Devil May Cry 3

Gamestyle Archive Intro: we’re back in 2005 with Gareth and an attempt by Capcom to get Dante and the Devil May Cry franchise back on track. The developer was always a favourite at Gamestyle Towers whether it was the classic Sega Saturn arcade perfect releases or more lavish affairs such as this.

dmc3

After the disappointment of the second game in the series, the Devil May Cry franchise has slipped somewhat from the forefront of public adulation. With Capcom now aiming at the more hardcore demographic of the gaming sector, Devil May Cry 3 arrives with a somewhat different style to its predecessor – and this, Gamestyle believes, is a good thing.

The story takes place before the first game, and showcases the battle between a trigger-happy young Dante and his more focused, swordsman-like brother Vergil. Along the way you will encounter a hotchpotch of strange characters – from a demonic jester to a young demon hunter looking for revenge. The plot is ridiculous, but in the best possible way. Devil May Cry 3 marks a return to the more confined settings of the original game; this allows combat to be faster and more disciplined. The move away from wide-open environments means you cannot just wander around shooting at things off-screen – this makes for some of the most intense action-oriented stages currently available on consoles.

Trying to describe the in-game combat is problematic: words simply can’t keep up with the frenetic and kinetic action. And with the action unrelenting from the start, you’ll need a character who is up for it – fortunately, Dante is a joy to control. The speed at which our hero can be manoeuvred is breathtaking; in other games such as Ninja Gaiden or Castlevania, players need to restrain their movement as if keeping pace with themselves. Since Dante can be lightning-quick, you can rest assured that as soon as you press the button he will carry out your command – even if he’s in the midst of doing something else. This allows for a ludicrous degree of freedom when launching attacks against ever-increasing hordes of enemies. Along with the majestic control scheme, Dante is highly-customisable and caters to each player’s whim – initially, there are four combat styles available which focus on guns, swords, movement and blocking. Each can be levelled-up during play, with new moves unlockable as you go. There’s also a wide range or firearms and close-combat weapons (although only four can be equipped and cycled through during a level): this allows for huge combo-chains, as you can strike with your sword, then mid-combo switch to another close-combat weapon, before switching to a firearm and so on.

It truly is sublime how everything fits together so effortlessly, with nary a break in the action. In fact, there’s nothing the player can physically do to stem the tide of Dante’s destruction as he cuts through enemies (well, apart from not busting out moves quick enough). This non-stop emphasis on action can cause problems however, because Devil May Cry 3 can sometimes be ‘painful’ to play; the continuous hammering of buttons as you jump, shoot, strike, jump, dodge, shoot, roll, jump, strike etc. means the game can quite often cause physical strain. Therefore, the title is best enjoyed in short bursts and prolonged play may very well lead to nasty injuries – in fact, Gamestyle believes that Devil May Cry 3 could actually teach combo-heavy-hitters like Tony Hawk a thing or two (but not in a ‘good’ way). Note to Capcom: PLEASE can we have an automatic fire button next time?

There are other niggling issues as well: while not overly-difficult on the normal setting, Devil May Cry 3 is certainly challenging and the fact that when you die you go back to the beginning of the level can become frustrating. Thankfully, levels can be completed in around ten to fifteen minutes, but some latitude in terms of boss battles would have been appreciated. (Making each boss battle a level unto itself would have completely removed the problem, for example, as there is nothing worse than fighting through a horde of demons only to be stomped by some huge monster at the end and having to restart.) The only other fault is that sometimes the camera can be in the wrong place due to fixed angles. As rooms tend to be small anyway, and enemies produce audible cues before they attack (not to mention you’re always moving around and directly firing at enemies), it is not normally a problem – however, if you are low on health during a boss battle, the unmanageable view can make all the difference. Adding more ‘fuel’ to Dante’s inner fire are the stunningly-choreographed cut sequences.

While the graphical grunt of the PS2 may be waning in comparison to other consoles, the action contained in some of Devil May Cry 3’s cut-scenes is nigh on breathtaking (witness: the demon hunter). Fighting your way through the challenging levels is definitely worth it when you’re rewarded with such eye-popping delights… whoever directed these sequences is a genius, it’s as simple as that. Players will probably manage to get through the game in around eight to ten hours, but there are a huge number of reasons to replay it: there are extra difficulty settings, unlockable costumes and characters, hidden weapons and many moves to be discovered. You can also replay earlier levels – thereby levelling-up your styles and gaining more orbs to buy items – so anyone who invests enough time in the game will surely get through it.

Devil May Cry 3 is a very welcome return to form for Dante; in fact the title pretty much redefines what we expect from action games on the whole. The PS2 engine may be showing its age ever so slightly, but the fluidity of the action is something Gamestyle did not expect to see until the next generation of consoles. A reason to buy into ‘this generation’ of technology? For adrenaline junkies and combo addicts, this could prove very persuasive.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Advertisements

Brothers in Arms Road to Hill 30

Gamestyle Archive Intro: one of the pet hates during my time during the gaming years was the arrival of these on the rails World War combat experiences. It all became too fashionable with shallow gameplay but there were some exceptions. This review dates from March 2005.

brothers-in-arms-platinum-ps2-5760_jpg_300x300_q85

When Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 arrived at Gamestyle Towers, the thought of wading through another World War II-themed first-person shooter was not uppermost on our agenda. Indeed, over the past few years we’ve fought the good fight on the beaches of Normandy and survived Pearl Harbour, so another tour of duty would have to be compelling, to say the least.

To Gearbox Software’s credit, they’ve pulled out all the stops and delivered a credible, unnerving experience that surprised even the walking wounded at Gamestyle. Brothers In Arms follows nine days in the life of the 101st Airborne Division, who played an important part in the allied invasion of France. We’re all aware of the outcome of those historic WWII battles, but what about the skirmishes and less-immortalised tales and triumphs? Again, this works to Brothers In Arms’ favour because you never know what awaits in the next village – or even beyond the next hedgerow. All too often there is little character exposition in this genre; too much emphasis is placed on realism and authenticity.

Gearbox has certainly attempted to replicate the period – as a sortie through the extras section, full of archival photos juxtaposed with modern times, will affirm (even a retired army expert was involved, thus ensuring further attention to detail) – but most pleasingly they have invested heavily in the backstory which brings these troops to life. Your own character (Sgt Matt Baker) is a troubled soul, given responsibility for seeing that his squad survives each chapter. Characters come and go throughout the tale, but refreshingly they live outside of the player’s perspective – triggering their own in-game events (which somehow don’t feel as ‘scripted’ as others in the genre). However, Brothers In Arms does make one concession to the ‘atrocities’ of fact: it has removed all trace of blood and human suffering (presumably to avoid a harsh rating).

Speaking of harsh, there is an ‘Authentic’ difficulty setting available – which certainly imposes hardship upon the player – but it’s best to begin on Easy ground as there’s an element of tactical play involved (albeit not as engrossing as Full Spectrum Warrior), whereby you’re actively encouraged to exploit one manoeuvre: trying to suppress and outflank your opponents. While it pretty much becomes de rigueur throughout the game (and extremely important when commanding large numbers of men), its appeal is shortlived – utilising the same tactic can become tiresome. Conversely, Brothers In Arms does provide variety when it comes to level design; oftentimes you’ll be surrounded by scenic French countryside as you press through villages into town. The standard of your opposition also improves, as you’ll overcome inexperienced conscripts before moving up to the very elite of the German army. A point of contention for many will be the ‘realistic’ nature of aiming and firing – this definitely leans towards simulation, and lacks the arcade (and user-friendly) flavour of the Medal of Honour series.

Visually, the Playstation 2 makes a decent stab at suspending your disbelief – although it would’ve gone much further without the invisible walls, blocked passages and checkpoints. However, the attention to detail and the character models are of a consistently high standard for the system (witness the facial modelling and general movement). The colour palette can sometimes become mired in greens and greys – although war was never meant to be pretty, was it? Ditto for the lack of colour in the accompanying soundtrack; orchestration is minimal, with only the sound of mortars et al for company. Again, this may prove refreshing and highly atmospheric for some.

Offline, multiplayer options are limited to split-screen competition against a friend (each taking command of a squad); online things are a little better – provided you can find somebody to play against (Gamestyle tried on several occasions throughout the week, but active matches could only be counted on one hand. Could it be the small percentage of online-enabled PS2 players have been swayed by ‘greener’ pastures?) Regardless, online play is a far more intimate style of warfare than the lavish, take-no-prisoners approach of Halo 2, for example.

Upon completing its reluctant tour of duty with Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30, Gamestyle can honestly say it enjoyed the stimulation. Not only has it renewed our faith in the WWII-themed first-person shooter category, but it’s something of a ‘tour de force’ for the emotions (not to mention an heartfelt homage to the pages of history).

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Jak 3

Gamestyle Archive Intro: its about time we had one of the great PS2 series’ in the archive and so Jak arrives thanks to a review by Anna dating from November 2004.

jak3

Reviewers are often criticised for giving sequels lower scores than the originals – ostensibly on the grounds that the sequel lacks the groundbreaking impact that the earlier games had, even though the sequel is in many respects a superior game. As a stand-alone title, Jak 3 is pretty astonishing, not to mention very pretty and all the more remarkable because a vast world has been created with zero loading times; there are in fact two primary landmasses – Spargus City and Haven City – which can be shunted between in the Airbus. However, even as a stand-alone game, there are a few issues which can dampen one’s enjoyment of a ‘stand-out’ title that is to platformers (sorry, character-action platformers) what Pokey is to penguinkind.

As was the case before, Jak 3’s graphics are amazing – especially the stupendous draw distance and the environmental lighting which changes from dawn to dusk to nightfall on a six-minute cycle. While this doesn’t make any difference to the gameplay (a missed opportunity there), it does look bastard-woo – as does the heat-haze above flaming torches, the lovingly-crafted rolling vistas and dilapidated cityscapes, the sparkly fragments that some missions require you to pick up, and the intense blast radii of some of the weapons (especially the cackle-inducing Wave Concussor). The Concussor is one of several new additions to Jak’s arsenal. The Morph gun from Jak II makes a comeback, but now has many more mods available for it. To recap: the Scatter gun fired short-range pulses that threw enemies back several feet, and was powerful but had an ass-hat reload time; the Blaster was your basic equally-good-at-all-ranges pistol; the Vulcan Fury had lousy targeting and chewed up ammo like John Prescott at a pastie buffet (but its awesome rate of fire pinned enemies down and could deal with swathes of them at once); and the fluffy-sounding Peacemaker was Naughty Dog’s rendition of the ‘BFG’ (albeit ammo was rarer than chooks’ teeth, the pay-off was utter plasmic devastation).

Jak 3 sees the four amigos return, with a further two upgrades for each. One upgrade releases a little flying saucer that shoots enemies with Blaster ammo – leaving you free to use your other guns or else kicks and punches. Another mod uses the Scatter gun to create a ‘wave’ of energy that ‘concusses’ enemies (clever, see?). As for what happens to the Peacemaker… well, it’d be churlish to spoil it. The guns can be upgraded in other ways: when you find Precursor Orbs (little eggy things that are awarded for exploration, cool-handedness, or beating mini-games assigned to you by the Freedom League or the wise Precursor statues), you can choose to spend them on increasing your ammo capacity or reload times.

Also available are extra vehicles (which are disappointingly nothing special compared to the standard ones, which include the very cool Dune Hopper that can make such stupidly-huge leaps across canyons that you’ll never tire of riding it), cool stuff like character viewers and scene and level select; and silly stuff like characters in nappies (and the obligatory, unfunny-as-always, ‘big head’ mode). Chances are you won’t find all 600 Orbs on your first playthrough (at least not without a player’s guide), so choose carefully. Saving up for extras is a great deal of fun; exploring every nook and cranny for errant baubles might sound tedious, but it helps you settle into Jak’s mindset (and really lets you appreciate the magnitude of the gameworld). Finding an Orb after following a hunch, or carefully planning to reach a high or distant place, almost always leads to shrill satisfaction. They’re hiding in places you really wouldn’t expect the average gamer to find. Nevertheless, note to Naughty Dog: it’s not the size of your game – it’s what you do with it. Even without the slick continuity of Renegade and The Precursor Legacy to act as a benchmark, Jak 3 would still feel like a bunch of levels stapled together instead of one big adventure.

In their quest to be innovative, the developers have flung in so many different tasks that there’s no cohesion between them – no real ‘reason’ for anything to happen. You’ll feel like an harassed office boy: go and destroy that machine, go and race in that dune buggy, go and race on lizard-back (yes, two race missions in a row), go and round up those lizards, go and fight those men in the arena, go and drive to that oasis… sometimes, less can indeed be more. The desert surrounding Spargus City is intimidatingly vast; as was Haven City in Jak II (impressively, nearly all of Haven is in this game too, but it and the surrounding countryside are charred and war-torn), but this desert is very boring and featureless – so much so that you’ll more often be navigating by map than familiar landmark. It needed only be two-thirds the size, and would’ve helped to lessen the boring drive to the Hora-Quan’s (ie, vicious creatures nicknamed Metalheads by the natives) lair or the Monk’s temple.

Though the transitions are jerky and unpolished, many of the missions are lovely. There’s one in which little fuzzy Daxter (Jak’s mouthy companion – who used to be a human but in the first game turned into a mustelid after falling in a vat of malignant purple goo called dark Eco) rides a missile around a harbour, using it to pick up blobs of powerful red Eco in order to make the missile battle-worthy. This is certifiably insane genius, and definitely one of the most fun missions in any of the Jak games. If you’ve unlocked the level select for that portion of the game, it’ll probably be your most replayed too. Other highlights are shooting down reptilian Hora-Quan and using your new Dark and Light powers in the Monk’s temple. In every other respect, however, this game is bloated.

Jak 3 is an overwhelming experience, but in a wearisome way. It needed to prune around a quarter of its missions in order to become the taut and terrific experience we would’ve expected of a sequel-to-a-sequel. A couple of the missions are just plain stupid: one of them sees Daxter getting beamed into a computer (yes, really) and then having to complete a round of what would’ve been ‘Pacman’ (had Pacman been designed whilst drunk). Another is an unremarkable on-foot shooting mission made irritating by its clumsy top-down perspective.

There are also a few missions that are minor variations of a past one, but simply in a different location. It’s clear that Naughty Dog wanted Jak 3 – the final game in the series (unless blondie gets pimped out like his predecessor Crash) – to be the most amazing and the most spectacular, but they’ve simply made it the ‘most’. It’s almost as if they didn’t want to shelve any of the (unused) ideas they’d had for Renegade and Legacy, so instead have unceremoniously dumped them here (and this certainly fits with the plot, being such a contrived bag of blah). On balance, however, this is a great game that outperforms most others in the field, but it’s also obvious – painfully so – that it could have been so much more.

Gamestyle Score 7/10