Friday, January 25, 2008

Demo May Cry

Yesterday, the Devil May Cry 4 demo landed on both Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. This, along with Burnout Paradise, is one of the games I'm most looking forward to this winter. After playing the demo, I have one overriding thought: what the hell happened to game demos?

Remember the days of shareware, when a demo was practically the whole game? Wolfenstein and Doom each gave you an entire episode, with several levels, a complete storyline, and most, if not all, of the game's weapons. Wolf3D even let you escape from the freaking prison. Now that's a loss leader! Did I ever end up buying the full versions of these games? Of course not! I just played the free portions over and over. And that's way I likes it.

Clearly, game publishers disagree. Demos these days tend to contain a couple of minutes of gameplay, don't show much of the game, and cut off abruptly. They also weigh in around a gigabyte, compared to a single meg for the original Doom download. It's just ridiculous. They're also plastered with disclaimers about the demo not being indicative of the quality of the final version -- in which case, I'm not sure why they'd release it at all.

In the case of Devil May Cry 4, I am fairly certain that the demo is indicative of the quality of the final version, or else Capcom has some amibitious plans between now and February 5. But I'd say that's a good thing.

I keep telling myself I'm going to stop gaping at HD graphics, but again and again I just can't help it. This game looks gorgeous. One of the first locations it drops you into is a castle courtyard area that should be familiar from screenshots. At 60 frames per second, the structures look solid and the draw distance seems infinite (granted, the matte backgrounds are a little less impressive). I just wanted to run around and look at everything. Unfortunately, of the two game modes included in the demo, the one that features the castle has a ten-minute time limit.

So instead, I turned my attention to opening up a can. The only DMC I've played before is the third installment. I think it's a great game, one of the best for the PS2, but it's also ludicrously difficult. That's part of the charm. Advancing through that game took real skill. That's not the case with this demo. Your enemies seem to have taken their fighting techniques from classic martial arts movies, in which hordes of villains maintain a respectful distance while the hero battles one of their cohort. And since the demo also gives Nero only one sword and one gun, the rapid weapon switching that led to big combos in DMC3 isn't available here.

Instead of a time limit, the other portion of the demo limits you to one life. The purpose is to showcase a boss battle, a fight against a very large and angry flaming demon. Again, it seems a little easy -- I only tried it once, but I hacked away more than half of the boss's hit points before dying, without even attempting to analyze his attack patterns. Graphically, though, it's very impressive, not least because the size and detail of the monster doesn't lead to any perfomance hitches.

While it might have been nice to have an entire level to play through, at the end of it the Devil May Cry 4 demo did what it's supposed to do, which is make me want to play the full game. Just would have been nice if it had also made me want to play the demo again.

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