Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening Feature Preview

We get an exclusive look at new levels in Capcom's third entry in the Devil May Cry series to find out how stylishly crazy the action really is.

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We've spoken highly of Capcom's upcoming Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening since the game first dropped jaws at last year's E3. The third installment of the stylish action series has promised a sexy return to violent form that was missing from the franchise's sophomore title. Previous demos of the game that we've seen haven't called such promise into question in the slightest. If anything, they've only made it clearer that DMC3 is likely to be the best installment in the series yet. We have more to say about the upcoming game now that we've clocked some time with a new build with some previously unseen levels. So, what's the word? Read on to find out.

Dante's Awakening chronicles the gross dysfunction of the famous demon hunter's family.
Dante's Awakening chronicles the gross dysfunction of the famous demon hunter's family.

Much has been made of DMC3's return to the spirit of the original game, which was one of the coolest titles on the block when it hit back in 2001. However, DMC3 is much more than just a retread of the best aspects of the original game. This game is very much its own beast, and it improves on the coolest aspects of the original with some daring new ideas that appear to be working out very well.

There are several new aspects to the experience that are worth calling out in DMC3. Foremost is the game's story, which is set prior to the original game and follows the adventures of a young Dante as he clashes with his sibling, Virgil. This prequel time frame presents a very different Dante from the cool demon killer that we know and love. Dante's actually kind of an immature punk this time out, but from what we've seen so far he manages to still have that winning charm. Young Dante is pretty high-strung and comes packing a hefty amount of sass, which ends up working for him. While we can't reveal too much about the game's story, which contains many a plot twist, suffice it to say that Dante's family is a little dysfunctional.

Besides affecting Dante's personality, his youth and inexperience impact his abilities pretty significantly. Young Dante ends up lacking many of the powerful abilities his older self had in the original game, but the unique new gameplay system provides the perfect compensation. As has been noted since the game's unveiling, you'll now be able to pick from several different fighting styles for Dante to use. The gunslinger style will give Dante extra shooting abilities and will let him aim his guns in different directions; swordmaster gives him better close-up melee moves; trickster emphasizes evasive moves that let Dante run up walls and perform other dodge maneuvers; and royal guard is an aikido-like style, which lets you perform counters for attacks directed at you. While we can't talk about the other styles yet, players should be aware that there will be more than these four in the game from which you'll be able to choose.

Choosing a style ends up being a key aspect of Dante's Awakening, as the style you choose will affect your experience with the game. The thinking is that all of the included styles are so different that just about any player will find one that suits his or her preferences. You'll be able to level up the styles as you go, because you'll be gaining new abilities as you advance. Your abilities will be enhanced by the mighty arsenal of primary and secondary weapons at Dante's disposal, which includes pistols, swords, and more esoteric stuff that is a blast to play. Once you start to get through the game you'll be able to increase Dante's abilities to include some of his signature moves, such as his demon form. The resulting mayhem that can ensue as you mix and match everything is a very satisfying experience.

The game's structure is similar to its predecessors, but before you start exploring the areas to complete a given level's objectives, you'll have the option to customize Dante however you see fit. This basically means you can pick his fighting style and the weapons you'll take into a level. So far, what we've liked most is that you really won't be penalized for sticking with one style. Sure, some levels and enemy encounters may take much longer to get through because your style isn't the best suited for dealing with them, but eventually you'll get through and it helps you to master that style.

Dante's multiple fighting styles give the game a lot of depth and replay value.
Dante's multiple fighting styles give the game a lot of depth and replay value.

The other major tweak to the gameplay is the combo system, which passes judgment on your skills as you play and tallies up the success and style of your attacks. When you first start to play the game, the combo system will likely not be on your radar as you familiarize yourself with the controls and the unique moves for the fighting style you've chosen. However, once you get comfortable with how everything works, you'll find that the system is an addictive and challenging aspect of the experience. The assorted attacks and combos you perform will begin chains that the game will track and rate you on at the end of a level, bestowing letter grades and catchy one-word assessments of your performance. Earning the highest honors will be extremely challenging given the game's difficulty, but there's nothing quite like earning yourself an "S" after a challenging level. (That's the best rank, in case you didn't know.)

The Devil May Cry games aren't exactly known for being a walk in the park. How's this latest one treating us after a few levels? Read on to find out.

Gunslinging, Sword-Swinging

The version of the game we played proved to be pretty challenging, since the difficulty level has yet to be fine-tuned. However, it still managed to hold our attention. The aforementioned gameplay systems all work well together and definitely offer an experience that's a few cuts above the game's predecessors. There's more to deal with during the action, which helps keep the game from being just some mindless fun. There are tactics to be discovered and planning that needs to be done as you face off against a tough assortment of foes.

The game has a healthy number of puzzles mixed in with the hardcore action.
The game has a healthy number of puzzles mixed in with the hardcore action.

Your enemy encounters will be broken up by changes of pace that include some impressive but challenging brainteaser puzzles. The challenge posed by the enigmas you'll encounter will test both Dante's mind and body. In some cases you'll need to use your brain to sort out one part and your brawn to sort out the other. For example, when exploring an area, you may find the only way to progress is to collect a key or some piece of information that rests tantalizingly out of reach in a room with moving spikes or other such hazards.

The graphics in Dante's Awakening show off an impressive layer of polish, which is a sight to behold on the PlayStation 2. Dante has never looked better, with a detailed character model whose expressive face shines during the real-time cinematics that are peppered throughout the game. More importantly, Dante's broad array of animations noticeably reflects the different styles you can choose as you play. Surprisingly, Dante's foes show off nearly an equal amount of detail, which enhances their twisted and evil dispositions. Best of all, the smooth animation on the enemies brings them to life in an eerie way. While we can understand the motion-captured quality of the animation on the humanoid characters, we're impressed and disturbed by the less-conventional creatures and wonder just how the team animated some of the game's multilegged critters so well.

The character models are complemented by the fully 3D environments you'll be going through (often shooting everything you come across), which feature an impressive amount of interactive objects that blow up real nice. Speaking of explosions and other visual flourishes, DMC3's particle and lighting systems are another enhancement to the core visuals, which are top-notch. You'll first see these systems in action when you use Dante's guns, thanks to the muzzle flash and discarded shells, but you'll soon see much, much more as you progress to new areas.

The final layer of polish to the game's presentation is the real-time cinematics that will often bookend each level. Besides offering yet another way to appreciate the graphics engine, the cutscenes show off the truly winning cinematic flair that permeates the action. Whereas the previous Devil May Cry games featured some cool cinematic moments, DMC3 really takes the concept up a few notches with its slick cinematics that move the story along and set up the level in which you're about to play. One of the cooler touches is how each cinematic slips in a level's number in some way, whether it is in the background or part of the architecture. This cool, subtle touch shows off how the development team is sweating every detail in the game.

The audio in DMC3 is a very satisfying blend of the expected music, voice, and effects. The music is a rock-heavy collection of tunes that fit the game's insane combat well, thanks to a generous helping of attitude. The voice acting works pretty well and showcases a bit of the whimsy in the game, which reinforces that it doesn't take itself too seriously. The sound, most notably the cries of your foes and gunfire from Dante's firearms, is extremely satisfying and works hand in hand with the soundtrack to pull you into the experience of running into a room that is crawling with demons and taking out the trash. DMC3's support of Dolby Pro Logic II ensures that those with the right sound-system setup will get quite a bit out of the game's audio.

The development team has gone to great lengths to beef up the third installment's visuals.
The development team has gone to great lengths to beef up the third installment's visuals.

Based on what we played, Devil May Cry 3 is poised to make some waves on the PlayStation 2. Impressive visuals, cool and varied gameplay, and a strong sense of style all add up to set the game above its predecessors. We'll be curious to see how the difficulty level ends up balancing out, but we're confident Capcom will get it right. Whether you're a fan of the DMC franchise or just looking for a slick new action game, you really should keep an eye out for Devil May Cry 3. If you're a fan of the original game and you're ambivalent about this one in the wake of the disappointing DMC2, let your doubts fall by the wayside and give the series a try again--you'll probably be pleasantly surprised. Devil May Cry 3 hits the PlayStation 2 this March, and you'll most certainly want to keep an eye out for it.

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