DMC3 is the kind of action game that would pause to preen itself in front of a mirror during a gunfight: in fact, it wouldn't be surprising to catch the game's young and hungry Dante doing just that as he whoops and pouts his way through his debut devil-hunting performance. There's a winning lack of self-consciousness to its style - or 'stylish crazy action', to use the proper invented term - careening as it does between camp, cheese and music-video cool with machinegun rapidity.
An apparent unspoken rule of DMC3 previews is to open with a scathing dismissal of the rushed second title - but it's obvious that the new game owes much to Tsuyoshi Tanaka's (unfulfilled) vision for DMC2, playing up environmental gymnastics and contortionist gunplay. Where DMC2 stumbled with languid level design and hesitant enemies, though, DMC3's opening moments share the boisterous confidence of their hero: a brawl inside a Renaissance-decor pole-dancing club proves as endlessly replayable as the original game's encounter with the Blades outside the coliseum.
And yet the revelation is the way the game's fighting styles supplement rather than replace Dante's familiar moveset, which remains constantly available. Thus players able to reel off Stinger-to-High-Time combos on muscle memory alone can dedicate their circle button to Trickster speed dashes and wall runs (though triggering the latter can be awkward). Swordmaster, meanwhile, is almost a misnomer, as in addition to rapid blade attacks it reprises the ability of DMC2's secret character to toss your sword into an unfortunate foe and fight fist and boot until retrieving it. It's Gunslinger that convincingly steals the show, though, with immediately accessible, wildly showy dual aiming and a whipcracking shotgun special attack as iconic as the first title's pistol juggle.
Still absent is the Royal Guard unarmed combat style, rendered even more tantalising by the presence of Street Fighter 3 and Alpha's Kenji Itsuno as game director - Guardsman Dante is said to throw what looks suspiciously like a dragon punch. With Swordmaster and Gunslinger styles intended to adapt to each new weapon, and presumably more style-agnostic upgrades in store, the combat system could hardly be more promising. The question, as always, is whether the game can continue as it has so convincingly begun - and though it's hardly a series for the quiet approach, Capcom has remained coy on practically every aspect.
But the reassuringly lengthy development time - even the recent delay has been a backhanded relief - suggests the wait is best spent guessing who of Dante's shock-haired, katana-wielding brother Vergil or the game's nameless femme fatale will guest as unlockable characters. There's one question that can at least be answered: whether Dante can still hold his own in a genre that has taken so many evolutionary leaps since his arrival. On current form, it seems his 15 bullets of fame are far from up.
Devil May Cry 3 will be released for PS2 in early 2005