Angels, Demons and Rock and Roll – Hands On With Devil May Cry

There are times when I play video games to relax, and there are times when I play games to get my butt kicked.  Devil May Cry 3 was a game that I threw myself against time and time again.  The game laughed at me and knocked me down, but I always got back up for more as I got a chance to take a look at Capcom’s franchise reboot this last week at the Sony PlayStation Holiday Preview event.

Now Ninja Theory is making a new DMC game, and the masochist in me is getting excited. Even though the game is going in a different direction than previous games, the basics feel very familiar.

Dante is no longer the white-haired, wisecracking protagonist we grew up with.  Now he is far younger with brown hair, but he still cracks jokes left and right. Instead of being the son of Sparda, he is now half angel and half demon, and this is what gives him access to his different abilities.

To trigger the various moves, you hold down shoulder buttons to access angelic or demonic weaponry.  In the demo, the angelic weapon was a scythe that provided very fast attacks, with a demonic hammer as a slow, heavy, and powerful alternative.

Supernatural moves add flair to long-running combos, but your standard attacks are accomplished with a classic sword.  The number of moves you can pull off takes some getting used to.  In the beginning, I was muddling up attacks, accidently activating the scythe when I wanted the hammer, but this was quickly solved once I became familiar with the controls.  The controls do make sense, but the sheer number of options means a steep learning curve to climb.

While smacking stuff is a good deal of fun, you’re only half of combat.  Even within a short demo, the enemy variety made me believe this half, the stuff you’re actually smacking, will be just as promising.  The demons I fought had a broken metallic look, making them appear cyborgish.  I came across weak looking fighters, chainsaw-wielding attackers, shield-bearing tanks, and flying cherubs, both with shields and without.  Each of these enemies require specific strategies to take down, and when a large group is coming at you, a devilish smile comes across your face if you have Devil Trigger ready to activate.

The white-haired protagonist of past games hasn’t been forgotten.  While Dante’s looks are different from before, activating Devil Trigger with a full meter by pressing both shoulder buttons together will change him into a familiar white-haired, red coat–wearing form.  The palette for this mode is a bit washed out, like an ink drawing bleeding over the edges.  Devil Trigger doesn’t just make your attacks more powerful, it looks cool too.

Once a group of enemies has been dispatched, getting to the next fight becomes your goal.  Traversing environments requires a little bit of platforming skill, and your angel and demon powers are there to help. Dante has a grappling hook ability, but it changes based on the power you use.  A demonic grapple will pull platforms or other objects towards you, while the angelic version will pull you towards the ledge.

Speaking of environments, the level design in DMC is the most exciting part of the game for me.  Because Dante is something of a supernatural creature, he can see another world that rests above our own, called Limbo.  This world, while mirroring our own, is far from an exact copy.  Limbo will shift and change around you is drastic ways: hallways will collapse in on you, the ground will break off and fly out into the background, and ledges will pop up unexpectedly in front of you.  Thankfully, your grapple skills make it easy to move through the landscape.

These effects, combined with other aesthetic choices such as messages appearing on the walls, give the game an otherworldly feel.  Just as you get comfortable with minor differences between the real world and Limbo, the level will radically shift and you’ll need to quickly dash to the next or get caught in the transition.

Not all your time will be spent in Limbo, and it looks like the story of the game will focus on how this ‘other’ world will affect our own.  Boss battles can occur on Earth when something is bleeding between the two worlds, but that doesn’t mean they are plain or boring compared to the demons you fight in Limbo.  The big baddie I fought in the demo was a giant slug with a human face, hanging from the ceiling of a fiery cavern.

The beginning of the fight required Dante to smack him about for a bit, but very quickly the slug-man spews bile over your platform, making it impossible to fight.  Using the angelic grapple, you have to constantly move to side platforms to continue the fight.  This encounter killed me a few times over.  I’ve never been the most amazing player, but that the difficulty is still present in DMC got the masochist in me giddy once again.

DMC is shaping up to be a game to watch out for.  The mechanics allow for the long running combos the series is known for, and while the methods have changed because of angelic or demonic attunements, the fundamentals feel familiar.  More than anything, I’m looking forward to exploring Limbo some more and watching demons, angels, and rock and roll completely shift the world around me.

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October 8, 2012 - 8:13 am