldn’t see them.
Furthermore, Combat Styles are introduced, which give Dante different special abilities such as being able to dodge, block, knock enemies into the air or shoot at multiple targets at once. However, at the start of the mission you have to select your combat style and are stuck with it unless you find a yellow statue during the mission, which lets you buy upgrades. As a result, not only do you have to guess which style will be most useful for the mission, having to choose between being able to block or dodge feels overly punishing, and demonstrates issues with the game’s mechanics that were not resolved until Devil May Cry 4, which let Dante switch Combat Styles on the fly during combat.
In addition to these three games, the HD Collection comes with a number of cool goodies, such as the series’ rocking heavy metal soundtrack, sound effects and concept art. Whilst these additions might not be important to everyone, I found them charming, and it’s nice that Capcom decided to throw in some bonus features for longtime fans of the series.