by Tom Meltzer
The hero looks dated and, although the games are as challenging as ever, it's impossible to forget they were made for consoles a generation or more behind
The hero of the Devil May Cry games is a teenage boy's idea of the coolest human being imaginable. By which I mean, he's actually half-human, half-demon, wears a red trenchcoat open over a rippling six-pack, and has a tendency to flip out and transform into a monster. Oh, and his name's Dante, as in the guy with the Inferno. Isn't that every teenage boy's notion of cool personified? Perhaps not, no, but it was definitely mine. Back in 2001, when the original Devil May Cry first exploded on to the shelves in a shower of demon blood and silver bullets, I thought I'd never see anything cooler.
Dante's debut was a hack'n'slash adventure with a difference. In other games, the goal was simply to wipe out your opponents. In Devil May Cry winning the fight was a very bare minimum. Your goal was to triumph in style, slicing through your foes with effortless grace, and leaping, rolling and flying from their attacks to finish the battle with not a stitch out of place on that ridiculous red coat. In Dante, you had everything you needed to be a bad-ass: a pair of pistols, a seriously big sword and an endless supply of smart-arsed one-liners. All you had to do was make sure he had the moves to back up his big mouth. Plod through fights mashing the same two buttons, taking hits and generally jeopardising Dante's hairdo and the game would slap a big "D" for "Dull" on the screen and implore you to up the awesome. It was a system that valued style above all else. Which is not to say it skimped on substance. It was just so jaw-droppingly stylish that you hardly noticed it was also a great game.
Cool, though, changes. Style fades. In the fast-moving world of games, what dropped a teenager's jaw in wonder 10 years ago now struggles to raise an eyebrow (except in derision). Seen in the cold light of today Dante is less cool and much more tool. He looks like the kind of guy who, if you asked him to describe himself, would spell out "V-I-P P-I-M-P", bite his bottom lip and then awkwardly fist-bump himself. You wouldn't be all that surprised to find out that he actually lived in his parent's loft. Not for nothing has the forthcoming franchise reboot ditched Dante the bling-laden playa for a grimy super-tramp.
But given how far the fickle tides of cool have retreated from the preening, peacocking Dante of a thousand panicked teenage man-crushes (or, you know, just the one, I'm OK with that), it's a bold move on the part of Capcom to be re-releasing the first three games now, seven years since the last of them came out on PS2. The philosophy behind the Devil May Cry HD Collection (PS3/Xbox 360) must be either that teenage boys will always find time to be a half-demon pimp, no matter how dated the format, or else that franchise veterans will leap at the chance for one last fling with their hero before his makeover.
I'm not sure either is true. For one thing, veterans will know that, of the three games included in the collection, only the first and the third were ever brilliant. The second – Devil May Cry 2 – sold just fine, but toned down the difficulty too far and, most disastrously, lobotomised its wise-cracking hero, who went from trash-talking bad boy to brooding gothic idiot. Of which, it's fair to say, there were already plenty. Thankfully, Devil May Cry 3 – included here in the extended special edition - saw both Dante and the franchise return to form: the lobotomy was miraculously reversed, and the difficulty rose as his enemies remembered to try to kill him again.
The games themselves are as rich and challenging as ever, but high-definition has not been kind to them. The grainy textures and sharp edges make it impossible to forget you are playing a game made for consoles a generation or more behind. What was once groundbreaking combat now looks and even feels old-fashioned. A game built not just on kicking butt and taking names, but on looking good as you do was always going to see its appeal fade quickly with its looks. Like a balding, thirtysomething, former teen heartthrob whipped into shape for a farewell tour, this collection does its best to look good for us one last time, but can't quite wish away the years. Even gun-toting, half-demon mercenaries can't do retro.