"Any time I found someone that offered a vague sign of a challenge, I'd just back away, jump into the air and start firing rounds of ammo like they were going out of style. My opponents would then lazily meander toward me, at which point I'd retreat to the next safe vantage point and unload another clip on them. This cowardly strategy works surprisingly well on most of your opponents, many bosses included."
The last time I saw Dante, he was kicking butt and taking names, even when swords fell through his chest and assassins came to his office with malicious intent. He stormed a giant castle, faced monsters enormous and creepy. I really enjoyed Devil May Cry, but unfortunately never got very far in it because I totally suck. Still, that didn't prevent me from buying its follow-up, because I'm crazy like that. And it turned out to be a good purchase for me. With that said, you'll quite possibly hate it. Well, unless you suck like I do.
The first thing you should know about Devil May Cry 2 is that Dante appears to be recovering from a vasectomy. I'm only guessing, but that seems a fair explanation of why he's no longer quite so cool. Or maybe Capcom just wanted to rest on its laurels. Either way, the son of Sparta seems a bit more like Jaded Hero X this time around than he does the powerhouse he was in the first game. There's not a lot that really makes him stand out from the crowd of generic protagonists, aside from his white hair and the long red coat he wears. Instead of pulling one-liners out of the air when he faces a new monster, he just arches an eyebrow and goes to work. Capcom probably thought he'd seem even cooler if he was unperturbed by things like the end of the world, explosions that rock a city block, or whatever else he faces. But really, he just seems bored. The player may end up sharing that sentiment by extension.
Of course, I didn't play the original because Dante was gutsy; I played it because of the gameplay. There had been plenty of that, with narrow corridors that made for some intense gun and sword duels with puppets, giant scorpions, and whatever else chose to crawl out of the woodwork. Good stuff all around. I expected more or less the same thing with Devil May Cry 2, but what I got was more like a fragmented echo.
The castle from the first time around is no longer the setting. While at first this might seem cool (who wants another trip through a stuffy castle, anyway?), it turns out to be the second strike against Dante's newest adventure. Instead of restricted battle arenas, it now seems that the sky's the limit for his range of movement. He's running through massive city streets, which means he can run along the ground, walls (think Shinobi, if you’ve played that game) or rooftops. If things get just a little too heated, it's not difficult to find some place where he can retreat to catch his breath. Even if enemies do find your temporary sanctuary, they're usually of the type that can be defeated with a few rounds of ammo; the larger and more dangerous ones seem to move so slowly that they're seldom a risk if you're willing to play the coward. Good for wimps like me, bad for those of you with a sense of honor and a thirst for non-stop chaos.
Those in love with the action fragments of the game will be disappointed for other reasons, as well. It seems that this time around, there's a greater emphasis on puzzles and platforming skills. Dante jumps just a bit too loosely for this to be any fun, and there are some stages where high-precision leaps and/or switch-flipping play major roles. It's not a lot of fun, and it's a challenge only due to the difficulty you may sometimes have judging where Dante will land. Such stages thankfully are not the norm, but they really slow down the pace when they occur. You'll find yourself wishing for them to end so you can get back to blasting and stabbing everything in sight.
Speaking of your weapons, they don't seem to have changed much from the first time around. You still collect a rather generic assortment of guns, and a few wicked looking swords. For me, it was all about the guns. Any time I found someone that offered a vague sign of a challenge, I'd just back away, jump into the air and start firing rounds of ammo like they were going out of style. My opponents would then lazily meander toward me, at which point I'd retreat to the next safe vantage point and unload another clip on them. This cowardly strategy works surprisingly well on most of your opponents, many bosses included. Like the first game, you can power up your artillery, too. So as the game gets harder, your weapons pack a meaner punch.
Capcom must've realized somewhere deep down that the guns and expansive environments cripple the game's difficulty level, because they made a vague appeal to my honor that fell on deaf ears. As before, you're rated on your performance in a given level. This rating takes into account your battle tactics and rewards you accordingly, which is to say I generally got crap for praise from the game's tally system. I could practically hear the game hissing 'wuss' at me, but I pretended not to notice and made it through one stage after another just fine. There's not really any penalty for doing so, aside from slightly smaller rewards and poorer letter grades. It turns out the only reason to really apply yourself to any battles in the game is because you want to challenge yourself. That, or you think it's cool that Dante can now run along walls and flip off them backwards like he's an extra from The Matrix. That never stops looking cool.
The same might well be said of the game itself. Devil May Cry 2 definitely looks every bit as good as its predecessor. In many ways, it's even better. The cramped quarters in the castle from before may very well have been masking limited draw distance, but there's none of that here. Even as you groan when you walk down another wide-open street and know you're going to blast through it easily, you'll appreciate the fact that it looks so darn good. The only real complaint I had was that everything seems gray and bland, or red and bland, or just bland in general. Sharper textures have been wasted on ho-hum settings that look good but fail to engage. Only the FMV sequences (which are first-rate) make Devil May Cry 2 any sort of contender for the visual crown.
Likewise, the audio is forgettable. It's slightly rocky, and it tries to be energetic. However, it could just as easily fit in any number of other titles within the genre and simply doesn't enhance the atmosphere, or to draw you closer to the character. It's just there. Then there's the voice work. When present, it's memorable only because it feels so forced. Accents are too thick, words too flat and unemotional. There's nothing to endear you to any of the characters. They speak their lines then exit stage right, relieved. You will be too.
Perhaps because of the faulty delivery from the actors, even the plot doesn't do much for me. It's got all sorts of twists and turns that are no doubt intended to keep the player at the edge of his seat, but a lot of it seems so stupid and abrupt that I never found myself swept away. Dante meets a dangerous but sexy lady named Lucca (who is also a playable character if you pop in the second of the two discs included in the DVD case), some old woman, and various monsters. Many of them spit out their lines and reveal a conspiracy and quest for magical artifacts. But there are enough holes in the plot that it becomes nearly impossible to follow along, even early in the game. Capcom would have done better to scrap the plot entirely, or to merely bookend the levels with a few cinemas and call it good. I certainly wouldn't have complained.
And while I'm on the topic of complaints, I've heard some gripe that the game is too short. I didn't find that to be the case at all. The game felt every bit as long as others within the genre, and I believe any more stages would have just been worthless padding. You'll fight through more than 15 stages as Dante (and that's not even counting the re-tread Lucca's adventure offers). You'll see skyscrapers, scale an apartment building while a distant helicopter fires rockets in an attempt to reduce it to rubble, enter some weird vortex of sorts and battle huge monsters that make the architecture look like chairs gathered around a dinner table.
There are moments where Devil May Cry 2 is nothing short of stunning and others where you'll want to reach for the 'snooze' button. In the end, the game's greatest fault is that it's achingly average most of the time. In a world where so many games have set out to clone the original Devil May Cry, the saddest thing of all is that its sequel seems guilty of the same crime. It doesn't innovate in any significant way, doesn't promise that the franchise will move forward. Instead, it shows up for work, punches in, takes a break for lunch, then punches out at the end of the day. Pick it up if you're a diehard fan, or if you find it priced reasonably, or if you just want to play through to the end of a game that stars Dante. Otherwise, save your money and time for the upcoming sequel.
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 25, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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