It's happened to everyone at least once: You're almost done working on a report, a bit of programming, or possibly even a game review when the computer crashes. You then realize you never saved your work and will have to start all over from the very beginning. It's so intensely, painfully frustrating that you're sure all the blood vessels in your brain are going to simultaneously explode.
This, in a nutshell, is what playing Capcom's new Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening feels like for the first 8 hours. After this lengthy tour through videogame-hell, you'll discover a relative paradise in the game's later levels. But for those of you who expect to plunk down fifty dollars and start having fun immediately, heaven is going to have to wait.
The trouble is twofold. First, Devil May Cry 3 is hard - really hard. You are immediately thrown right into the thick of things, and will start off by dying a lot. Learning how to use all the controls, not get screwed up by the camera, and simply stay alive is extremely difficult. In all the cool cut-scene movies, Dante appears nigh-invulnerable, but as soon as he's in your hands, you'll discover he dies quite easily and repeatedly.
Second, in a profoundly bad design decision, there are no checkpoints within the game's levels. Every time you die, you have to start over at the very beginning of your current mission. Almost every mission has a cool, but difficult boss at the end, and every time he kills you, it's time to pull out a couple fistfuls of hair and start all over. Some of the early levels I probably had to play through 30 times before I passed them. By level 3, I was completely bald.
That said, Dante gets more powerful over time, and more importantly, you will eventually get the hang of the tight, precise controls, cinematic camera and chaotic violence. And then suddenly the whole thing stops being so damn frustrating and starts being more fun.
In a plot that's slightly more comprehensible than the one in the first game, half-demon Dante has a half-demon, evil twin brother Vergil. When a giant, evil, demon tower sprouts up in the middle of the city, it's up to smart-alec Dante to go take care of his brother, Old Testament style.
As before, Dante has a very impressive arsenal of ass kicking tools and abilities. With a giant sword and a pair of powerful pistols, which he can switch between instantly, not to mention superhuman strength and leaping ability, it just feels good to be Dante. As the game progresses you'll get a number of other powerful weapons, like triple ice-nunchuku and a big demon laser, as well as some crazy new moves to really turn Dante into an engine of destruction.
This is all aided by smooth movement and tight, precise controls (once you finally get the hang of them). Dante can turn on a dime and switch between weapons and techniques in a heartbeat. Dante also has four new fighting "styles" " trickster, gunslinger, swordmaster, and royal guard - that you can level up with repeated use, and switch between at certain points.
And demonic destruction never looked better. The enemies are terrible-looking in a good way, and the framerate stays nice and smooth during even the most frantic battles. The camera, which seems wildly unhelpful at first, actually turns out to be pretty practical and very cinematic.
I do have to take issue with what they did to the character of Dante himself, though. Think of characters that are truly badass, and you'll probably come up with guys like Batman, Wolverine, or Master Chief. Dark, mysterious, tortured and very, very tough. But many Japanese designers seem to have a very different vision of what it means to be a badass action hero. Theirs all seem to have more of a gay leather-flair thing going on. Just look at Sion from The Bouncer and Tidus from Final Fantasy X.
Now I'm aware that calling things "gay" is a sensitive issue these days, but in this case, I can't think of any other word. Dante's vampire-ish costume from the first game has changed, and he now goes shirtless with a red leather jacket and some kind of leather bondage-strap across his chest. He shouts "Woo!", and "Blastoff!" and "Showtime!", and does dance moves while he fights. It all reminds me a bit of Michael Jackson in Thriller, or Moonwalker (ugh). It's not that I think people shouldn't be fabulous, but a half-demon killing machine on a quest to stab his own brother to death could probably do without the Liberace twist. On the other hand, the game is called "Dante's Awakening."
The sound fares pretty well (aside from the "woo!" factor) with decent voice acting, especially for the game's many bosses. The music is guttural, industrial metal that repeats itself a bit too often, and would befit a demon darker than Dante.
In the end, I was left with a surprisingly good feeling about Devil May Cry 3, despite my idea during hour 5, still on the second level, of breaking the disc into tiny shards and sticking them in my eyes. The latter part of the game becomes quite enjoyable, and Dante really lays the smack down again like he did in the first game. Too bad I still remember the long hours of pain it took to arrive at that point. The devil, it turns out, is in the details.