Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening
Dante's back, and badder than ever. But can he carry this rock-hard prequel to the heights of video game nirvana?
Capcom Production Studio 1
By Ben S. Dutka
Back in August of 2001, one of the most impressive and entertaining action titles to hit the market in years exploded onto the scene. Devil May Cry, an attitude-laden slash-fest of devilish proportions, greeted gamers with a sly grin and a big ol' bucket of cockiness laced with a dark gothic tinge. The smash hit garnered massive critical acclaim and the adoration of action fans everywhere, quickly skyrocketing to a lofty position in the gaming world.
Then, a little over two years ago, the highly anticipated sequel hit store shelves and we were all prepared to salivate once more. But for some reason, something went slightly... awry. The vaunted flair, so well established in the original, seemed to be lacking, and the gameplay appeared to be little more than a watered-down and more simplistic version of the combat system of its predecessor. It was far from terrible, but it certainly didn't live up to expectations.
And so, we approach the third installment in the series with bated breath. We hear a few things before its release; first, that it's a prequel. Secondly, many of the same developers and designers that had mystifyingly disappeared for the sequel were back. Thirdly and lastly, Capcom had apparently realized that the solid challenge of the first DMC needed a resurrection. The news seemed promising, but concerns still lingered. It appears that we needn't have worried.
Graphically, DMC 3 is mostly excellent, with periods of masterful work thrown in here and there. The pre-rendered backgrounds, now synonymous with the franchise, present some of the finest visuals you will ever see. Even though the environments can still appear to be muddy in some areas, the overall attention to detail and motion capturing is utterly gorgeous.
The enemies and especially the bosses are wonderfully depicted, the characters are nicely portrayed despite a few jagged edges, and the graphical presentation is extremely consistent. In terms of choreography, the cut-scenes are top-notch, even though the laws of physics don't exist for anybody or anything. The blood is very real and the nasties are just that... nasty. The graphics fall shy of phenomenal, but remain great and even startling at times.
You're going to need an appropriate soundtrack and a beautiful set of sound effects to accompany your ass-kicking, and DMC 3 delivers the goods with a full-throttle assortment of rock and heavy metal. The hard-hitting battle melodies are interspersed amongst the more classical and traditional tracks during times of inactivity, and the sound effects are unbelievably clear and sharp. It's the perfect package for a game such as this, but the main drawback lies entirely in personal preference: nobody is going to complain about the splendid sound effects, but if you're not into the rock anthems, you're going to get pretty tired of the soundtrack, regardless of how well it fits the mood and ambiance.
Devil May Cry was a challenge. Viewtiful Joe and Ninja Gaiden were wicked tough. Devil May Cry 3 is just plain brutal. The gameplay of Dante's Awakening centers around one of the best combat systems ever utilized, and its linked with one of the most demanding and unforgiving difficulty levels found in the last decade. The Normal difficulty setting is probably too much for the average player, and even Easy hardly lives up to its title. Dante Must Die mode is there only for the hardcore, mainly to see just how long they can survive.
Speaking of that sparkling combat system, it becomes clear after only a few minute's playtime that you're experiencing something utterly remarkable. DMC 3 is faster and more intricate than ever, allowing you to switch between two sets of guns and melee weapons on the fly, and linking together furious and magnificent combos in the blink of an eye. Dante moves fluidly and aggressively, giving you complete and nearly flawless control of the cocky demon slayer.
Whereas the original gave you a primary weapon that housed the several different magic attacks at your disposal, DMC 3 offers more weapons and a full set of unique actions for each. You will spend your hard-earned Red Orbs upgrading these skills, as well as the overall power of your guns. Furthermore, once upgraded, these new abilities will allow the player to perform new and more powerful moves, which can then be implemented into even more devastating combo attacks.
The combat is so intense and engaging that you're likely to contract carpal tunnel syndrome before you get through the fifth mission. The difficulty of the game requires that you be precise and timely, and while the combos aren't necessarily tough to pull off, the ferocity and deadliness of your opponents forces you to be on your toes 100% of the time. The slightest misstep or choosing the wrong move at the wrong time can mean Game Over before you know it, so you simply can't let up.
Problems lie in the camera, as is generally the case with games in this genre. The good news is that it's not terrible, and for the most part, doesn't infringe on the enjoyment factor. However, there are several areas in the game where the camera leaves you almost blind, and with enemies like these, that can be deadly. If you can deal with those parts, though, the rest should fall into place nicely.
The difficulty is insane, but the mission format allows for most any player to bypass that ridiculous challenge. Because you are allowed to repeat any mission you've cleared, you can return to previous missions and do some "orb farming." Unfortunately, the amount of orbs you'll accumulate by going straight through the game is unlikely to provide you with enough to consistently upgrade your skills and keep a decent stock of healing items. Herein lies the true difficulty; with enough items, fully upgraded skills and weapons, an elongated health bar (Blue Orbs), and more Devil power (Purple Orbs), you are prepared to tackle the next challenge. Even if you're only an average player and get swatted around left and right, chances are, if you took the time to build up a stock of healing items, you should be just fine.
It may take some time, but it's not that bad. The best method of farming orbs is to simply return to Mission 1 and repeat it over and over. Including loading times, it will take less than two minutes to complete, and you should be able to nail down an "A" ranking without much difficulty. By doing this, you can collect over 100,000 orbs in less than an hour, thus making the game that much more forgiving. The rankings go from S through D, and you're graded on time, orbs collected, stylish points, damage taken, and items used.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the game features a Style setup that makes a huge difference in how you approach the game. Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, Royal Guard, and later, Quicksilver, are all Styles that should be experimented with and utilized in order to succeed. The first four can be upgraded to Level 3, and each upgrade gives you a more powerful and/or effective move when that Style is equipped. Figuring out the benefits of each is essential to Dante's performance on the battlefield, and is a much-appreciated fresh aspect of the series.
All in all, DMC 3 is one of the most spectacular and challenging games to arrive in a long time. The gameplay suffers a bit from a lack of enemy diversity over the 20-mission span, a less-than-perfect camera, and a difficulty balancing issue; there's a streak of simpler bosses inexplicably placed in the middle of the game. However, it remains an invigorating ride loaded with enough over-the-top action to quench the thirst of thrill-seeking gamers everywhere.
With the addition of more weapons, abilities, and the new mission format, the game is deeper than one might think. The puzzles are hardly brain-busters, but at least they're original and provide a necessary break from the hectic action throughout your quest. Each new challenge, generally represented in the form of a new boss, forces the gamer to use new strategies and master new styles. There are also 10 Secret Mission to find and attempt, each giving you a vital piece of life, so to speak. It's deeper than you expect, but not more than you need. In short, it gels beautifully with the gameplay.
When it comes to presentation, few franchises have as much punch as DMC. Dante is one seriously charged-up individual, with the skills to match his mouth. The cut-scenes and movies are chaotic, in your face, and designed to be cooler than an igloo in Antarctica. The dark and menacing tone of the environments and overall feeling of an evil presence throughout is palpable. The rock and metal will either add to the flavor or drive you nuts, but the production is simply dripping with attitude. And lastly, the story is quite good and perhaps even better than the original, but it's certainly not a focal point.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening turns out to be one of the best action games you will ever play, although the small problems of the past still haunt the newest installment. Some will immediately begin the comparisons to Ninja Gaiden, but even though the two are very similar in terms of gameplay, they are very different in terms of the overall appeal. Ninja Gaiden remains technically superior, but DMC 3 adds a generous sprinkling of creative flair and design that one may find lacking in Gaiden.
It will all come down to personal preference, but both games are absolutely the best of this generation, along with the original DMC and Max Payne 2. Don't let the cries of, "it's too hard!" discourage you; if you've got the patience and the skill, it can be completed on Normal mode, and for those of you without that patience, the Easy mode is just the ticket. Either way, be prepared to revel in a truly fantastic accomplishment.
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Devil May Cry 3
New - Another impressive trailer (640x480, 1.8Mbps)
Devil May Cry 3
Direct feed new trailer (640x480, 1.8Mbps)