Devil May Cry
23rd Oct 2001 | 23:00
If you saw a man dressed in a long red velvet coat and knee-length black leather boots, flicking floppy white hair with his fingers, you wouldn't think 'superhuman demon hunter'. You'd think, 'He should have got a taxi to the '80s nightclub, because dressed like that he's certain to get shoed in'. It escapes us how dressing like a bohemian mincer could ever be considered 'cool'.
And yet that's the taste-free costume that Dante, the star of Devil May Cry, chooses for his cleansing mission in a castle rammed top to bottom with flesh-ripping demons. It's his job to exorcise this evil, using twin hand-cannons and a sword. And despite his appalling dress sense, demon hunter Dante still manages to do cool - only in a John Woo slow-mo kind of way.
"The main theme of Devil May Cry is coolness," says the game's director Hideki Kamiya. "You seek out trouble and defeat enemies with superhuman powers."
It works like this: Dante sprints around a crumbling gothic castle filled with giant evil marionettes and scissor-toting witches. He looks for them. He finds them. They're dead.
A swing of the sword hacks a marionette into the sky, but before it drops, Dante draws a pair of pistols and savagely bullet-juggles it into the air. A somersault evades a flying scythe and Dante is bouncing on his toes like a boxer, tracking everything that moves with a shotgun. He hops around, blasting wildly and reloading with a flick of his wrist. Spent shells rattle on the concrete floor as every blast gives the stone walls a fresh coat of demon blood.
Are you starting to understand the 'coolness' remark yet?
"I feel the videogames industry has been targeting mainstream audiences and neglecting the hardcore gamers," says Kamiya, justifying the fast-action violence of his creation. "With Devil May Cry, we wanted to return to the concept of playing games being a fun, yet challenging experience. It was our goal to create a hard-edged game."
NOT RES EVIL
Early impressions (we've waded through a fair bit of the Japanese release) suggest it's mission accomplished - in quite spectacular style. Devil May Cry is violent and fast-paced, and presented in some of the finest visuals the PS2 has drawn up to this point. The ill-informed took one look at the cinematic camera angles, saw the word 'Capcom' and immediately billed the game as survival horror. In actual fact, the difference between the games is as pronounced as the difference between a cathedral and a sack of rabbit food.
Devil May Cry is 100 per cent action game. The satisfaction comes from getting knee-deep in dismembered demon, and dodging like hell to stay alive. The locked doors in the castle are usually opened by killing things, or by retrieving a key from nearby.
"Devil May Cry's storyline is simplistic, nothing of a novelty, " continues Kamiya. "It is my opinion that in an action game the story itself should not surprise the players or make the players sad. For an action game like Devil May Cry, it is important to motivate the player so they feel like a hero and want to defeat enemies at any cost. You confront an enemy and then fight it. The first time you may lose, but finally you will defeat the enemy and such a process should be considered part of the story."
Whereas Resident Evil sought to take the thrills of a horror movie and make them interactive, Devil May Cry majors on the visceral thrills of videogames and presents them in cinematic style. In truth, this game is more like The Matrix than Resident Evil. Cut-scenes are cleverly used to build the drama of a boss character's arrival, rather than putting the player fully into 'watch' mode as the story unfolds.
"The in-game cut-scenes are blended seamlessly with the gameplay to stimulate a player's emotions, says Kamiya. "They are integral to the game but at the same time cannot exist on their own."
Another key difference from Resident Evil is the mission-based game structure. The original idea was to present Devil May Cry as a continuous adventure similar to Capcom's classic survival horror games, but this changed late in the game's development.
"We realised we had been bound by the Resident Evil formula and discussed what would be the best system for Devil May Cry's action. This is how we came up with the mission-based structure."
It's not difficult to see that the game was originally conceived as a joined-up title. Dante defeats a large enemy and opens a door, and it's mission complete. The next mission resumes on the other side of the door in a linear fashion. The breaks in the play are where you save the game, and where Dante gets to 'spend' the red orbs exploring his darker side. And we're not talking about Spandau Ballet CDs and eye make-up here.
Dante is part demon - ironic for a demon hunter. The orbs he picks up are spent on various demon skills, as he learns to control Alastor, the evil inside him. At first, he'll glow blue and run a lot faster. Next, power is added to his attacks, with every bullet he fires loaded with demon power and ripping across the screen like lightning. Further in, he can become the demon - flying in the air and spinning with the destructive power of a hurricane full of iron bricks. The skills only last a short time though, and it's down to Dante to mash enough skulls to build the demon meter back up.
The gloomy castle is presented in glorious, proper 3D, further distancing Devil May Cry from the Resident Evil games. The camera pans and zooms as Dante hurtles past, and the crumbling castle looks fantastic. There's plenty for Dante to interact with (read: smash up), and the sound complements the look well. Foreboding organ music accompanies the exploration, giving way to edgier sounds when enemies lumber into view. And the weapons really boom and flash when you're unloading on a monster.
"When designing monsters, I tried not to let traditional concepts of demons restrain me," says Kamiya. "My policy was: anything that looks cool is acceptable. Although their appearances are unique and attractive, we would like players to pay more attention to their movement. You won't be able to defeat them simply by blindly slashing your sword. You will have to predict their next attack and evade it to give them an effective blow."
The bosses range from a predictable giant spider with a wholly unpredictable ability to fill a large room with fiery red napalm, to an eight-foot tall demon with the sword-fighting skills of all three musketeers rolled into one. From the second you enter a room which has a mirror in it, you suspect it will happen and, sure enough, Dante's mirror image steps out of the looking glass as the hero looks on aghast. The doppelgänger changes form, and you chase him across the crumbling ramparts.
It's safe to say we're pretty impressed with Devil May Cry up to this point, and the only real concern is that the all-action gameplay might end up a little bit repetitive. Rather than rock the boat with Mr Kamiya, we chose a different question to end our interview: why is Dante dressed like such a tit?
"Although Dante is a hero, I didn't want to give him a really extreme, over-the-top outfit like you often see in some Japanese comics featuring heroic characters," explains Kamiya. "In the end, we tried to compromise between the realistic and the heroic." We didn't have the heart to tell him the foppish New Romantic look is a bit 'out'.