Review: Devil May Cry 2

By James "Tell me about your fahzah" Wiles

Over the course of playing through Devil May Cry 2, I found myself running a veritable emotional gamut (Ah, "gamut"… I just love that word!!). It was clear from the moment I began the first stage that this was a very different animal from the game I had come to think of as one of the coolest pieces of software ever conceived. Different, and not necessarily better. I floundered to describe what I was feeling as I waded through my relative non-adventure with Dante (and my sub-advenurette with Lucia…. That being an adventure so short and insignificant it warrants inventing a new term for it on the fly). Then it hit me what was happening; I was grieving. Amazing as it may have seemed at the time, I was experiencing grief not only for the game that I thought I knew, but also for the game that could (and probably should) have been. In the next few moments, I will walk you through the pain and eventual redemption that has been my life for the last few days:

Phase 1: Denial (It can't be that bad! It's a Devil May Cry game, for goodness sakes!!!). First, let's get one of the key points out of the way, if anything as a boilerplate in case I forget about it later: DMC 2 is a very, very nice-looking game. The graphics and animations are as sweet as can be, and are some of the best on the system. End of story. The new urban environments fit Dante like a glove, perhaps even better than the pseudo-gothic locales of the first. Character designs are also quite slick. The new, harder look for Dante grated on me at first, but it feels right on the money now. And I certainly wouldn't kick Lucia out of bed for using Devil Trigger…

Now begins the bad news.

Put the kids to bed, folks. This will get messy.

From the moment the player picks up the controller, the changes from Capcom's previous installment are apparent. The jump button has been moved from the triangle button to x, which ultimately is less comfortable than the original setup, especially for grizzled DMC vets. Also of note is the addition of a "dodge" button to handle evasion maneuvers and initiate the much-ballyhooed wall running. This button not only feels unnecessary (most of its functions were simply carried out by pressing jump while locked onto a target in DMC 1), but in a decidedly bone-headed move on the part of the designers, it also serves as the examine button. As a result the player can expect to spend a large amount of time snap-rolling into and running up walls like some sort of crack-fueled Jackie Chan wannabe when they are trying to search for hidden missions.
In another unwelcome change, the combo system has been significantly altered; while scoring high style ratings was once based on hitting big moves, mixing up your attacks, effectively switching from normal and Devil Trigger states, juggling enemies, and generally being a bad-ass mofo, combos are now handled more like they are in Sega's seminal (despite Trigun creator Yasuhiro Nightow's influence) DMC-knockoff, Gungrave. As long as the player keeps attacking, keeps hitting their mark, and doesn't get hit, their combo meter will continue to climb, regardless of how they try and mix it up. Doing special maneuvers does facilitate the process, but there is no longer nearly as much of a need to master the effectiveness of various moves. Thus the gameplay tends to become more than a bit monotonous…. Even, dare I say it, BORING at times. Adding to the monotony is that while the enemies certainly look good enough, few of them really seem to pose a realistic threat to Dante's livelihood. In fact, outside of the occasional errant swipe, most of them seem largely content to stand back and take the .45-caliber abuse Dante dishes out. The biggest offenders in the game have to be the Infested Tanks, which can be defeated by standing next to them and shooting.

No movement or fancy attacks required.

Just point and shoot.

Sadly, even the bosses typically fall surprisingly easily under a steady stream of gunfire. This is quite a shock to the senses when compared to the last game, where even the lowly Marionettes could give you a run for your money, given the chance.

The overwhelming sameness of the gameplay doesn't end there. While there are a variety of weapons available to each character, too few of them feel truly unique and entertaining to use. In fact, none of them even provide any new moves or abilities outside of the maneuvers Dante starts the game with. Weapons are now upgradable with the red orbs collected through the course of combat, but the effect of the upgrades seem to be virtually unnoticeable. So, in the end the player will more often than not simply play through the whole game using the default sword and twin pistols that they have from stage 1, with perhaps a bit of this so-called upgrading tossed in for good measure.

Not helping matters is the expansive new level designs. The stages are indeed considerably larger than the ones in the last game, which creates a twofold problem. First, since the cutscenes give you only the vaguest of information as to where you are going, the player can easily spend an inordinate amount of time wandering around like a dolt without any real clue how to get to their next objective. The larger areas also provide a problem similar to that found in the case of GTA: Vice City's new indoor locations and the spaz-o-cam they induced: The engine's capabilities don't match the scope of the areas. As I see it, the DMC camera was designed with the relatively close-quarters combat of 90% of the last game in mind. Problems always arose when the game had to deal with getting both Dante and the enemy framed properly while fighting in the more expansive battlefields (for example, the cathedral area where the first meeting with Phantom took place). Now that most of the areas are far larger, the player is more often than ever treated to camera angles which deliver stunning views of Dante shooting at…. Something. Unfortunately, those somethings are occasionally trying to charge, shoot, or generally do harm to our half-demon hero while hiding off-screen. Fortunately, the baddie often dies before that threat of harm is made good on.

Phase 2: Anger (HOW COULD $@%*ING CAPCOM $@%*ING DO THIS?!?!?!?! $@%*ING IDIOTS!!!!! I WILL STAIN MY $@%*ING HANDS WITH THE $@%*ING BLOOD OF GAME DEVELOPERS THIS DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! KILL THE INFIDELS!!!!!! [Collapses into fetal position, sucking thumb and babbling incantations from Evil Dead])

Now, it should be noted that the control and camera issues previously mentioned are more or less simply quibbles over unnecessary changes to an already spectacular control method. With a bit of practice, the control still becomes largely second nature, and feels pretty much rock-solid. And the camera can be worked around more often than not, even if it is rather annoying. The largest sins DMC 2 commits are found in the story and character development departments.

While the story in the previous game was largely superficial, it still featured plenty of classic moments, and did a fine job setting the stage for the game's various challenges. You always knew where you were, what you were doing there, and how to do what it was you were to it do. Who can forget Dante's fiery confrontation with Trish in his office? Or his dramatic acquisition of the Alistor sword? Or the awesome initial exchange with Nelo Angelo? Or the verbal sparring match with Mundus before the final battle?

Ah, so many good memories…

Without a doubt, the first game was simply dripping with personality. Dante talked the talk, and he most definitely walked the walk. And so did his adversaries. This time around however, the personality factor is seriously lacking. Outside of the main baddie, Arius (who, by the way, looks a little too much like Nobunaga Oda decked out in pimp garb for his own good), none of the other bosses are given any real screen time. Thus, they are no more interesting than the random schmucks that the player has been dispatching since stage one are. All they serve to do is act as rather large, grumpy roadblocks put in Dante's way, somehow, for some reason.

What brought them here? We don't know.

Do they serve Arius? We don't know.

Were they just on the way to the corner store for a pack of smokes? We don't know.

This is not what I signed on for.

Also, while there are some rumors of a story occurring in the midst of all of this shooting and flipping and killing, you would barely know it. The cutscenes are so uninformative, dry and illogical that they may as well not be there at all. More often than not the players find themselves asking, "Where am I?" "Why am I doing this?," "What just happened?," and other such questions that SHOULD have been explained in the cutscenes.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of story, don't expect any continuity with the first game outside of the Mundus statue seen briefly in the opening cinema and the cameo appearance of one of the original bosses later on. There isn't another shred to be found. For all we know, DMC 2 takes place in some sort of parallel universe.

And then there's Dante himself.


Apparently somewhere along the line between this game and the last, Dante tripped on a rock or something, hit his head, and now believes he's an incredibly acrobatic version of perennial Batman foe Two-Face, albeit without the amusing musings about justice and the like. I could go into more detail, but I'd likely hurt myself and say things about the game's character designers that would make Baby Jesus cry. Bottom line is Dante is no longer the smack-talkin' heavy metal mamma-jamma we once knew. I don't know exactly what he is, but it isn't nearly as entertaining. In fact, he's downright boring.

And Lucia surely isn't helping matters. While she is a nice piece of eye-candy for the guys in the crowd, she effectively amounts to "Trish v. 2.0" (somewhat of a spoiler there, but hey…. It's not much of a plot, anyway.), with a few added gallons of angst. To make matters worse, she plays almost exactly like Dante, albeit with LESS mobility and less useful weapons. And her game, while hitting some different areas than Dante's, is even shorter and easier. I honestly didn't think that was possible!

Thanks for yet another useless addition to the series, Capcom. You pressed an entire separate disc for THIS?!?!

Phase 3: Bargaining (If only there were some redeeming quality… Just one…That's all I need…)

Fortunately, even if the plot is mostly drivel and the gameplay is decidedly on the easy side, there is a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. The last portion of the game is quite entertaining, with sections that feel quite a bit like the intense blast-a-thon that was the original. Dante's end bosses even pose somewhat of a challenge! And the endings aren't too shabby, either, especially once Dante and Lucia's are tied together. Also, the number of unlockable goodies has risen sharply from the original, with plenty of alternate costumes and characters to be found (including old-school Dante and… [Drool]…. Trish!), as well as the rather entertaining Bloody Palace mode: An endurance game of sorts that tosses endless streams of enemies at the player.

Phase 4: Depression (I dunno…I suppose it's OK… Kinda… I guess… I'm gonna go cry, now.)

So, once the dust has settled, what sort of verdict is there to be had? Is the game a winner or an irredeemable flop?

Well, on the plus side, DMC 2 is still downright beautiful to behold, and can be rather fun to play. The unlockables are a nice reward, and they are considerably easier to get to with the shallower learning curve.

But none of that changes the woefully shallow gameplay and decided lack of plot and coolness that the game suffers from. It goes without saying that the overabundance of attitude and high level of challenge was one of the biggest draws of the last game. After spending hours with DMC 1 mastering combos, learning moves, and analyzing boss patterns in the midst of Dante's antics, it's a darn shame to find the latest game can be beaten in one sitting.

Phase 5: Acceptance (Ah, well…I guess this is one of those "When life hands you lemons" situations.)

Despite all of my ranting, Devil May Cry 2 isn't really a BAD game. Like other games before it, it largely suffers from having to live in the shadow of the nearly flawless original. It's fun, but not nearly as fun as it likely should have been. And while the new additions look nice on paper, many of them can be written off as just window-dressing. The curious should definitely give it a rental, but fans should probably be prepared to be disappointed.

James' Score: 3 (out of 5)