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Devil May Cry HD Collection Playtest: The Evolution Of A Genre


    If you’re worried that Devil May Cry HD Collection might have turned out like the Silent Hill HD Collection, don’t be. All three games have been remastered beautifully into HD (with the slight exception of menu screens and some cutscenes that were left in the original resolution for some reason), and they run at 60FPS on both consoles. If you know your Devil May Cry, you probably already own this by now. However, if you’ve never played Devil May Cry before, read on and educate yourself about two brilliant action games.


    Devil May Cry


    If you’ve been playing recent action games, the first Devil May Cry might seem a bit quaint by comparison. Camera angles are locked in place depending on what part of the area you’re standing in, combos rarely spend much time in the sky, and there’s a significant portion of the game in which you’re exploring instead of fighting.


    It’s very clearly born out of Resident Evil’s DNA. The game takes place in a gothic, twisted castle and the demons are pretty creepy. If it weren’t for Dante’s sarcastic personality and combat prowess, it could very well pass as survival horror. However, that combat is what transformed Devil May Cry from Resident Evil 4 into the father or modern action games.


    Devil May Cry laid the groundwork for combat in action games to come. You have powerful melee attacks (swords and gauntlets in this game) with only a few rhythm-based combos contrasting your (generally) weaker guns. By rhythm-based, I mean that you can get different attacks by pausing for half a second in the middle of a combo string, a clever way to get some variety out of one-button melee combat. Proper timing is everything.


    The more you hit an enemy (with melee) without it escaping, the higher your style ranking goes, from D(ull) all the way up to A(wesome) and finally S(tylish!). The better your ranking, the more red orbs enemies will drop, and by extension the better grade you will get at the end of the mission. A better grade at the end of a mission leads to even more red orbs, which can be used to buy new abilities for Dante’s weapons.


    Considering that this game is the father of the genre that spawned Ninja Gaiden 2 and Bayonetta, it feels a bit jarring to go back to the first game after all these years. It’s more about studying your enemies, learning their patterns and figuring out their weaknesses. Many enemies have certain sweet spots. For instance, the grim reaper-esque Sin enemies can be parried if you strike their scythes or scissors while they howl, exposing their masks which can be shot for an instant kill (two shotgun blasts often find their way to the weak point).


    While some higher-level players might disagree with me, I think of DMC1’s combat like Castlevania in 3D. It’s more about discovering the swiftest ways to dispatch your enemies than going for the coolest looking combat, although admittedly, they often go hand-in-hand.


    When I was younger, I didn’t like the first DMC very much, in part because I wanted the flash of DMC3 (which I’ll get to in a bit), but primarily because the controls were absolutely nuts. Triangle was jump, X was shoot, and circle was melee attack. The HD Collection unifies the controls across the three games into DMC3’s default layout, which puts jump on X (A on 360), shoot on square (X on 360), and melee on triangle (Y on 360), which I personally find much more comfortable, and has since become the series standard.


    Now that the controls are finally molded to human hands, I feel like Devil May Cry shines. It can still be incredibly hard (you will die, no question of that), but it’s a fascinating take on the Resident Evil formula (with put object A in slot B puzzles intact) with a strong gothic art direction and some fun combat.


    Naturally, the sequel decided to dispose of a lot of the stuff that made it good.


    Devil May Cry 2


    Devil May Cry 2 is important in that it introduced a number of new mechanics that eventually became integral parts of the series… but unfortunately, the game itself isn’t very good.


    Gone is the careful and deliberate rhythm-based combat, instead replaced with combos vaguely based around pressing various directions while mashing the triangle (or Y on 360) button. Guns now fire automatically as long as you hold the button, and combat now takes place in wide open cities.


    The change of environment sounds like a minimal one, but it shows how important closeness is in Devil May Cry’s combat. When enemies are spread out across a large area, battles lose their intensity, and it becomes much more challenging to move from one enemy to the next and continue a combo. On top of that, you’ll eventually learn that the best way to beat any boss is activate Dante’s Devil Trigger (effectively a limited super mode) and just hold the shoot button.


    While I wouldn’t recommend playing much of Devil May Cry 2, it did introduce a few important functions to the series. First and foremost is the manually-engaged lock-on, something that would become vital as the series grew into its next incarnation. Also interesting (if not as well implemented as they could have been) were the addition of a dodge button which could also be used to run on walls and the ability to shoot in multiple directions at once. Both were very cool, but the game doesn’t really ask you to anything with them. The game also introduces real-
    time weapon switching to the series, which would be much more useful if Dante used more than just swords.


    Despite its many failures, I feel like DMC2 was an important part of the series. It nearly killed Devil May Cry, but it inspired Capcom to reconsider where they were taking the series.


    Devil May Cry 3 Special Edition


    Devil May Cry 3 is where things get insane. I mentioned earlier that the first game’s combat was more about careful enemy destruction than style. DMC3 just decided to make everything in the game over the top. Cutscenes have Dante fighting demons by using a motorcycle as nunchaku and being eaten by a giant flying fish-thing. It’s absurd, violent, and completely fits the enhancements made to the combat. And DMC3 is all about the combat.


    The timing-based melee attacks returns from the first game, but with it comes the new "style" button (circle on PS3, B on 360). Before each stage, you’re asked to choose a "style." Depending on what style you’re using, this becomes either your dodge button (Trickster), your block button (Royalguard), or a bonus attack (Swordmaster) or shoot button (Gunslinger). At first, these additions will seem pretty minimal, but they mean a world of difference.


    You see, Devil May Cry 3’s enemies are a bit more sturdy than the ones in the previous games, but your moveset has been expanded considerably to take advantage of this. Dante can equip two weapons and two guns in each mission and can swap between them at any time, even in the middle of combos. This is where the styles come in. For instance, level one Swordmaster opens up air combos for Dante’s first weapon Rebellion, and makes it even easier to get the enemy
    airborne by giving you the ability to do a launcher with circle (B on 360). Just like that, your combos have a level of verticality to them that wasn’t even imaginable in the first DMC, and when you start mixing weapon switches into those combos, things start getting beautiful.


    It’s the first action game I’d ever played where combat doesn’t really have any set rules. It becomes a form of expression. Prefer dashing in and out of enemy attacks? Use Trickster, and your style gauge will skyrocket. Want to counter every attack that the enemies throw at you by attacking with proper timing? The game will reward you for that, too. You can play it practically any way you want, but the style meter demands diversity. You’ll learn the basic rules DMC3 wants you to know, and start finding ways to switch up what you do in your combos, but it’s an
    incredibly flexible system, and it just gets more flexible as you level up your styles and buy new skills for each weapon you obtain.


    Devil May Cry 3 might look a bit stupid if you’re just looking at the ludicrous cutscenes (I love them anyway) and skull-laden art direction, but it’s filled with genius design decisions. For instance, every standard enemy will announce an attack with an audio cue, even if they’re offscreen, so you’ll know to dodge or prepare an attack to counter them. There are also these hidden statues called "Combat Adjudicators" in some stages that require you to get a high style
    ranking on them to get a piece of a life-increasing blue orb, but you can only use one specific weapon to do so, so you teach yourself new combos with your weapons in the process.


    On top of that you can return to any mission at any time to get a better grade on it and farm for red orbs and skill upgrades, which allows you to get a handle on the game at your own pace and figure out the best way to take out the (generally fantastic) bosses. It’s just damn good.


    Food for thought:


    1. The one issue I have with this collection is that there’s a slight stutter on Mission 4 of the PS3 version DMC3, usually in the second or third room you enter. I haven’t heard of anyone else experiencing this and it’s not in the 360 version, so I wonder if it’s just my PS3 being old (it’s a 60GB model from near launch).


    2. While I would have appreciated a few more extras (like a playable demo of DmC: Devil May Cry, for instance), the concept art is great. Some of the DMC1 concept art is from the game’s days as a Resident Evil title, and pretty fascinating to look at. One piece of art even suggests that Dante and his twin, Vergil, were originally created or modified by the Umbrella Corporation…


    3. Save all the time. You can save at any time during a mission, and while it won’t save your place in the mission (you’ll start from the beginning again), it will save the number of red orbs you’ve accumulated. In the first game, particularly it can be helpful to find a place that you can get orbs quickly and farm by saving and reloading. Trust me, you’ll want to have your weapons upgraded, at least a bit.


    4. Dante gets beaten up and/or impaled in a lot of cutscenes…


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