Devil May Cry HD Collection Review

There recently seems to have been a spurt of classic games, generally from around ten years ago, that have been given an HD makeover. God of War, Halo, and more recently Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill to name but a few. I’m sure there will be more to come. I guess you could argue ‘why’ until the cows come home (where the cows are and why they stay out so late is beyond me) – is it because of the recent drought of creativity in the games industry? Is that why developers are looking through their back catalogue to what many regard as a golden age of gaming? Or is it simply because it is cheaper to polish a few old titles than it is to develop a new one (almost certainly)? These questions are for you to explore in your own time perhaps. What is more important to ask here is, are they worth purchasing and playing again?

Devil May Cry, as it even says of itself on the HD Collection’s cover, was ‘genre defining’. It has been copied many times but its originality has rarely been equalled. Its combination of ultra cool style, addictive gameplay and bizarre yet compelling story made it an instant hit back in 2001. That’s right, Devil May Cry is eleven years old. Which makes you…sorry, couldn’t help that one! In the HD collection you can replay the first three titles in gloriously rendered HD. Well, its mostly gloriously rendered, but more on that later. If you’re a fan of the games then the package will be considered good value for money (retailing at time of print at £24.99). If you’re not a fan of the series, then I guess nobody’s perfect.

Starting at the beginning, I selected Devil May Cry to start. Immediately I was taken back to a time gone by as I was greeted by a familiar message:

“Caution! This Game Contains Scenes of Extreme Violence and Gore!”

I remember seeing that for the first time and thinking, “Wow, I’m in for a treat here!” Bear in mind that the original game came out amid Capcom’s gory glory days in the survival horror genre. Everyone was fully versed in Resident Evil at the time (and hadn’t been poisoned against it by terrible Paul W. S. Anderson movies), and Onimusha (Samurai vs. Demons) was enjoying a good run. Devil May Cry was aimed at a slightly different audience. Sure it has the horror theme, but rather than playing as a relatively fragile and vulnerable inividual, trapped in an impossible situation and desperately attempting to claw your way out of it, here you play as Dante – son of the legendary Demon: Sparda. Sparda was of course (as we all remember) responsible for single-handedly stopping the demon world from overrunning the human world, with the aid of an oversized sword and some fairly spectacular headwear. Dante, having lost his whole family (namely his mother and brother) to the demon world, is understandably upset, and now spends his time either sitting in his office looking cool (and listening to music on his vintage jukebox), or stomping on demon heads for money. He’s about as badass as an individual can be, impossibly cool, resplendent in a black and red trench coat, and wielding both a massive sword and his trusty dual pistols: Ebony & Ivory.

This sword and pistols combination makes up the fundamental basics of Dante’s fighting style. Slice ’em up with your sword when they’re close and blast ’em with your pistols when they’re too far away to cut. On release it was a phenomenon. The fluidity with which Dante can switch between his weapons and pulverise his enemies, and the sheer frenetic pace at which enemies are thrown at you made the game intensity enjoyable. It even challenged you to be ever more skillful by utilising a scoring system, constantly inspiring you to up your game. Suddenly, the fear aspect of survival horror had been replaced by the thrill of being the son of a demon with plenty of foes to guiltlessly obliterate. So how has that ‘thrill’ stood the test of time?

First of all, you can immediately tell you’re playing an old game. Its not until you play something like this that you truly appreciate just how far games have come in the last decade. Other titles in this genre since have really pushed the boat out pretty far, driving the visuals and the combat to incredible heights. I am, of course, talking about games like God of War, Heavenly Sword, Darksiders, Bayonetta and even Devil May Cry 4 (say what you like about it, the gameplay kicked ass).

Having been treated by all of these wonderful, genre-defining games in their own right, its hard to go back to the original without feeling a certain sense of limitation. Having said that, however, it does hold up surprisingly well. The first game still feels really solid. Sure, you might need to readjust to the controls, as its a little counter-intuitive to newer set ups, but once you get into the game a little it all comes flooding back. The first time you uppercut a demonic puppet into the air and blast away its chest with rapid fire pistol shots, finishing it off with a horizontal sword strike so that it clatters away into pieces across the floor, you know you’re playing Devil May Cry.

Weapons can be upgraded by collecting red orbs that are scattered each time you defeat an enemy. New weapons (such as a shotgun, grenade launcher and flaming gauntlets) are found along the way, and new abilities can be purchased to flesh out your move set. This helps to keep the combat varied and challenging as you progress through the game.

The issue I had – and I imagine the issue that many will have – was the camera. Oh, the camera. With today’s games typically favouring a third person ‘chase’ view that you can control with the right analogue stick, these games lived in a different era where fixed camera positions were in fashion. At the time it helped lend a sense of drama to the game as you ran through it: a high angle here, a low angle here. Doesn’t this game look cool kids?! But now, oh my word is it frustrating. The camera – and therefore your viewpoint – will often switch suddenly, and then you find yourself running in a totally different direction. Its jarring, frustrating and often wholly confusing. Add combat to the equation and it becomes downright infuriating. Given Dante’s acrobatic abilities, you can find yourself hopping and jumping all over the place, and during some sections where the scenery is quite tight (or during a certain boss sequence where you’re fighting a giant demon spider, for example) it can drive you to the point where you throw the controller across the room in annoyance. Do you remember the days when games made you do that? That’s nostalgia baby!

As for presentation, the game looks relatively sharp and polished now that its been given an HD face-lift. The backgrounds look bright and alive (literally breathing in some cases), and the blacks are nice and deep. Occasionally some surfaces look stretched and pixelated, but not so often that it distracts you. I didn’t exactly time the original to compare, but from what I remember it certainly seems like the load times between rooms have been shortened – because its running on more powerful hardware now – so it somehow feels smoother as you play. Dante’s animations are fairly fluid and don’t particularly make you feel like you’re playing an old game.

What is frustrating is that some of the cut-scenes haven’t been updated. They’ve just been left in all their historic, muddy glory. I have no idea why the developers have done this, unless its to somehow emphasise the work that they’ve done, allowing you to compare the new version with the classic and the chasm of difference between them. It doesn’t work. It suddenly makes you go “Eurgh, that looks terrible. Why have they done that? That’s rubbish”. Its a shame, because up until those moments they were doing really well. You might not mind it, but I found the inconsistency of the visuals tarnished an otherwise quality product.

If you remember DMC at all you’ll remember that its synonymous with driving industrial rock and techno music that makes the action feel even more frenzied and hectic than it would should you be listening to, say, Mumford and Sons. (Can you imagine?) Anyway, Dante enjoys a good grunt as he leaps around, and there are some satisfying smashes and splats as you destroy demon-kind along the way. Any extended running is a bit of a chore though, as his clack-clack footsteps can get a bit repetitive. Much like Chinese water torture. Drip, drip, drip. Clack, clack, clack. Its fine if you’re fighting (which is often), but if you’re just running for any length of time its really noticeable. Clack, clack, clack. You remember it, don’t you?

So the first game is great. It has its limitations but as you think about them, remind yourself that you’re playing an 11 year old game. Once you get stuck in it stands up really well and is really fun to play. The story is a bit weird in places, straightforward in others, typically Capcom really! The dialogue certainly didn’t win any awards, but it drives the story deeper into the Underworld which is where you want to be if you enjoy fighting bigger and badder demons. Its got some great moments, and learning about the history of Dante’s family and ultimately his father is intriguing enough to keep you playing. Finish the game and the “I think we have a winner” comment is priceless.

Moving on to the the second game and its a very different story indeed. Capcom seem, in my opinion, to have completely missed the point with the sequel. There are several reasons why. The first is that they’ve swapped all the tight and intricately designed locations for wide open spaces that have no character or substance. They’re just dull and mostly featureless. Aside from not being interesting to look at or spend time in, the open space effects the gameplay dramatically. For one, when the space you’re in is relatively tight, the combat tends to be more close quarter, and therefore exciting as you can choose between swordplay or shooting things. When you’re in the equivalent of a car park, you end up shooting things from far away, often before they even appear on screen. Its a bit dull holding down a fire button while you watch a health bar go down, without even being able to see the enemy you’re killing. Where’s the fun??

This applies to some larger foes and even bosses as well. During one level I was jumping up and down on top of a possessed tank and shooting downwards at it as I fell. The tank couldn’t shoot me because it couldn’t aim its turret upwards, so I just had to keep jumping and shooting until it died. This did not happen quickly. Similarly a possessed helicopter hovered somewhere off screen refusing to shoot in my direction. I literally stood still for around 6-8 minutes holding down the fire button, watching a detached health bar decrease, slowly. The only respite was when I briefly got to switch into Devil mode and shoot slightly more powerful bullets. Dull. As dishwater. What were you thinking Capcom? Seriously?!

I hated the sequel. I hated it when it came out. I thought it was a massive disappointment compared to the first. It hasn’t won me over this time round, in fact, I think its made me more angry. I had to get my flatmate to play most of it while I watched because I found it too infuriating. He seemed to enjoy it because he likes how acrobatic and jumpy Dante is, running up walls and such, but he voluntarily watches One Tree Hill on a regular basis, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions there.

The sequel has had the same HD treatment as the first game, and does look good, apart from the random cut-scenes that haven’t been updated. I find the rendering of the surfaces aren’t anywhere near as interesting, but that was a flaw with the original game rather than this update. Again, Dante’s animations are good for their time. His swordplay looks cool when enemies get close enough for you to use it. The enemies aren’t as interestingly designed as the first, but again, that might just be my opinion.

The weapons can’t be upgraded in the same way as in the first game, i.e. with extra abilities to unlock. You can upgrade them, but it’s a simple damage increase. The plot makes very little sense and is flimsy at best. Some girl meets you in a church and tells you to go to Africa. Unfathomably, you go. After fighting some demons, an old lady tells you there’s a man who’s got a bit of demon in him and he’s used it to build a business empire, and that you should probably go kick his head in. If you do, she’ll tell you something about your father. Apparently that’s all you need, so off you go, leaping and prancing and shooting things you can’t see until his face comes out of a building. The end.

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening promised to bring the series back to a place where fans weren’t quite as angry. As the title implies, its more of an origin story going back into Dante’s history and taking place before the events of the first game. It deals with the battle between Dante and his brother, and promises to be an epic clash.

The direction Capcom went with this title was to make it infuriatingly difficult. They addressed some of the camera issues by giving you some semblance of control, but to counter that they made it so that you probably won’t get passed the third level without biting one of the analogue sticks off your controller in frustration. The combat is fluid, and rewarding, but early on in the game you have very little health and not many of Dante’s abilities, so every enemy encounter becomes a tense dance with death. Gone are the days of bowling in with your sword spinning and slicing without a seconds thought for your own safety. Do that and you’ll be dead very quickly. Instead you must rely on Dante’s athleticism and ability to dart in and out of combat to survive. Its ironic, because the cut-scenes show Dante taunting his foes and allowing them to stick blades in him and all sorts, implying that he’s virtually indestructible. And yet, as soon as you take control and enter a fight, you’re clearly quite fragile and vulnerable.

The main gameplay difference is that Dante now has 6 different fighting styles for you to choose from. Anyone who’s played DMC 4 should be familiar with them. In short, they are: Trickster (which makes you more agile), Royal Guard (which gives you a sort of counter attack that you can charge), Swordmaster (giving you extra sword abilities, surprisingly), Quicksilver (which slows down your opponents while you stay at normal speed), Doppleganger (which gives you a sort of body double to assist you in battle) and Gunslinger (which gives you the ability to make a delicious shepherd’s pie. Kidding, it does of course, make you better at talking to women). You can’t switch between these at will, you must choose your style at the beginning of each mission or at designated checkpoints. Choose the wrong one and get into a bind and you’ll find it pretty frustrating.

If you do have the skill and the patience to push past the challenges that this game (often) presents, then you will be rewarded. Boss battles reward you with souls which transform into weapons, further developing the gameplay dynamic. Devil Mode isn’t unlocked until about a third of the way through. But more than gameplay, the story is actually quite compelling, certainly compared to the blandness of the second game. Without going into too much detail you are challenged vicariously by your brother, Virgil, to a scrap, via a messenger called Arkham (no reference to a certain asylum I don’t think). After a few battles it turn out that Virgil is attempting to get his hands on the half of Dante’s amulet that their mother left them, so that he can activate a dark tower that will connect the demon world with the human world and he can ashamedly rule over both. There is mention of Sparda and his legendary sword, the introduction of ‘Lady’, the motorcycle riding chick you meet in the first game, and a serious amount of deception and intrigue. Its good solid stuff, and gives the series overall story arc a good kick off point.

You can tell that the developers wanted to go back to the style of the first game with Dante’s Awakening, and I really don’t blame them. The settings are more interesting to look at, the plot is decently written, the combat is full of depth and is complex enough to keep you learning and challenged. ‘Challenged’. Perhaps that isn’t a strong enough word. Furiously angry with the game’s ludicrous difficulty. That seems more appropriate. Also, despite attempts to make improvements, those camera angles are still an issue.

So, taking a quick look at the package as a whole – all games are on one disk as you would expect. The menu screen allows you to choose from the three games, but does warn you that once in the game you’ll have to go back to the console main menu if you want to switch. Sure, that could be seen as a bit of a pain, but realistically how often are you going to switch games while already playing one? There’s very little additional content included – in case you were expecting some sort of ten year anniversary blow out collection – there’s just some concept art and promotional images from the series.

So the package as a whole is an interesting one. After playing all three titles I admittedly found myself going back to the first as it’s the one I enjoyed the most, but you may well decide differently. I suppose that’s one thing about this range of games – many gamers had their favourite, and while they had their frustrations, they generally had something to say. Whatever you say about Devil May Cry, you can’t describe it as dull (apart from the second one which is. As dishwater).

I don’t think its a coincidence that this HD collection has been released as we prepare for the new and re-imagined Devil May Cry title later this year. There’s already a lot of hype surrounding the new game and already it seems controversial (namely because Dante is portrayed as a young man with – shock horror – black hair). If the promise of the new game has whet your appetite then this HD collection may be the distraction you need. Its a great way to experience Dante’s heritage and remember where it was he came from. I’ll be interested to see how many hallmarks of the genre will be new, and how many will have survived from these classic titles.

Devil May Cry HD Collection is a great collection to have if you’re a fan of the series. Yes there are issues with the camera angles, yes its insanely difficult in places and, yes, the HD makeover isn’t as consistent as it could be, but the most important thing overall is its jolly good fun playing them again. The combat is still surprisingly solid and fluid while still remaining crazy and rewarding. If you played these games the first time round its a chance to enjoy them again without the eye-gougingly old graphics of the original formats. Seriously, if you don’t believe me, fire up the original on a PS2 and you’ll see what I mean. Dante, it would seem, has lost none of his charm over the years. 11 years on and he can still pack a wallop. I wonder if the remake will still be played in 11 years time?

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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