If the thought of an electric guitar that spews out lightning-charged vampire bats makes you all giddy, then rush on down to the shops immediately and purchase the latest installment in demon-breed Dante's adventures. That killer axe is just one of the many weapons you'll get to take on hell's minions, and epitomises the game succinctly - oh-so stylish, over the top and yet fiendlishly difficult to master.
Those familiar with the previous Devil May Cry games will know what to expect. If anything, Dante's Awakening takes the best bits of the original (and learnt from the missteps of the poorly received sequel) and, in an apt rock n' roll analogy, turns it up to 11. In fact, experienced players used to controlling main character Dante are favoured, as the game starts off tough and doesn't let up. Newbies beware - patience is needed at the beginning since you'll probably find yourself having to restart on many occasions.
Devil May Cry 3 begins in Dante's newly bought demon-hunting shopfront, where just as our hero is about to chow down into a pizza he's set upon by dozens of nasties. The plot revolves around a gigantic tower that literally explodes out of Dante's backyard, his evil half-brother Vergil, a mysterious human named Arkham and an ancient gateway to hell. While it's initially confusing, the game's plot ends up being one of the highlights of Devil May Cry 3, with its various twists and turns really pulling you into the warped family ties Dante has.
But action is where this game's heart lies, and it doesn't disappoint. Dante is as easy to use and as stylish to look at as ever, with all of his extravagant moves achievable with only a little practice. Sure, slashing an enemy into the air, jumping up and sending them downwards with another sword stroke, pulling out your guns and unloading into their inert body below, and landing on top and using them as a skateboard to slam into a wall might initially seem difficult to achieve. But the controls are so responsive that most will be able to master this and other cool moves in no time. And with 10 different weapons to gain (five firearms and five melee), the carnage combinations that are available are boundless.
Dante also now has the option of specialising in one aspect of gameplay, with players being able to select which way they'd like to go at the start of the game. Some are offensive styles (such as Swordmaster and Gunslinger) and some are defensive (such as Trickster and Royal Guard), but each unlocks specific abilities that develop as the game unfolds. Trickster, for example, is great for beginners as it allows Dante to quickly avoid enemy attacks.
You'll definitely need all of your cool offensive skills firing, as Devil May Cry 3's enemies will give you a run for your money. There are plenty of variations to the many creatures you'll face, with each requiring a specific strategy to overcome easily. Some might be particularly susceptible to a specific weapon, for example, or have to be attacked at a certain time. And if you think the basic enemies are tough, then wait till the many bosses you'll have to face lumber across your path. While as always each one has an attack pattern that you can memorise, they'll change that pattern three and up to four times before they're defeated, so staying back, observing and above all being agile is vital for success.
There will probably be plenty of gamers who'll throw down their controllers in frustration at Devil May Cry 3's difficulty, but we think it's this very toughness that makes the game shine. It's by no means unforgiving, but it certainly does reward gamers who are patient and who can develop their skills. The early levels are particularly hard going - there's no way to choose a difficulty level, and you're thrown straight into the deep end without too much of an explanation of the controls (although easy difficulty becomes available as an option after you die for the third time). But persevere and as your own control of Dante improves, you'll find that it wasn't the game that was being unreasonable, but it was your lack of skill that made it so tough. If anything, you'll find the game actually becomes a little easier as time progresses.
Devil May Cry 3 looks and sounds great, with Dante and all of his enemies moving fluidly and smoothly. Graphics are top notch, and while a little on the dark side (as befitting the gothic theme) show plenty of detail and environmental effects. Our only quibble with this otherwise excellent action slasher are the cutscenes that help propel the story along. Not that they're bad - in fact it's their downright coolness that slightly irks us. While Dante has some wicked moves you can pull off in the game, they're not a patch on some of the things he does to the demon hoardes in the cutscenes. One scene shows him riding a motorcycle vertically up a tower, flailing the machine around his head to take out various enemies chasing him. It's cooler than anything you'll see in The Matrix, and it's just one of dozens of custcenes throughout the game.
Just like Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox, Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening is a great looking game that will take patience and skill to master. Persevere and you'll be rewarded with one of the best action games PlayStation 2 has to offer.
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