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Barnes May Cry…Over Modern Gaming

The most surprising thing about playing through Devil May Cry via the new HD remaster collection isn’t that I wound up absolutely loving it, having somehow never played it since it was released eleven years ago. It’s that the game made me terribly sad. Not because the barely-there narrative of Dante, Trish, and the awesomely named Mundus, but because it reminded me of how video games used to be before the industry began strip-mining and over-monetizing itself under the banners of DLC, preorder bonuses, and online passes. The classic Capcom title also recalls a time when game makers were working with technology that wasn’t really anywhere near approaching cinematic technique with any seriousness or effectiveness. Instead of employing quicktime events and prattling z-grade scriptwriting to tell stories, the thrust of the game’s narrative is almost completely in its gameplay, setting, and atmosphere.

Devil May Cry is definitely an old fashioned game, and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible. The save system is obnoxious and you’ve got to buy these stupid yellow orbs that look like some kind of gummy candy to continue without redoing the entire mission over. Voice acting and dramaturgy is the pits, but those were the par-for-course Achilles heel of Japanese design in the early 2000s. The camera angle is fixed despite it being a 3D action game, and this undoubtedly would chafe modern gamers used to panning and tilting a clumsy camera around a character. Locked doors requiring weird keys and simple adventure puzzles abound.

That makes sense because the game was originally conceived as a Resident Evil entry, and it looks, feels, and even sounds like a pre-RE4 franchise effort except that instead of Panzer Jill or Abrams Chris the character is free-moving, limber, and has an unlimited supply of bullets. The game predates Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden by a couple of years and Kamiya’s title lacks that sixth-gen masterpiece’s depth and variety. It’s a basic hack and slash game that exists somewhere halfway between Golden Axe and Bayonetta.

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But all of the above doesn’t matter, because the game is a great example of how timeless, solid gameplay overrides technical limitations and dated or obsolete concepts. Control is great, the combat system is simple but laced with flourish, and exploring the castle is compelling. It’s not quite the great location that Arklay Mansion was in the first Resident Evil, but it has a similar sense of architecture and space. It’s expertly laid out, with every furnishing positioned with the precision of an expert propmaster. But boy, does Dante hates furniture- who knew that chairs contained so many red orbs. The set is left a shambles.

It’s a sub-ten hour game, but it’s the kind of thing that’s worth coming back to. Performance rankings are a powerful incentive to replay, as are secret areas and alternative paths within a relatively linear framework. The game is meant to be replayed at higher difficulty levels, and since the gameplay isn’t tied so specifically to narrative it doesn’t feel tedious to revisit completed missions. I love the structure- 23 fairly short missions, each with a specific goal. It’s almost casually bite-sized. You can either buckle down and burn through a string of missions or just do one in ten minutes or so. It’s almost a modern concept.

It surprised me that I was able to get into the game and without a sense of feeling like it must have been great for 2001. I feel like it’s great for 2012. I recently tried to play Ico and Shadow of the Colossus and although I appreciated both, I liked neither for exactly this reason- I felt like I had missed the point at which those games had the most impact.

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But what I keep coming back to is how refreshing it was to play a game that was 100% complete without any DLC, marketing gimmicks, screechy “community” politics, controversy over endings, or other modern quibbles. It was also refreshing to play a game that was very clearly a video game and had no aspirations to multi-billion dollar sales and no ambition to compete with any other form of media. It also exists a million light years away from the pretentious indie attitude that video games can be revolutionized by rhapsodizing about how great the 8- and 16- bit generations were. Its bluster and attitude are now quaint, but Dante’s silly swagger and ridiculous anime look are still not redolent of the off-putting hyper-male, locker room machismo of many modern games. There’s a certain glam rock patina to the game that I just love.

It also reminds me of how much I really do like Japanese design and how much I miss that pervading sense of cross-cultural strangeness that games going back into the NES era often had. Goofy internal logic, nonsensical storylines, ludicrous incongruities. It made me miss the days when Japanese designers weren’t trying to emulate the West- and gamers wanted the quirk, strangeness, and charm more than they wanted AAA polish, blockbuster sheen, and Michael Bay wallop. At least Platinum Games still carries the torch. They remember.

Playing Devil May Cry for the first time circa 2012 was hardly a trip down memory lane for me. I had no nostalgia for it. I wasn’t frothing at the mouth that Dante’s hair isn’t white in the upcoming- and very awesome-looking DMC from Ninja Theory. I just wanted to play a good brawler with great gameplay regardless of its vintage. But by being reminded of how much has been lost in this console generation, I got more than I bargained for- depression!

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Michael Barnes

Games writer Michael Barnes is a co-founder of Nohighscores.com as well as FortressAT.com. His trolling has been published on the Web and in print in at least two languages and in three countries. His special ability is to cheese off nerds using the power of the Internet and his deep, dark secret is that he's actually terrible at games. Before you ask, no, the avatar is not him. It's Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

16 thoughts to “Barnes May Cry…Over Modern Gaming”

  1. That’s interesting what you said about Ico and SotC. I’d gotten the collection for Christmas (having played through both way back when) and was still simply stunned by the beauty and simplicity of Ico. I haven’t gone back to Shadow of the Colossus yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it feels smaller now than it did then, but I really feel like Ico has aged very well.

    1. I definitely don’t think either are bad games in any way, despite the absolutely trash controls. There’s a lot I really, really admire about them. But I do think that if I had played each of them when they were fresh- and without years of veneration and reputation built up around them- I might have been more impressed. It’s probably about like reading Watchmen now versus reading it in 1986.

      I bought the collection the day it came out, and I think I’ve had about six bouts of trying to play through both games. But on both of them, I’d play for a while and realize that I just wasn’t enjoying them. That’s totally OK, I don’t think great art in any medium has to be necessarily enjoyable or “fun” to be successful…but I never really felt compelled to see either through to the end. I played for a while, appreciated what was going on, and moved on from there.

      But DMC…totally got its hooks in me, artistic merit or not.

      1. I totally agree the gameplay stands up excellent. I recently got Metal Gear Solid hd Collection and sold it again. In my opinion it just felt backwards to the newer games. Devil May Cry HD how ever still feels like it’s timeless. Thats the mark of a great game. Very happy with it!

  2. I just wanted to say that I like this article, and the original DMC, a lot. I am glad to know that it holds up well–I have been afraid to go back and tempt fate.

    1. I think you might be surprised- the gameplay totally stands up. You do have to consider that you’re playing a game that is twelve years old and accept certain limitations, but I think the fun and quality are timeless.

      Thanks for the comment!

    1. One of the absolute best and most influential console games ever made. There’s SO much to it, too. It’s like four times the size of RE5.

  3. Then i guess that my idea of playin all the DMC games isn’t as crazy as i thought. They are definitly on my list then, thanks for the article i do feel like trying the games after all this time now.

      1. I don’t really get the angst over 2…granted, I’ve only played five or six missions and now Witcher 2 is on top of it…but what I played seemed pretty good. The level design defintely isn’t as good, but the action is still there. I know it’s not Kamiya and it’s a different team, but at worst it seems like a decent PS2-era brawler if not necessarily a classic like the first one.

  4. Games are better then they’ve ever been. I loved the one Devil May Cry game I played, mind you I am a beat um up fan so it was almost a guaruntee, but Bayonetta is better and I think I even prefered Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Dante’s Inferno… for pure gameplay that is.

    Yes there is a lot of bullshit internet baggage on many modern games but it is so easy to ignore all that. Most of the gamers I know don’t read hundreds of internet posts about the industry that will make you more jaded. They just play the games and occasionally, very occasionally, buy DLC. The DLC is easy to ignore if you don’t like it and so far they’ve done nothing to stop the lending of games or the 2nd hand market from doing it’s thing. So all of those old bonus’s are there plus some new ones.

    Like better games, just plaing old better.

    I can look at my favorite titles from 20 years ago and besides some nostalgia I can admit that in every category some other game has outdone it’s own influences. The fighters, sports titles, beat-em-ups, shoot-em-ups, RPG’s, TBS .. everything is better. There are some things that piss me off, like a handfull of titles dominating the AAA scene so that CoD can make more money then it needs while brilliant games like Vanquish dissapear without a wimper but mostly I can handle it.

    The real problem to me is that many of us commenting on these boards about games and especially the reviewers are carrying around shit loads of baggage that never existed before and in all honesty doesn’t need to exist. I think there is just enough plus’s to enjoying being on the net that I won’t let it go but I completely admit that despite the ability to choose games more wisely there is a lot that has been taken from me by being over informed.

    Many of my friends don’t even plug their xbox’s into the internet at all and play all of their games without ever getting an upgrade.

    Can you believe it? Those heathen’s!!

    1. But what if one of your friends wants (inadvisedly) to play Ninja Gaiden 3, a single player beat ’em up? They’ve got to be online, have a first-time purchaser online pass, and download DLC…to get weapons other than the ONE katana that the game “ships” with? They do this to get people to keep their games and not resell them…just like with the Space Marine co-op mode that was withheld for a month following release.

      I don’t agree that games are better than ever, and almost completely because of changing business models. Designs? Yes, some have evolved. Bayonetta is the best beat ’em up ever made and it wouldn’t have been possible in 2001, when DMC came out. There’s games like Mirror’s Edge, LA Noire, Catherine, etc. that are evolutionary and innovative and are about a million years away from even the best PS2 games.

  5. DMC is among my GF’s favorite franchises. She literally wrote the book on DMC 4. And insisted that I give the games a whirl, starting with DMC 3.

    Man, this shit is _hard_. Occasionally unfair (they will deliberately block your vision with bad camera placement to make some jumps significantly more difficult than they otherwise would be)- but most of the time when I die, I know how I f–ed up.

    I got about 2hrs into DMC 3 before taking a small break. Definitely going to dive back into it. Right after I finish Assassin’s Creed 2.

    Question: does the HD collection support the same control scheme for DMC 1 as they evolved into for DMC 2-4? I’m told the later games had far better controls…

    1. I don’t think so…the controls are pretty much the same as ever. THey’re good though, hardly bad.

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