11. Devil May Cry HD (PC)
So that's game number three for June, shocking in both that and this was not the game I expected to be writing about next and also that I certainly wasn't expecting to be writing in this thread again this month. Now maybe 14 months ago I finished Devil May Cry 5 and enjoyed it so immensely I though it'd be nice to have the whole series on PC with a view to a full series playthough (that alluring combination of cheap keys and accumulating a library that is PC gaming). I even got as far as installing the HD collection; thinking I might give it a whirl in a few weeks.
So yeah many months later, I unexpectedly find myself finishing Wolfenstein Young Blood on a quiet Saturday afternoon where I had that rare luxury of some uninterrupted child and wife free game time. With nothing installed on my play next list, and not really wanting to use this as an excuse to actually go and do something useful with my weekend, I thought I'd give the original game in this series a shot whilst I wait for a 70gb download to complete.
Now the first Devil May Cry made quite an impression on me at the time, it was the first PS2 game I ever completed and the first time I'd really played a 'character action' game as the genre has come to be know, a genre that over the years I have come to love.
My memories of the game really boil down to it being pretty atmospheric, stylish, set in a castle and it had a huge spider chasing you down hallways who was a real arse to kill. Oh and it being really hard; I think it took me weeks possibly months to finish it at the time.
Now as a remaster this is lazy, lazy stuff. The collections front end seems fine, but as soon as you select the title, you are suddenly thrown into a 4:3 screen crop and an attract sequence of incredibly blurry FMV of the game being played through what can only be described as N64 vision. Did games really look like this in 2001 on my CRT telly?
It doesn't get that much better when you hit start and are treated to more god awful FMV, before the game switches to an in game cutscene which thankfully is 16:9 but still looks rather rough. And oh lord that voice acting and script - this is not the Dante I remember. Actually I do remember the script and acting being fairly awful, just perhaps not this awful. Just for good measure the sound is out of sync with the action in most of the cut scene (a problem that continues to happen erratically throughout the game, although weirdly not in every scene).
Thankfully once we reach Mallet Island and actually get into the engine, the remaster finally shows up. It may be nothing more than an upres with some antialiasing, but in 2020 DMC 1 still looks actually really good. The weird Marionettes that are the first enemy of the game still look both cool and creepy and the castle, pre rendered as it is still has a mean and moody feel to it. Basically this art was clearly there at the time but with modern technology we actually get to see the detail that was always there. And you can really tell and I mean really tell that this started life as a Resident Evil game, the atmosphere, the slightly off translated text that appears when you interact with things, even the action to use an item for a puzzle.
The game also quickly reminded me why I loved the game at the time, the combat obviously is massively simpler than say the most recent title, but it is fast and fluid and draws you in quickly. Not sure what the original played at but this version maintains a perfect 60 fps which is nice. Phantom has not lost his impact or become much less of a pain in the neck in the intervening near two decades. I'd also forgotten how bite sized the game is, particularly compared to the most recent entry and indeed modern gaming in general. Each mission is a snappy 15-25 minutes in length (and a few much less) and this pulls you in. I quickly went from just having a mess with this to deciding I may as well go through the game properly.
Some aspects of course have not dated quite so well. The fixed point camera seems completely ridiculous in retrospect for a game of this type and it takes a long time to rewire your brain that you have no control over it at all. It also makes some of the boss battles significantly harder than they perhaps should be (yes I'm looking at you Nightmare). It also showed just how much I'd forgotten as I'd completely not realised at all whilst playing DMC5 that V's familiars are bosses/enemies from this game - actually I'd completed omitted Griffin from my memory of this full stop.
And interestingly, despite my reflexes now being of those of a decaying of a gamer in his early 40s rather than 20 something, I didn't find the game anyway near as hard as I remembered. The yellow orb system remains rather stupid, but the missions with boss difficulty spikes are in the main short enough to make getting back to the boss not the end of the world (and actually yellow orbs are around and even the escalating cost from red orbs if you buy them isn't as mean as I remembered). Phantom might have got me the first few time we fought (the 3rd battle in particular) but he went down the third time. Neo Angelo is very weak to Irfit. I remember finding the first encounter with the ice demon things really tough but again Irfit duffed them up good and proper (actually maybe part of my problem 20 years ago was I didn't use the gauntlets enough). I cleared this game in basically 3 sittings - its not easy but its far from impossibly difficult.
In general this still holds up as a damned good slasher and one trimmed of much of the fat that passes for modern gaming. Yes we have a skill tree but its a relatively simple one and levels don't extend on for ever but control the pace with a little bit of moody exploration, some snippets of action and then into a boss battle. Its a model that still works, even with the ever present camera woes.
There are however a few things that I had omitted from my memory that probably should have stayed forgotten. The slow paced swimming sections (on the bright side at least Dante can hold his breath indefinitely), space harrier combat sequences with you controls reversed from what they should be. The Griffin battle on the boat. And actually that whole final boss battle (well penultimate one as he gets a Terminator style pop up in the closing escape the crumbling castle mission), which basically ignores what made the combat in this game great and instead substitutes it for shooting, even when you get on the ground. I will have to admit that I cheesed the item supply I'd picked up through the game to scrape through that as it really wasn't fun. Actually I guess this is where those stupid levels came from in Bayonetta?
But overall I'm glad to have played this again - although I suspect this will be the final time. The later games took this template and undoubtedly made it better (just having camera control is a huge plus) and while DMC5 may have an over abundance of combat options, you do miss many of them compared with where we started. And there are enough ropy around the edges bits to make this fun to revisit but probably not to repeat. I won't be accepting the invitation to run through the game again on hard. On the other hand if they ever do a full remake, the material here could easily warrant it.
But I probably will move on to DMC3 in the near future (not DMC2 - I already remember that as being a bit shit at the time so on this experience that probably means it now could only be described as awful).
Turning a dark soul to light / 10