Resident Evil series creator Shinji Mikami may just alienate some of his fans with his latest creation. Titled Devil May Cry, Mikami's latest foray into the world of the macabre is markedly more fantastic, visceral, and playable than what he's been doing for the past five years. In terms of gameplay, Devil May Cry is an absolute departure from the plodding, deliberate style of the Resident Evil series. Instead, it presents an altogether fast-paced play experience, the likes of which have been scarcely touched on in the console world during the age of 3D. Those familiar with Bandai's excellent Silent Bomber will know just what kind of action to expect.
Devil May Cry tells the story of Dante, a human/devil hybrid with a grim legacy. His father, Sparda, was a legendary demon warrior who turned against his kin to protect humankind from the wrath of hell. He was slain, however, by Satan. Now, 2,000 years later, Dante is forced to face the very demon that slew his father to exact revenge and prevent the hordes of hell from overtaking the world. While it may seem like a bit much to tackle for someone who's only half-demon, Dante seems well up to the task. He's possessed with superhuman agility, endurance, and strength, and he has a brace of powerful weapons at his disposal. What's more, he has the power to morph into a demon--a great help indeed when it comes to fighting the infernal horde on its own turf.
If the demo we've been playing is any indication, leading Dante to the belly of the beast will prove to be one of the most engaging things you can do with your PS2. Dante is an intense character, and controlling him is quite a treat. Players who scorned the confining RE-style controls will find much respite in Devil May Cry--movement is entirely 3D (a la Metal Gear Solid) and superresponsive to boot. Dante can also jump, roll, and perform a Strider Hiryu-style off-the-wall double jump. Clearly, he's a very mobile character, and the gameplay very much warrants it--more often than not, action sequences have you dodging enemy attacks, strafing around them for quick shots, rolling under them to emerge behind and stab them, and other such things.
Luckily, Dante is also very much able to defend himself. Initially armed with his father's sword and a set of twin handguns (called Ebony and Ivory), Dante is quite a destructive force. You shoot Dante's guns by means of the square and circle buttons. The game has a fairly generous auto-aiming function in effect, which more than compensates for any limitations presented by the third-person perspective. You can also strafe enemies by means of the R1 button. The triangle button causes Dante to attack with his sword, and depending on which direction the stick is held in tandem with the button, the attack will take a different form. If it's held directly forward, Dante will lunge forward several feet with his sword pointing outward, smashing enemies and furniture alike. If the stick is kept in a neutral position, Dante will unleash a swift three-hit combo. Finally, if the stick is held downward and the strafe button is used along with the sword slash, Dante will scoop up enemies with his blade to either catch them in the air with a second slash or, more impressively, to juggle them with gunshots. It all depends on how long the triangle button is held down. If it's lightly tapped, the enemies will be thrown into the air; if it's held down, Dante will leap up after them. Needless to say, this last move is very satisfying.
Dante's most impressive attacks, however, happen when he's in demon form. When the demon meter is full, such metamorphoses are possible, enabling Dante to assume a very frightful form--that of a winged, scaly, lighting-bolt emitting terror. When the meter's full, hitting the L1 button will cause streaks of lightning to surround Dante's body. When thus enchanted, all his attacks are more powerful, and the meter will slowly deplete. Performing a jump while enchanted is what turns Dante into his true devil form. When this happens, he'll remain in the air and hurl lighting bolts at all surrounding enemies. As you'd imagine, the demon meter is quickly depleted when he's in this form, so it's best to make quick work of your enemies. We're assuming that Dante's demon forms will change, depending on which weapon he has equipped. Since the only sword available for use in the demo was one with a thunder characteristic, we were limited to this lightning-spewing form.
The world of Devil May Cry is quite impressive to behold. While not a great deal of the story has been let out, the environments we've seen blend a kind of gothic ambiance with a definite postapocalyptic aesthetic, resulting in quite a grim overall feel. The interior of the mansion, where the demo takes place, is at the same time gilded and ornate as it is razed and dilapidated. The game's tone seems very ingeniously conceived, and we're very anxious to see more of the world that Mikami has dreamt up. More impressive, however, is the fact that most--if not all--of the environments we've seen are rendered in full 3D. They're enormous, multileveled, and very intricate--comparisons to the Castlevania series are inevitable, both in terms of gameplay design and aesthetic feel. It's almost as if Capcom were deliberately showing Konami how to properly execute its franchise in 3D. Resulting from their grandeur, however, is a small wart--the camera transitions from area to area seem hastily executed, resulting in a skewed control scheme a lot of the time. We sincerely hope that it's just a symptom of the game's incomplete state. In terms of aural presentation, Devil May Cry seems to be spot on. The voice samples seem comparatively well directed, and the various sound effects are crisp and effective. The music is harsh, yet minimal, and very effectively brings to mind vivid images of dystopia. It fits the theme quite well.
To be frank, we're very excited about Devil May Cry. Gameplay this engaging is quite rare these days, and the fact that a top developer is behind it is very encouraging. Devil May Cry seems to effectively capture something that most console developers of the latter part of the 32-bit era have forgotten how to do--namely, how to design a game whose gameplay mechanics are engaging, simple, and superbly playable. The game is set for release later this year, though you can look for a playable demo packaged with Resident Evil: Code Veronica Complete Edition soon.