Wednesday, December 10, 2014

TGLVG: DmC: Devil May Cry

DmC: Devil May Cry
2013, Rated M (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

A brief history:
Back in 2001, Capcom released the original Devil May Cry for Playstation 2, which followed the story of the snarky white haired demon hunter and half demon protagonist Dante. Praised for it's stylized combat, and punishing difficulty, the series saw the eventual release of three more games. The third game introduced the character Vergil, Dante's half demon twin brother, as the main antagonist.

Overall, the series saw great success, especially with Devil May Cry 3, and slightly less so with 4, when the series made the leap to the Xbox 360. But in 2010, it was revealed that hack-n-slash game developer Ninja Theory, famous for the equally devilishly difficult Ninja Gaiden series, was now holding the reins, and planning a full series reboot titled simply "DmC". At the 2010 Tokyo Game Show, a teaser trailer was released, which outraged fans when they got their first glimpse at the new younger, short black haired Dante. Long time fans cried foul, protesting that Ninja Theory was trying too hard to appeal to the "Twilight crowd".

But, when the game was released in January of 2013, critics raved, praising the new combat mechanics, and the stunning visuals. DmC averaged an outstanding 8.5 / 10 in basically every review. But despite these glowing accolades, the game didn't sell close to what it deserved. Fans were still too set in their ways to bother trying the game, and sales suffered for it.

I myself have been a long time fan of the series, and despite initially amid the crowd of "I don't like Dante's new look"ers, I found the game for cheap, and decided to give it a try. And holy crap am I glad I did!

Story: 8/10
Don't worry, I won't be spoiling anything that you don't learn within the first half hour of gameplay, but here is a brief rundown of the game's basic plot:

Dante is a hedonistic a-hole. He spends his days hunting and killing demons, and his nights sleeping with strippers, and drinking. But everything quickly changes when a large demon tracks him down and sucks him into Limbo, the world of the demons, parallel to our own. Here he meets a human girl, Kat, who helps him escape, and takes him to her boss, a mysterious figure named Vergil, the leader of a "terrorist" organization known as "The Order", hellbent on ending the life of the demon king Mundus, a demon posing as a businessman, who for years has been controlling the human race through brainwashing and manipulation.

The story has never been a big part of the past games. It has always been there, but it was never the reason that fans bought the games. This game, however, has a movie-worthy story. Whereas past games would provide a cutscene every three or four levels, giving you a feeling of "Oh right, I forgot there was a story...", DmC starts and ends every level with story related scenes, as well as dialogue throughout the levels.

I'd love to give the story a perfect 10, but I do have to say I was pretty disappointed with how thrown in the "twist" ending felt. Again, no spoilers, but the final conflict before the credits roll felt like it could have been further hinted at throughout the story. That said, I loved actually caring about every character, even so far as feeling brief, fleeting moments of pity for Mundus himself.

Gameplay: 10/10
It's safe to say that when it comes to difficult games, I'm not good. Given the chance, I'll always play a game on easy mode first, because I like to relax when playing video games, rather than become frustrated. This is the main reason that I was very hesitant to first purchase the game. Not only does the Devil May Cry series as a whole have a strong reputation as a very difficult series, but the addition of Ninja Theory as the new development team meant to me that the spike in difficulty would be too much to bear.

Well, I was dead wrong. Granted, thus far I've only beaten the game on it's easiest of the three initial difficulty settings, the game is challenging, but if you're looking for a fight, avoid the easiest mode at all costs. I can't often (if ever) say that I've been able to beat a game without dying, but I am able to say that in this case.

But don't let this deter you. Another trope of the series is the amount of unlockable difficulty settings. All said, DmC has seven different difficulties to try, ranging from "Human" (easy mode, basically made for those who want to experience the story with little challenge), all the way to "Heaven or Hell" (a remixed mode, enemies die in one hit, but so do you), and even "Hell or Hell" (enemies have normal health, but you die in one hit). The game is short, my first play through taking about 6 hours, but it's meant to be played multiple times, and to be mastered. The reward of playing the harder difficulties is the satisfaction you get from being able to take out a room full of enemies without being touched, all while pulling off stylistic attacks an combos. And oh my, are those fun to pull off. And on that note, let's talk about the combat. 

Fans of the series will remember Dante's main weapons: His sword "Rebellion", and his twin pistols "Ebony and Ivory". They're definitely there, but I don't think I used them much until the very end of the game. The game's combat is made truly intricate and in-depth by the introduction of Dante's half-demon-half-angel heritage, and the discovery of his Angel and Demon themed weapons.

Pressing the attack button has Dante strike with his sword. But holding the left shoulder button and pressing the same attack has him use his Angel weapon, a blue glowing scythe that attacks fast and wide, but much weaker. Holding the right shoulder button instead wields the Demon weapon, a powerful red axe that hits like a freight train, but is very slow. Certain enemies can only be hurt with certain weapons, but players can switch freely between all three weapons to create unending combos of destruction and chaos. Throughout the game's 20 missions, I didn't have a single mission go by where I didn't outwardly celebrate a new, previously undiscovered combo of death.

Presentation: 10/10
I am a strong proponent of the belief that video games are a form of art, or at the very least artistic expression. And in my case to prove it, I present this game as Exhibit A. The majority of the game takes place within Limbo, a variant of the real world where demons dwell. Whenever a new area is introduced, the player is treated with a cutscene displaying the change from the real world to Limbo, and these scenes left my jaw on the floor. The colors vary from rich oranges and blues, to a later level that presents segments of the area like drawings on a chalk board, representing your pre-rehearsed plan of action. 

Every level is entirely unique, and not a single moment feels recycled. All previous games in the series had utilized backtracking in immense quantities. DmC has you backtrack once, for about five minutes. Other than that brief (and frankly understandable) moment, every single setpiece is totally fresh. Combined with the controls, which allow you to push/pull pieces of the environment in order to traverse the layout, your eyes will never be bored.

Replay Value: 7/10
As mentioned earlier, a large factor of replayability in the DMC games has always been the ever-escalating difficulties that are unlocked with each playthrough. With many of them come changes in enemy behavior, and remixes of the levels themselves. This is a great bonus for those looking for a challenge, and a justifiable reason for the story mode being so brief, taking anywhere from 6-8 hours to complete. 

Each mission also contains collectibles, such as "lost souls" which are scattered through each level, keys to unlock bonus stages, and of course the bonus stages themselves, which reward you with increased health, or other similar prizes. These can be fun or infuriating. The race bonus stages are fairly poorly put together, but the combat stages provide a high amount of satisfaction when accomplished. One such stage has Dante facing a room full of enemies, whom he must defeat without being touched by any of them.

Completing various levels or tasks within unlocks concept art, and completing the story mode unlocks costumes, and further difficulties. But as for whether or not any of this is really worth it, my verdict only if you're looking for a challenge that will kick your ass several times over.

There are a few fun nods to the past games...

Final Score: 9/10
Buy this game. It's that simple. I found my copy for $10, which is slightly less than the average price for it now, and it is worth every penny. The combat is challenging but extremely rewarding, and the story is engaging, and will leave you wanting more.

BONUS - Downloadable Content:
Given that this game has been out for just shy of two years, there has been a DLC add on released. As of now I have yet to play it, but for those who enjoyed the story, the DLC follows Vergil immediately after the main story ends.

There are also three skin packs for Dante's weapons, and a costume pack, all of which aren't really worth your money. Your weapons move so fast that glimpsing the weapons won't happen often enough to make the weapon skins worth it, but the costumes are honestly up to your discretion. Personally, I'm a fan of aesthetic changes to characters, but they can all be unlocked in game, if you've got the guts.

Monday, December 1, 2014

TGLM: The 10-Movie Actor Challenge #1

Today I'll be trying something new. A few months ago, I was posed a challenge by one of my faithful readers: Review ten movies that all starred the same actor. This series is a long time coming, but, as I found out, it is surprisingly hard to come up with an actor I've seen in at least ten movies. That said, let's take a look at some ground rules before we dive in:

1 - The actor's appearance must be in a starring role. Cameos do not count, but antagonist/villain/partner roles do.

2 - Television shows and short films do not count, but to mix things up, video game appearances are allowed.

3 - If the actor is in a series, it will only count as one appearance. (e.g. Terminator 1 through 3 only counts as one movie for Arnold Schwarzenegger)

4 - Movies or other material that I've reviewed in the past can be used, though I'll try to avoid this when possible.

The rules have been established, and the challenge posed. So let's kick off the 10-movie actor challenge with our first contestant...

Will Ferrell

Zoolander (2001)
Starring alongside protagonist Ben Stiller, Ferrell plays the unforgettable villain and fashion mogul Jacobi Mugatu. Zoolander led the ranks of early 2000's star-studded comedies, standing out largely due to it's ridiculous plot, involving a male modeling political conspiracy that stretched as far back as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

In terms of Will Ferrell roles, don't expect anything out of the ordinary. He's loud, obnoxious, makes funny faces, and has some of the movie's most quotable lines. It's exactly what you'd expect from him, in the best way possible.

Elf (2003)
In this now holiday classic, Ferrell plays the lead role of Buddy the Elf, a human who has lived his entire life in the presence and care of Santa Clause and his elves. But when Buddy grows up, towering over the tiny elves around him, he realizes he isn't quite as elf-ish as he once thought. So he journeys to New York City in order to find his birth dad, who resides on Santa's "naughty list", and convince him to change his ways and be "nice" once more.

As with Zoolander, expect typical Ferrell, but this time with a kid friendly twist. It's all here, the funny faces, quotable lines, and some gross out humor that cements his character as fully believable, and yet out of this world.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Self-obsessed, "good" looking, and on the top of his career path, this movie charts fictional news anchor Ron Burgundy's story of success, his hard fall to the bottom, and his attempts to climb back to the top.

As the pattern has begun to indicate, expect more funny faces, gross-out moments, and the most quotable lines from Ferrell's character. But, as Ron Burgundy himself says, he's nothing without his news team. His acting here does nothing to separate itself from his previous (or future) movies, unless you factor in his interactions with his star-studded cohorts. To me, it isn't so much his lines, as it is the whole news team's lines that stick in your head.

Kicking & Screaming (2005)
Phil Weston is a mild-mannered suburban dad, who cares deeply for his son, trying not to become the competition-obsessed neglectful father that his was. But when he strikes a wager with his dad (Robert Duvall) in order to get his son more play time on the little league soccer team, he is suddenly thrust into the world of competition he has avoided all his life.

While this family movie didn't earn any mind-blowing reviews, it remains one of my absolute favorite Will Ferrell movies. For about half of the movie, we get to see Ferrell in a role he isn't terribly accustomed to: a quiet, somber do-gooder. The movie has the best of both worlds, combining his goofy faces and shouting with a more subdued acting style, basically the opposite of what we've come to expect from him.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Harold Crick is the pinnacle of average. He goes to work, comes home, and keeps to himself, taking pride in his lack luster life. That is until he learns that he's the protagonist of a famous author's new book, via an unseen voice that only he can hear narrating his life.

This movie struck me fairly strongly the first time I watched it, mainly due to how much of a departure it was from Ferrell's typical mode of operation. He's still funny, but no longer due to the goofy faces and loud noises we've come to expect. For once, we see Ferrell playing a role that almost any actor could have played. While I enjoyed him in this movie, you could easily sub him out for any of a number of actors. (Jason Bateman, Jim Carrey, and Steve Carell all come to mind first) But that said, I love Ferrell in this role, mainly because of how unusual it is. This movie is absolutely worth a watch, if not a purchase.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Ricky Bobby, the most famous and unbeatable NASCAR driver behind the wheel, meets his match when French Formula 1 driver Jean Girard swoops in and quickly begins to steal his glory. Ricky's life and career begin to spiral out of control, as he must fight his way to the top once again.

Basically, this movie is Anchorman with race cars. I remember seeing this in theaters, and being disgusted by how advertisement-filled the entire movie is. At one point, it even cuts away for an entire Applebee's commercial as a gag. But upon later views, it becomes more apparent that the amount of ads within the movie IS the joke. This is especially apparent during the end credits and bloopers. That said, we get the same Farrell we're used to, a description I feel like I need a keyboard shortcut for at this point: Funny faces, loud noises, and the best quotable lines. However, I still thoroughly enjoy this movie. Just don't think too hard, and you'll get some laughs.

Step Brothers (2008)
Dale and Brennan, two 40-year-old slackers who still live with their parents, are forced to become step brothers when their parents marry each other.

Let's just get this out of the way quick: Funny faces, loud noises, quotable lines. Now then...the plot may sound simple and dumb, but this is one of my absolute favorite Will Ferrell movies. The chemistry between Ferrell and co-star John C. Reilly is much better than it was in Talladega Nights, possibly due to a smaller cast retaining the majority of focus. Either way, Ferrell is his typical comedic self. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

The Other Guys (2010)
Starring alongside Mark Wahlberg, The Other Guys takes a new twist on the buddy cop / action comedy. The two decide to step up and be the heroes after the position of "hero" is left vacant by the sudden deaths of the typical burly super-cops.

As strange as it is to say, Ferrell takes a back seat to Wahlberg in this goofy action comedy. That said, Ferrell's approach is a bit outside the norm in this one, as it combines his normal wacky style with a subdued character, more akin to Kicking & Screaming. But talented as he is, the result is a memorable experience, one definitely worth multiple views. This movie is a must-see.

Everything Must Go (2010)
Nick Halsey is a former alcoholic, whose life causes him to relapse into his bad habits. In response, his wife kicks him out, dumping everything he owns onto the front lawn. Nick responds with laziness, choosing to live on the lawn. But when the police say he has to move, he decides to have a yard sale in order to have an excuse to stay where he is. But his neighbor's little boy befriends him, giving him a new viewpoint on his life.

This is definitely not your typical Ferrell. Much like Stranger Than Fiction, what we see here is a dark comedy that gives him a chance to show off more than just a funny face. The downside with these performances, however, is that while Ferrell can pull this role off, he doesn't do much to make you believe that he's the only actor who could do it. This movie is worth a watch, but it doesn't hold much that will bring you back to watch it time and again.

Megamind (2010)
With an origin story akin to that of Superman, the super villain Megamind is constantly at odds with his nemesis, the Man of Steel-esque hero, Metro Man. But when Megamind finally comes out on top, he's forced to rethink his goals. He's forced to ask himself a question he never thought of before: What do you do when you finally rule the world?

Lending his voice to this animated action / comedy, Ferrell brings his greatest strengths without subjecting viewers to the same funny faces we've seen countless times in the past. This family friendly movie by Dreamworks is absolutely worth multiple watches, and the stars that round out the voice cast hold their own along side the very recognizable voice of Ferrell.

Phew! That's a LOT of Will Ferrell. Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this new segment, and if you have an idea for an actor you'd like to see showcased, or if you have your own favorite Will Ferrell movie that I didn't mention above! Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch something that doesn't involve funny faces and loud noises.