If you ask me, few games exemplify the PS2-era better than Capcom's Devil May Cry series. That savvy mix of smooth moves and fast action represents much of what I used to idealise in games back at the turn of the millennium, a peculiar time in history when the FPS hadn't yet managed to dominate the console market.
Few games represent Capcom better than Devil May Cry, too. Despite some extreme peaks and troughs in terms of quality, Devil May Cry has undeniably become one of the publisher's strongest brands, though its complete inability to find a home on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Devil May Cry 4 is rubbish and does not count) ensures the series is currently sitting anxiously on Capcom's reserve bench. We'll have to see if Ninja Theory's reboot manages to capture some of the series' spirit later in 2012, but playing through the original games for the first time in years has reminded me why it remains cherished by many.
On this HD-ified DVD is all three of the Devil May Cry games originally released for PlayStation 2, including both Dante and Lucia disks for Devil May Cry 2 and the Special Edition version of Devil May Cry 3. There's also a bonus cache of various bits of concept art and so on and so on, which is a nice little trinket for the back of the box but pretty much entirely useless. To complete this comprehensive collection all you'd need is to get your mitts on 2008's Devil May Cry 4, but I wouldn't bother because Devil May Cry 4 is absolutely rubbish.
The conversion to HD has been adequately handled by Pipeworks Software, though the frontend screen looks a touch slapdash in quality - like it's been handled with the same love and attention as the DVD menus of something you might accidentally buy from a 99p bargain bin in an off license after 11pm on a Friday night.
While the actual games have been upscaled and converted to widescreen, the original menus have been kept unedited in their original 4:3 state. My human eyeballs aren't dexterous enough to notice anything out of place, and the action seemed smooth and all the environments remained intact with what I remember. The movies, however, look awful; the HD Collection makes occasional use of seemingly untouched FMV cutscenes, and the mix of archaic aspect ratio and horrendous compression ensures these once-mighty animated scenes look tired and ancient in 2012.
This is not nearly as loving a restoration as the superb Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, then, but there's been just enough done to the games, once they're in motion, to bring these last-gen titles up to scratch with modern times. And thank goodness, too, because you just don't get a lot of games like this any more - at its best Devil May Cry is complex, punishing and befuddling, but Capcom's classic series is packed with just the right mix of cheese and charm to keep you battling on.
As for the actual games, I'll address them individually in order of release:
Devil May Cry
Originally designed as a prototype for a Resident Evil game after director Hideki Kamiya finished work on Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry couldn't have ended up more different from the survival horror series - whereas Leon, Jill and the Redfields would be slow and considered, locked rigidly into place when aiming, Dante's début adventure was all about fluid and constant movement.
It was nothing short of a revelation upon its release in 2001. Devil May Cry helped transform a genre, the power of the PlayStation 2 allowing for the kind of speed and style that you simply couldn't have seen on Sony's previous grey box. It had rock riffs, crazy cutscenes, and an impressive amount of enemies on the screen at once. Enemies that you'd hit about a bit and shoot every now and then, and the game would tell you when you're looking cool. In doing so, the player felt cool, and games simply weren't like that back then.
While Mallett Island felt like a Resident Evil game when it came to atmosphere (its creaking door noise is unforgettable) I think it's actually The Matrix that served as one of the primary sources of inspiration. Even the game's opening moments, with its shot of a ringing phone and a sunglasses-clad femme fatale in a tight leather outfit turning up at Dante's shop, reminds me of the The Wachowski Brothers' millennial hit.
This early-gen PlayStation 2 adventure hasn't aged well in terms of raw technical horsepower, but the game's gothic architecture and posed environments are still quite charming. The fixed camera angles will prove problematic for modern gamers, but there's enough value in these occasionally awkward shots to keep playing to the end.
This is also the first time European players are able to easily play the game at its original speed and resolution, as Capcom's work on the original PAL release was, quite frankly, an abomination of horrible letterboxing and a sluggish 50hz conversion.
Devil May Cry 2
Perhaps bewitched by the global success of the original, Capcom decided to immediately rush out a 2003 sequel under the guidance of new director Hideaki Itsuno. It was a complete disaster, ruining the series so comprehensively that every subsequent title has had to be a prequel or a reboot.
Simply put, everything Capcom tried to change for DMC2 made the game worse. Bigger, more open environments? What guff. An older, more reserved Dante who decided his actions by flipping a coin? Soul destroying. A combat system that seems positively threadbare compared to the original? Completely game breaking. Devil May Cry 2 reeks of a game designed by a focus group, and despite strong sales it managed to stain a much-loved brand in a way that Capcom seems to excel at.
Despite the vast swathes of roughage, few things are more upsetting than Devil May Cry 2's flat-lined difficulty. Most enemies in the game can be easily dispatched by jumping in the air and firing your guns at them. Dante's still got the moves, and his animations still hold up well today, but there's never any impetus to actually use them.
One of the other big new changes was the decision to include another playable character, Lucia, but even this fell flat as she simply trekked over recycled environments in a parallel storyline. Capcom would later commit this same crime again in Devil May Cry 4, which I don't know if I mentioned but is rubbish.
Simply put, Devil May Cry 2 was no fun to explore and no fun to play. Nothing has changed, though the game's bland open spaces are even more of a detriment to the game in 2012 than they were almost a decade ago.
Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition
I'm going to just come out and say it: I think Devil May Cry 3 is one of the best games of all time.
Set before the original, 2005's Devil May Cry 3 has you play a more flamboyant game. The tone is established straight from the introductory cutscene, and it's a superbly choreographed moment in gaming, where a young Dante guzzles pizza, plays with his jukebox, and toys with an attacking horde of monsters like a playful cat.
On some levels, though, it's a stark reminder that you should be careful what you wish for: after the second game was panned for being too easy, Itsuno oversaw a complete U-turn that saw the third game becoming the most difficult one yet. Boss battles against the seductress Nevan or the brutish Beowulf proved nearly impossible for me when I first started playing, and they're still challenging opponents now. This, however, is why Devil May Cry 3 is so utterly fantastic.
It's not that Devil May Cry 3 is just a hard game, though it is certainly a hard game, it's that there is so much entertainment to be found by tinkering with the game's pitch-perfect mechanics. Now able to switch between two melee weapons and two guns on the fly, combos could blossom out into a near-endless stream of sweeping attacks.
Unlike Ninja Gaiden's weightier fights, Dante could almost always cancel out of combos and fling himself across the screen with ease. It's a fighting style that works well with this younger, more arrogant version of our protagonist: once you learn the ropes there's a sense that you're playing with your enemies instead of fighting them. It's an empowering feeling, and in many respects it's still just as fun to take Dante out for a spin now as it was then.
This is the Special Edition version of the game, originally released in 2006. It contains the option to play as Vergil, Dante's naughty brother, as well as the option to select between Gold and Yellow modes - Gold was used in the original Japanese version of DMC3, which allows you to restart the level at checkpoints upon death, but the more difficult Yellow (which doesn't) was adopted for the game's Western release. The overall difficulty has also been toned down slightly, though the gruelling Dante Must Die difficulty remains the same.
So, yes, Devil May Cry 3 is brilliant and now that this HD version is out I can finally sell off my old 60gb PlayStation 3, which I originally bought so I'd have a modern machine capable of playing it. The other games in the box aren't nearly as essential.
Version Tested: Xbox 360