By Shane Bettenhausen
It's been just a little over a year since the first Devil May Cry infused the survival-horror genre with a healthy dose of good ol' fashioned action, and Dante, the dashing and demonic detective star, already has another case to solve. If you played the first game, you already know that Dante's investigative procedure basically boils down to swinging a big sword, pumping monsters full of lead, and occasionally morphing into a vicious hellspawn. Surprisingly, DMC2 is not a quick-and-dirty sequel. Instead, a slew of new gameplay ideas sweeten the deal, but a few unsettling new problems sour it a bit, too.
The adventure begins when hottie-in-need-of-a-hand Lucia puts in a call for help to Dante's bafflingly named agency, Devil May Cry. Never one to turn down the request of a lovely lady, our hero rushes to the scene. The plot's a bit on the loopy side; it involves a megalomaniacal businessman (who looks a bit like Tekken's Heihachi), billions of whacked-out ghouls invading from the Demon World, and an evil skyscraper with a head. Don't worry about the story, thoughconcentrate on Dante and Lucia kicking amazing amounts of ass.
Actually, although Dante and Lucia are both after the same goal, their paths only briefly intersect. In what's definitely one of the game's coolest features, you can choose to play the entire quest as either characterjust stick the appropriately titled Dante Disc or Lucia Disc in your PS2. Gameplay-wise, they handle similarly, and that isn't a bad thing, since DMC offers excellent, perfectly tight control. While Dante wields swords and guns, Lucia cuts loose with dual cutlasses and throwing knives. She's slightly faster and he can dole out heavier damage, but they both command a considerable arsenal of killer combos and acrobatic maneuvers that make fighting foes a thrilling experience. Plus, both characters can truly get in touch with their Satanic sides by transforming into invincible demons for short periods of time. In Devil Mode, you can inflict tremendous damage on foes, move with lightning-fast speed, and even fly, depending on what type of amulet you're wearing (see sidebar).
Like the first DMC, this sequel breaks the action into linear, straightforward missions that are about 80 percent brawling and 20 percent light puzzle-solving. As expected, most stages climax with an impressive boss fight. In fact, several of the game's 18 stages are actually massive boss battles, with very little level to speak of. Since some of the normal stages are also quite short, the entire game with your first character is over quite quickly. You can then throw in the other disc and tackle the story from the other hero's perspective but that also disappoints, as the games are far too similar. For the most part, Dante and Lucia traverse the same levels, fight the same bosses (except for the final one), and solve the same puzzles. Realistically, less than 20 percent of each character's game is unique to him/her. It's a squandered opportunity to really do something creative and exciting. Even so, you'll probably still want to play through both discs (it'll only take around 6 to 8 hours to do so).
DMC2 is a short ride, but at least it's a snazzy one. Like its predecessor, it offers stylized, macabre environments straight outta a horror movie, with crumbling castles, apocalyptic cityscapes, and shadowy temples. Everything runs without a hint of slowdown and the animation is awesome, but fans of the first game might notice that the levels seem comparatively low on detail. It's a conscious tradeoff: The levels are now utterly massive, but low on graphical variety. For example, you'll scamper through a sprawling town full of buildings that all look exactly alike.
The overly similar quests and downgraded graphics are minor bummers, but what actually hurts DMC2 the most is that it's unbelievably easy. DMC1 was a damn hard game, and if you could finish it on Normal mode, you felt like you'd really accomplished something. DMC2 offers just one difficulty setting, and although it's called Normal we'd classify it as something more like Kindergartner. We're not kiddingthe game is so amazingly easy that you'll assuredly beat it on the first night, no problem. Once you beat the game with both characters, Hard mode is unlocked, but since you can only play that with all the weapons and upgrades you gained on Normal, Hard mode is actually easier than Normal. Truly bizarre. Younger gamers (and those who lack the proper skillz) might like this new, less-menacing direction, but we wanted something a bit meatier.
Devil May Cry 2 can't avoid being compared to its impressive predecessor, and in the end, it doesn't exactly measure up. Sure, you'll still have an enjoyable, bloody romp with it. Just don't expect to be challenged at all, or to dig the laughable plot. Come instead for the visceral, jaw-dropping combat and the smooth control. It's a fun time while it lasts, but you won't linger much once it's over. Hopefully, Dante's next case will be more substantial.
I'd be lying if I said that DMC2 didn't let me down. Don't get me wrongyou still should play it, but fans of the first will be disappointed. DMC1 was a smashing debut, and a sequel that built upon that solid foundation should have been a big improvement, but something just feels wrong here. First, the lame-o difficulty (the first game was probably too hard, but come on, I've played tougher Rugrats games) means that you'll blow through it in a night. Second, the Dante and Lucia games are just too similar. Sure, she gets two exclusive swimming stages and a different end boss, but they're basically the same game. Oh, and the plot's a big puddle of nonsense that would be skippable if not for the chance to hear the line "Devils never cry" three separate times during the game. Events unfold in a slapdash, thrown-together manner that rarely makes logical sense. Even with all these problems, the game still manages to succeed based largely on gameplay alone. You simply can't find better swordplay in any other action/adventure game. The combo system is tough to master and extremely rewardingyou'll want to replay the stages until you can routinely dish out 20-hit "Showtime" combos. And most of the boss encounters, while repetitive, fill the screen with titanic, nasty beasts that are a blast to bring down. It's an awesome rental that'll rock your weekend, but buy it and you may be left feeling a tinge unfulfilled.