Devil May Cry (DmC)

Devil May Cry Cover Photo

I’m not sure if I’ve ever played a video game franchise “reboot” before. I always assumed the sentiment must be like living through the 500th reboot of Batman or Spiderman and being a purist geek snob about the original series. I’ve never been the person whose lived to tell the tale of said franchise until now. I have to say… it just makes me feel sentimental and old. Okay, mostly old. I have now lived long enough to see a series I was introduced to in high school live its course (to a crashing halt) and witness it arising from the ashes with a new line of demon designs and sex appeal, hoping to draw in the new crowd of gamers who probably haven’t played the previous Devil May Cry games.

I’m going to come out and admit that Dante was pretty much always a stuck up prick with terrible one-liners. So when this new Dante rolled around with black hair and spouted pretty similar one-liners colored with some potty-mouthing, I shrugged and went along with it. I get what the developers were trying to do. What I don’t get is how my 14 year old self would’ve thought about the new son of Sparda. Or, sons of Sparda, really, because Vergil has undergone a complete makeover as well. My only comment about the new Vergil is that his top hat doesn’t really do it for him, despite his impressively accessorized wardrobe.

Instead of being half human and half demon, the new sons of Sparda are “Nephilim”– half-angel, half-demon. Don’t ask me to explain how in the world that relationship started, because the game doesn’t really bother to explain this unlikely union. They do go so far as to refer to Dante and Vergil’s existence as being “inconceivable” (or something like that), then five minutes later you’re given a story about how the race of Nephilim were all slaughtered because the demons feared their powers. Makes sense, right? Don’t ask for too much consistency or intelligence from the storytelling, because this game certainly lacks in that aspect. We all know Capcom haven’t been geniuses with exposition in past DmC entries, but this story takes the cake. Someone thought it’d be all edgy and cool to do social commentary. In this universe, demons pull the strings and have worked their way into our government, big banking and food industries. They’ve got us by the balls. If only that were the true explanation for America’s current state. It’s a decent and relevant parallel, I’ll give them that. But instead of weaving, I dunno, subtle or suggestive themes into their exposition, they beat you across the face with their “clever” idea the entire game. To the point where enormous words are just splayed across the screen. Whatever happened to the art of story telling? Providing clues and inferences but ultimately allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions? Your intelligence should feel offended after playing this game. Bob Barbas could not look or sound more like a Fox News pundit if he was wearing the confederate flag as a do-rag.

About feeling old. I seem to remember days in the distant past when controllers only had a few buttons. Directional pad, pause button, jump and action button. Now I feel like I need a damn keyboard or a Razr mouse to hotkey everything I want to do while playing console games! Dante’s half-demon, half-angel background serves as the host for the most complicated Devil May Cry battle system ever. The array of weapons Dante has access to are primarily polar: angel and demon. Then there’s guns. The angel and demon weapons are fun alternatives to using Rebellion (which is still awesome in this game) and in the end you’ll be alternating between three different guns, two angel weapons and two demon weapons. For the PS3 version of this game, in order to use an angel or demon weapon, you need to hold down the L2 or R2 button, respectively. Which means most of the time you’ll be pressing at least 2 buttons to attack. I accustomed myself to that quickly enough. But the grappling system and toggling between two trigger buttons one after another continued to annoy me my entire playthrough.

Does there really have to be two different grapples? I didn’t have much luck switching immediately from the demon pull to the angel pull while traversing platforms or fighting enemies. While fighting enemies and managing 5 different melee weapons and trying to kill things as fast as possible and dodge perfectly to increase my style points (a great feature preserved in the reboot) I wasn’t good at negotiating which grabs to use on top of all that. I usually pressed square to grab with whichever trigger button I happened to be holding down at the time.

I really enjoyed the different weapons in DmC. The only one I haven’t really spent much time with is Eryx. Think of the Hercules gauntlets in God of War, except not as fun. It is lackluster compared to the other demon weapon, the Arbiter: a beefy axe with better combo potential which also shells out insane amounts of damage. Both the angel weapons are flashy and designed for crowd controlling. Their damage output is significantly lower. Rebellion is your well-rounded weapon good at almost everything. For guns, Ebony and Ivory have returned, and you also get a shotgun and a weapon called Kablooey: a sticky-grenade shooter which allows you to decide when to detonate the demons.

Unsurprisingly, a basic run-through of this game’s missions won’t take you too long to complete. I found the battle system to be a bit too ambitious for the length of the story mode. To really get to enjoy what this game has to offer, you definitely need to do more than a dry run. If you’re into replaying the game on every difficulty (and this game has PLENTY of those) you’ll get plenty of experimentation time. I suggest dedicating some time in Training Mode after acquiring all of your melee weapons. And assigning skill points to the Demon and Angel Evade abilities and practice the timing on those. The damage bonus on the Demon Evade is great. The game is a little misleading when it comes to dodging as well. The PS3 version says you need to press R1 to dodge. When I saw the description for Demon Evade I said, “How am I going to press R2 and R1 at the same time to perform a Demon Evade? That’s not very intuitive.” And it isn’t. Except you can press L1 to dodge as well. You just need to figure that bit out on your own.

Most of the fighting in this game takes place in “Limbo”– AKA, Purgatory from Bayonetta. A recycled concept, but it works. I have to give them credit when it comes to scenery. I found the level designs (even with the frustrating grapple mechanics) and backgrounds (Minus the enormous words) much more fitting in this game. Many levels in the previous Devil May Cry games were pretty boring. In this game, there’s a lot of wandering souls, rust and distortion; akin to Silent Hill’s otherworld sequences in some instances. You’ll be exploring the scenery quite a bit as well if you are interested in “releasing” all of the Lost Souls and discovering all of the keys to unlock the hidden doors.

If you follow my blog, you’ve probably noticed I’ve made it quite apparent that I’m not the most patient or skilled gamer. I never play games on hard difficulties, and I almost never farm items or perform pointless tasks just so I can say I did them. Since the Devil May Cry entries are so short, I usually take the time to find the hidden doors (not so hidden in this installment) and perform the tasks. This game is WAY easier than previous namesakes. *Cough* DevilMayCry3 *Cough* I was able to do all of the secret missions within a handful of attempts, and none of them made me want to bash my head against the wall. Some of them I even completed on the first try. An unheard of attempt in other entries. The developers were even kind enough to scale the difficulty by door types: Copper, Argent, Silver, Gold and Ivory. Easiest to Hardest, respectively. I barely noticed a difference, in all honesty. The gold doors required more practice. They included races against time to collect orbs or traverse platforms or pass certain markers. But they aren’t really hard. And the timed doors usually give you plenty of time to complete the objective; this typically meant killing all of the enemies within whatever convoluted parameters they managed to conjure up. The annoying battle mechanic the doors took complete advantage of are the enemies who only take advantage to certain weapon types. Plus, as in other DmC games, you’re rewarded with permanent power-ups, so they aren’t a complete waste of time. Collecting the Lost Souls is pretty much pointless, but again, it is an easy task so I went ahead and did that as well.

One more rant before I close this up. This is the second blockbuster video game release in a row I’ve played that is loaded to the teeth with glitches. (Assassin’s Creed III being the other, of course) I swear, if Dead Space 3 is as riddled with technical errors I seriously give up. I was one of the lucky individuals who had the major sound glitch. The music and sound effects cut out on and off throughout my entire playthrough. Pretty distracting. And a pretty glaring issue to overlook. This game crashed my PS3 once. Whenever I skipped the cutscene in the beginning of the Virility mission, Dante and Kat decided they were going to carry on their conversation anyway on top of the following one at the same time. Try following two conversations at once, especially when you’re on a third playthrough of a level and don’t really care to hear either of them again.

I think this reboot is a positive direction for the series. The developers did a good job of preserving the heart and soul of the DmC series while breathing new life into it. The battle system is as stylish and polished as ever. Thanks to the all-too-predictable “OMG don’t kill him!” ending, we’re almost guaranteed a sequel. And I’m all right with that.

 

 

 

Assassin’s Creed III

Assassin's_Creed_III_Cover

I finally beat Assassin’s Creed III two nights ago. Had to stay up until almost midnight on a work night, but I couldn’t stop myself once I knew the end was nigh. I’ve been playing it since Christmas, and I think I clocked in around 30 hours. It’s hard to say when my video games spend more time idling or sitting on the pause menu while I entertain my infant or take care of his needs than actually being played some nights. In that span of time I managed to do an impressive job of clearing out the Frontier, Boston and NY maps. When these new areas unlocked I spent most of my time doing all of the obvious tasks. I also did all of the naval missions. And, since I am playing on a PS3, I downloaded and played the Benedict Arnold missions as well. I haven’t dabbled in the online multiplayer just yet. I may do that in the next couple of weeks. Multiplayer is hard for me because I can’t pause it to tend to the immediate needs of my infant. And I’m really not that great against real life people who have quicker reflexes and have more time to practice and play online.

I’m not going to pretend I didn’t enjoy most of my time with AC3. For the most part, I looked forward to my play sessions. However, there were many aspects of the game that seemed like a step backwards or left me scratching my head…Not including the incredible glitchiness of my experience.

Unlike some other gamers, I thankfully did not experience any game breaking glitches. But I did have some that were more annoying than others. Characters would open their mouths but no words would come out (I always play with subtitles on so I happened to not miss any dialogue in those instances), or vice versa . One night I had a terrible echoing, explosive noise that would drag on for a minute at a time whenever someone fired a gun. I got some annoying desynchronizations because the events loaded before my objective statement did. For example, before I received the “Chase this moron” objective, said moron had already escaped out of my allowed distance. Awesome. It is unfortunate that nowadays us consumers are expected to pay full price for a half-finished product, but I suppose that is a topic for another post.

Before I start nitpicking, I’m going to give my general observation/complaint with the direction the series is going. Ubisoft seems to have taken the “bigger is better” approach. More missions, more fetch quests, more pointless items to collect, even more pointless items to craft to get money that you don’t need for anything noteworthy. Yes, we need more bang for our buck (though I’d rather take a game where my character doesn’t permanently glitch into a floor, forcing me to reload…) but ONLY if it adds to the experience. In my opinion, most of the extra crap they tacked onto this game takes away from being an “assassin.” I mean… what kind of “assassin” belonging to a covert brotherhood walks around New York inviting anyone with a skill to his homestead? “Oh, you’re a blacksmith? We could use a blacksmith!” No, you don’t need a blacksmith. You need a worthwhile pickpocketing/looting incentive. I’d think, as an assassin, when you kill large profile targets, you should be rewarded with their gear and a sack full of pounds. When killing people, you’re lucky if you loot a dozen pounds off of them. Instead, the game wants you using your homestead friends to craft items to trade with merchants via convoys in order to obtain money to turn around and buy weapons, consumables, and maps. Dumb-o. There should have been a lot more kill and stealth contracts.

The other large scale part of the game that reviewers raved about that I find rather pointless is the whole hunting aspect. I really don’t see what killing helpless wildlife has to do with being an assassin or assisting with the American Revolution. Of all the boring realistic things thrown in, hunting was the complete opposite of realistic. You can somehow run up and kill rabbits and does. Wolves, male elks and cougars are “predators,” so when you’re trying to go from point A to point B you’ll be needlessly assaulted by animals who want to kill you just because. Unless it is rabid or starving to death, a wild animal is going to do no such thing, FYI. The only justification I can think of for adding all the hunting was to get the player more in touch with Connor’s native heritage, but I’ve been under the impression Native Americans did not kill animals for sport. In fact, when you play as young Connor I believe he says something along those lines while teaching his friend to hunt. You must thank the animal’s spirit for giving itself up so you may use it for nutrients, clothing, etc. Not killing animals to get on the white people’s good side.

Speaking of Connor and white people, am I being overly cynical for spending over half the game saying to myself, “When the hell is Connor going to wake up and realize all the old white men are just using him?” Because they totally were. Connor’s main objective is to ensure the safety and independence of his people. He isn’t shy in letting anyone know about it, either. Yet somehow he lets himself get talked into doing all sorts of silly things which really only serve to help the Patriots achieve their goals. Like the Boston Tea Party, for example. He lets them convince him it would indirectly result in so-and-so no longer harassing his people for their land because he’d be broke. Riiiight. You don’t need me to tell you that’s not how it ends up playing out, and the whole scenario was a convoluted way to take part in one of the American Revolution’s most historic events.

Aside from talking about saving his heritage from the intrusion of white men, Connor doesn’t have much to do with his Mohawk family. From time to time you can go have a chat with your old friend and clan mother, but after Connor goes to get his assassin training he gets too involved with the revolution and trying to usurp the Templars to effectively stick to his word. He ends up disagreeing with his clan mother and best friend because he thinks he can somehow fix it all, while they’re more pragmatic about their situation. During some of the “Interactive Conversations” (and by “Interactive” they mean you sit and watch the conversation) I was waiting for his native family to be like “Da FUQ you wearing?” I had him all decked out in Captain Kidd’s uniform with the sword, and no one said anything about it. Disappointing.

I was hoping for a bit more from Connor’s character. Granted, I had three games to get attached to Ezio. But even the chauvinistic Italian playboy had more depth than Connor. When certain spoiler-riffic events happen, we’re treated to disappointingly little to no reaction from him. On one hand, Connor lectures Haytham about needlessly killing innocent people, but on the other hand he seems headstrong enough to do whatever it takes to get his revenge on Charles Lee. I’m one of those people who aren’t convinced that it’s okay to slaughter every poor chap wearing a uniform. They’re just doing their jobs, they don’t pull the strings. You’ll spend a lot of game hours being a Good Samaritan and bending over backwards to make your homestead comrades happy. But despite it all the conversations feel hollow, and the bond between Connor and Achilles never seems to develop past the awkward stage. I guess there’s uncertainty as to whether future games will feature Connor or not. If they do, I fear he will be even flatter than he was in this entry. He was a ‘driven by revenge’ character type. Now that he’s achieved his raison d’etre, they’d have to come up with something pretty creative and meaningful to give him the spark he desperately needs.

Now it’s time to nitpick. I’ll start with one of the changes I actually liked. The way you recruit and level up assassin recruits was for the better, I think. I wasn’t a fan of how assassin missions were handled in previous installments: If your recruits managed to fail a mission (and that happened to me a couple of times, even with a 80-90% success rate) they would die, which meant you’d lose all the progress you made with that character AND you’d have to go do a mission to recruit a replacement. When a mission fails in AC3, that character goes into recovery mode and is unavailable for a set amount of time. You never lose a character, because there’s a set amount of assassins due to a more structured recruitment system. There are different tasks to perform (called “Liberation Missions”) in the districts of Boston and New York. Usually once you succeed this task 3 times, you speak with your contact in said area, perform another mission, and that contact joins your merry band of assassins and also grants you with a new Call Assassin ability. At this point you’ve also liberated that district from Templar control, apparently, even though it certainly doesn’t feel like it because the soldiers are still everywhere and will chase after you if you so much as smirk at them.

The assassin abilities you unlock, as well as the weapons and distraction devices Connor gets, never apply to enough situations for me to get much use out of them. I got the Guard Escort assassin ability WAY too late in the game (This is sort of a side note, but I couldn’t figure out how the heck to get back to Boston because, unlike NY, there isn’t a fast travel icon on the stupid map like I assumed. Thankfully there’s Google and other dumb gamers who aren’t afraid to ask questions on the internet). But aside from Marksman, I couldn’t be bothered figuring out how to get the other abilities to work to my best interest. Like Smoke Bombs and Trip Mines. I tried luring guards around corners into Trip Mines a few times. Either they walked completely around the damn thing or I got blown off my feet as well, so I stopped trying. The games don’t really reward you for experimenting and thinking outside of the box, so I stick with what works. Therefore, the battle system gets stale rather quickly.

With pretty much every enemy you fight, you can apply a simple formula to kill them. Counter/Attack or, for the trickier guys, Counter/Block Defense + Pommel the crap out of them. That’s it. They threw in a Human Shield ability which is cool when you can get it to work. And the death animations are as gratifying as ever. Outside of that, the fights in this game were pretty predictable. A Rope Dart weapon was added as well, but it’s shining moment is when you can hang people with it which you can only do if you’re in a tree or on ropes suspended between buildings–again, situational.

The AI for guards in this installment was one of the biggest set backs for me. I felt the same as I did while playing the first AC game. Frustration, mainly. You can’t look at them sideways without getting chased. As you try running away, they’ll tag every one of their friends who seem to be stationed on every corner and roof. Effectively running out of their sight and hiding took more time than stopping and killing them all. Their AI seems backwards to me. They’ll stop to investigate the hay bin you’re hiding in if they’re in chase mode-and Connor will jump out without being commanded to do so, starting the chase all over. BUT-if you are incognito, hiding in a haystack and decide to kill a guard with your hidden blade, I don’t care if there are a DOZEN guards standing around, they somehow won’t notice. Doesn’t make much sense to me. They also have dogs that will bark at you and alert their masters if you have any notoriety.

I found the quickest route to be killing all the guards I initially aggroed by making the mistake of getting on a rooftop to collect an Almanac page, then stopping by a herald or printing press (another neat addition) to bribe them. You can remove Wanted posters as well, but they aren’t as prevalent as in the other games, so save yourself time and do the bribing instead.

I really hate how walking on rooftops gets the guards after you. It has always been a pet peeve of mine in these games because of a few reasons. It is the quickest way to travel without weaving around street corners and pushing past crowds of people. You also can’t get away without climbing on rooftops if you want to collect the Almanac pages floating around. Once you get close enough to an Almanac page, a mini chase sequence triggers. If it blows away you have to try again later. Chasing after one of these things is severely annoying if you aren’t incognito because you’re guaranteed to catch a guard’s attention (and the attention of all his buddies) while you’re running across rooftops in pursuit of an errant piece of paper.

Did I mention I strongly dislike chase sequences in this game? You’d think, being on the fourth home console installment, they would’ve found a way to avoid making your character do the total opposite of what you want him to do. As all the other games, you’ll call Connor a moron because he’ll insist on climbing a building when you really just wanted him to run around the corner. You can also climb the sides of cliffs and such in this game while exploring the frontier, but the rocks you can and can’t grab onto all look rather similar to me. Thankfully, most of the time you aren’t timed while doing those sorts of things. The most frustrating chase sequences are on horseback. Riding a horse is not even worth it half the time. Unless you stick to the worn down paths, your horse will often get stuck on seemingly nothing, or refuse to jump over some rocks or fences, or just stop moving period. Actually, that happened when I was controlling Connor a few times. He’d come to a dead stop and just press himself against a wall or fence for no discernible reason. The block would be perfectly climbable, because I’d turn around and get a running start and have no issue the second or third attempt.

Oh, and did I mention that I had to restart a Homestead Mission twice because the stupid characters I was supposed to be escorting decided to not get on their horses, or their horses would get stuck on nothing too?

Because I hate the chase sequences, the creators decided it would be a great, epic end to finally killing the enemy you spend the entire game trying to get revenge on. Really? A stupid chase sequence? He gets a great running start, and if you get pushed by ONE of his cronies you’re screwed and have to start over. Then, after you chase the jerk down through a burning building, you don’t even get the gratification of ending his miserable life. It’s all via cutscene. Very anticlimactic.

Fast travel locations still exist, but to unlock the bulk of them in Boston and NY you need to spend time wandering an underground maze doing puzzles. Sounds like the complete opposite of “fast,” I know. I cheated and used my walkthrough which had a map, the locations, and how to solve the puzzles. Even then, it still took me half an hour to an hour to unlock them all. I didn’t dislike doing it, because they were fun in a way, but it felt more like an optional task I should’ve been rewarded for with money or weapons… Not being “rewarded” with the ability to accomplish tasks without spending all my time running back and forth. Even after you have all the Fast Travel locations unlocked, during some missions you aren’t allowed to use them. The developers seem to think you haven’t already spent an ungodly amount of time exploring the nooks and crannies of colonial America. I think every mission marker should be a Fast Travel spot. The viewpoints and collectables should be the only things you walk to on foot. Another Fast Travel thing that irked me was traveling between different maps. In certain locations when you click on a marker to take you to a different city or to the frontier, it doesn’t actually put you in said location. The game drops you in front of the marker. Then you have to walk into it, and AGAIN tell the game you want to go there, effectively sitting through two load screens. Call me impatient, but it drove me nuts.

Another bittersweet addition in this game were the naval battles. Connor becomes captain of the Aquila, and you can partake in naval fights to remove Templar influence over the seas, secure routes, and uncover the secret of Captain Kidd’s lost treasure. Pretty neat stuff and a nice change in pace from the rest of the extra missions. Don’t make the mistake of doing every available mission in a row like I did. The cumbersome controls and slow pacing will start getting to you. There’s swivel guns and cannons available for weapons. The swivel guns don’t do much damage against other large vessels, you need to wear them down with cannon fodder first, then you can exploit an exposed weakness with a swivel gun if you so desire. The swivel gun controls are easy enough. But in order to fire your more powerful cannons, the ship has to be positioned in a certain angle with the enemy ship, and turning the bulky Aquila around gets to be rather time consuming. I also wish it was possible to cancel out of cover. To reduce damage taken from enemy fire and rogue waves, you can hit a button to take cover. When you do so there’s a set amount of time before Connor picks up his head and you can issue commands once more. I found myself hastily pressing the cover button then sighing while waiting for Connor to stand back up. Or, as was most often the case, ducking cover over and over again because I was going up against 5 or more ships. Once I got some upgrades for my ship I was able to shrug off the attacks and make them wish they hadn’t messed with me. It’s quite ironic that upgrading the Aquila was the only feature I spent a significant amount of money on, yet when you do the naval missions you don’t get much monetary compensation. In comparison to some of the other additions to the series, I’m willing to give the naval battles a positive nod. At least they let me kill things instead of being reduced to a mail courier. No, I’m not exaggerating.

The graphics, music and voice acting certainly didn’t feel like an upgrade from the last AC game. In the beginning sequences when playing as young Connor, I remember saying “Those leaves look cell shaded!” A reaction I certainly never had while gazing upon the beauty of previous AC backgrounds. A lot of accents were terrible, and Connor’s performance felt flat and forced at times. I rather liked Achilles’ voice, though. The city background noises and environments were pretty good, but not as interesting as Italy. The music (or lack thereof) is completely forgettable, and in a game that should have impressive immersion, it is disappointing. The modern day characters all offer the same performances we’ve come to expect.

The modern day plot got pretty ridiculous, to say the least. it certainly signifies the end of this AC arc, though I highly doubt Ubisoft will be giving up their primary cash cow anytime soon. It does pave the way for a powerful potential villain, but makes the whole Assassins versus Templars struggle null and void. Yes, the ultimatum Desmond was given did suck either way, but it seems to me he spit on his Assassin predecessors with his decision. I just knew they couldn’t put a fork in the now “done” franchise, because that would be graceful and wouldn’t allow for them to continue milking it. I’ll keep my other opinions on the ending to myself to avoid spoilers. The interwebs have plenty of AC3 ending synopsizes and speculations already you can delve into if you’re interested.

In closing, I’m also going to suggest you do yourself a favor and watch the Zero Punctuation review on AC3: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/6516-Assassins-Creed-3 I usually watch his reviews for fun because he is rather merciless, but in this case I agree with most of what he says. Now it’s time for me to move onto Assassin’s Creed: Liberation!