Action movies illuminate the anxieties of their age. Their villains represent our fears, or at least those that the filmmakers presume we have. These bad guys are the evil-of-the-moment that we might most want to see punched in the face: Soviet masterminds, drug dealers, Silicon Valley moguls, terrorists, media barons.
Action video games seem to have an advantage over movies here. Audience members don’t just watch. They press buttons. They have, via game controllers, a chance for catharsis.
But many mainstream games, steering clear of almost all social commentary, have remained preoccupied with the hell of war, the coolness of aliens and the ever-present danger that someone out there might want to kidnap Super Mario’s girlfriend, Princess Peach. Real-life anxieties are rare. It is apparently hard to concoct an experience that enables players to punch the global economic downturn squarely on the jaw. The new game “DmC” – for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 – at least tries.
“DmC’s” opening moments stand out. A barrel-chested bald man in a general’s uniform completes a cellphone call with a president he has just threatened to blame for the ruin of the economy. We’ll eventually know the bald man as Mundus.
He surveys an array of monitors that show offshore drilling platforms. He turns to a haggard, skimpily dressed woman and boasts: “Soon I will own everything worth owning. I will control the world through debt. I have absolute power.” We will later learn that he controls his own 24-hour news channel. What’s more blood-boiling these days than that?
This guy, in this game, is going to be punched. By you. That’s the implicit promise of the medium and the genre.
“DmC” is the latest video game in the “Devil May Cry” series born on the PlayStation 2 in late 2001. As before, its playable protagonist is a man named Dante, who needs to kill demons for some greater good, this time in a modern city possessed by them.
To someone only watching them, “Devil May Cry” games seem like a teenage boy’s profane hormonal vision of what the most fantastic adulthood might be like: the adventures of a carefree, impossibly coifed man who enjoys the admiration of sexy women, has easy access to pizza and wields the weapons needed to eliminate the many devils infesting our world.
To those who play them, “Devil May Cry” games are virtual violence as jazz, with points for variety and deductions for doing the same thing repeatedly. Players have a character to control and demonic enemies to dispatch using an extraordinary mix of sword-, ax- and gun-based maneuvers.
The games’ creators have mapped dozens of strikes, shots, parries and evasions to different combinations of button presses on a controller. As fingers stretch, reach and tap with purposeful changes in timing, you might guess that this is what a master trumpet player’s hands feel like.
To those fingers, the new “DmC” is familiar, though less stressful than its predecessors. Like so many modern games, it is easier than those before it. Our hero is tougher, and survival through the game’s 10 hours is all but guaranteed. Going unhit, however, remains a challenge that will be met only by those players swift of reflex and interested in improvisation.
DmC, developed by Ninja Theory and published by Capcom Entertainment, is rated M (Mature) for gore, intense violence, nudity and strong language.