You wait three years for another third-person melee combat epic that isn't Bayonetta, and then three end up scheduled for release just a month apart from each other. January, February and March of 2013 will respectively bring us DmC, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and God of War: Acension. That will be quite the busy period for fans of the cinematic killing of multiple adversaries via brutal melee-based methods. But which way to go? Demonic, cybernetic, or aspringly deific? Its going to be tricky to choose.
So, having taken the opportunity to play all three games back-to-back at a recent event, we felt it was time for a proper comparison. Thus weve broken each game down and judged all three of them side-by side, based on the categories of accessibility, depth, variety and visual loveliness, the big core elements of any good 3D brawler.
And these are our findings.
Accessibility - DmC
Devil May Cry is certainly easier to get to grips with than it used to be. The refined control scheme (calm down, purists, it works just fine) seems to provide all the functionality Dante always used to have, but makes every thing feel a little more immediately to hand. His Angel and Devil move-set modifiers are now activated on the fly by simply holding down the left or right trigger while attacking. He also now has two melee buttons rather than just one, which take in a Soul Calibur style split between horizontal and vertical swipes, making launchers and mid-air strike-downs much smoother to initiate.
Similarly, the manual lock-on system has now been dropped, allowing smoother transition from one target to the next. The bumpers now control evasion moves, and can again be paired with Angel and Devil modifiers on a case by case basis. Overall movement control is smoother than in DMC4 but nothing revelatory. On the whole though, the streamlined control inputs make the whole experience a damn sight more approachable from the off.
Accessibility - God of War Ascension
Dropping back into God of War is as easy and reassuring as collapsing into a comfortable bed at the end of a long day. Yes, its a bit on the mashy side compared to the other two games, but GoWs gloriously responsive, deliciously weighty hits and the instant, tangible feedback mean that its impossible not to find yourself immediately, gleefully along for the ride.
Accessibility: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
A tricky beast to tame at first, is old Metal Gear Rising. Not as instantly flowing as Bayonetta, nor as easy to grasp the basics of, its the archetypal worth the effort entry in this little comparison of ours. Because while the core selection of attacks is built around a simple dichotomy of fast and light vs. slow and heavy, it has all kinds of extraneous bells and whistles bolted onto it.
The close-up slow-motion free-slicing that so quickly grabbed our attention a couple of E3s ago is brilliantly gratifying, but also a bit jarring when you first start trying to integrate it into combat. The snap-zoom of the camera and the need to manually direct your field of view towards your enemy with the left stick while slashing with the right makes blending the process into a combo rather a head-patting tummy-rub at first. Similarly, the ability to switch to special weapons such as grenades and rocket launchers leads to major pacing switch-ups which at first seem at odds with the core combat model. All of this stuff adds a great deal to the game given some practice of course, but it means that MGS: Rising isnt initially quite the cybernetic Bayonetta you might be expecting.
Depth of combat - DmC
Do not worry. The change to a western developer does not seem to have hurt Devil May Cry one bit. If anything the changes brought about by the series delivery unto Ninja Theorys warm, welcoming hands just seem to have freed up the intricacies of the combat for more easy access. All the important toys are still there, but the toy box lid is now thrown wide open.
The immediacy of the new controls for Dantes vertical and horizontal strikes allows much faster and more accessible switching between ground and air combat, while the fluidity of switching between Angel and Devil modes means that a huge array of stacked move variants are immediately under thumb. Dantes two different long-range grabs one zipping Dante towards the targeted enemy, the other pulling it towards him now operate completely separately from each other rather than being context-sensitive, meaning that controlling and manipulating space is a more empowered element of the game. The nuances of Devil May Crys combat controls have changed a fair bit, but the tweaks all have with the aim of facilitating more ostentatiously extended combos than ever before. And in that respect they absolutely work.
Depth of combat - God of War: Ascension
Arguably the most mash-friendly combat system of the lot, God of War goes for spectacle rather than split-frame accuracy demands. Not a damn thing wrong with that, mind, particularly when the spectacle is so gratifying to behold. That said, Kratos is obviously no mindless slouch. All the required aerial combat, grapples and weapon-switching move-set changes are present and correct. Its just that everythings a bit looser and more forgiving than youll find in the other two brawlers under inspection.
Depth of combat - Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
As mentioned previously, Metal Gear Rising is a bit slippery to immediately get to grips with. Though that is of course a good thing. In this genre thats always a promising sign that deep, dark violent rewards lie waiting to find those willing to put in the work. Straight mashing will only get you so far, even against the lowly military grunts that litter the place as low-level enemies. Youll definitely get a lot of killing done that way, but keeping a flowing combo rolling will take a bit more finesse than just hammering between light and heavy attacks and hoping for the best. Raidens moves are slick and powerful, but maintaining the best use of space takes some thought. Which is of course a good thing.
Similarly, that mouth-gaping slow-mo blade-work isnt something that you can just drop in whenever you want a get-out-of-jail-looking-awesome card. It severely limits your peripheral vision and locks you to the spot, meaning that youll need a strong grasp of the current battlefield layout in order to use it safely. Its a damn powerful tool, but its limitations are well balanced. Use it wisely. Ditto Raidens homing dive-kick. It can be a damnably effective way to mix things up and start a new line of surprise attack, but at the same time it leaves you wide open if the lucky chosen enemy sees it coming and deflects it. Thats an easy situation to leap into if youre not careful, particularly when dealing with bosses.
Visuals - DmC
DmC is a hell of a pretty game, especially in motion. The sketchy lines and painterly textures create a desperately vibrant world whose rich colour pallet seems to splurge out of the screen when the game is running at full tilt. Theres an almost schizophrenic eclecticism in the production design at times too. DmCs world lurches wildly between realistic urban decay and almost baroque fantastical grandiosity, and sometimes explodes beyond into utterly hallucinogenic loon-scapes. The overall art style just about holds all of this together in sense-searingly precarious fashion, giving the general impression of an angry, deeply mad game-world bursting at the seams to get out of the TV and bite you in the face.
Visuals - God of War: Ascension
God of War is a beautiful game. No two ways about it. Picking up where God of War III left off, the chunky, almost clay-modelled solidity of its characters and world heaps yet more weight and kinetic heft to its combat model. Of all three games on display here, God of War: Ascension is by far the glossy, touched-up supermodel of the group. Attractive in the most obvious way, its dedication to polished, slickly presented gratuity must nevertheless be applauded, goggled at and drooled over in equal measure.
Visuals - Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
While hardly an ugly game, Metal Gear Rising isnt as immediately striking as the other two. The sleek lines and subdued colour palette are pure modern Metal Gear of course, and cohesion with the universe is going to be a number one priority, particularly if the game is going to convince the numerous franchise fanboys currently wary of such a radically different spin-off. This being a Platinum game theres no doubt that some utterly lunatic spectacle will turn up later on, but so far Metal Gear Rising doesnt quite have the visual pop that were used to from the studio. But given the constraints of working on someone elses franchise that was perhaps inevitable.
Gameplay variety - DmC
This is another area where DmC has had another shake-up. While the emphasis is still on killing crowds of bad demonic things in increasingly cool ways, the between-fight stuff now feels properly fleshed out rather than awkwardly tacked on. Devil May Cry now feels a bit more like a continuous whole than the often disjointed structure of the old games allowed.
With DmC's various elements better integrated now, you might easily find yourself taking in several scuffles as you wander around the rooftops of a non-linear mini-sandbox looking for puzzle elements. You might find yourself navigating said challenge using the respective lasso/grappling hook of Dantes Demon Pull and Angel Lift abilities to assail and remodel the environment as needed. And you'll definitely find yourseelf enjoying DmC's noticably smoother, more creative platforming.
So yeah, definitely a more organic and rich overall experience. And after DMC4, it was about time.
Gameplay variety - God of War: Ascension
God of Wars pacing is typically relentless, mixing things up on a second by second basis. Nothing weve seen so far barring the separate multiplayer mode - is terribly groundbreaking, either for the series or for third-person action in general, but the sheer velocity with which the game throws out cool new diversions amplifies the effect of each change-up immensely. In just a couple of minutes youll find yourself destroying small enemy squads, wiping out bad guys using stolen weapons, throwing said weapons to impale more guys, platforming up a cliff-face, wiping a couple of armoured anthropomorphic statues, de-braining an elephant and then sprinting up a krakens tentacle only to jump into its mouth with the intent of extreme dentistry brewing heady in your mind.
Business as usual for God of War then, but such intensely delivered business that you wont have time to blink.
Gameplay variety - Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Metal Gear Rising is a surprising mash-up of play-styles, particularly in contrast with the impression you might have got from the brawl-heavy trailers so far. It definitely isnt the non-stop blade tornado youre probably expecting from a Raiden-based game from the guys behind Bayonetta. In fact theres actually a fair amount of stealthy skulking around to be done.
Okay, sneaking is nothing like as much of a focus as it is in Metal Gear Solid or a Splinter Cell, but levels are much wider and more open than those third-person fighters tend to provide, with (literally) stacks more verticality and angles of attack. Youll find plenty of lone guards hanging about unawares, just begging for a reverse-angled perforation. Youll also run into streets full of patrolling Gekkos, whose threat can be tackled in multiple different ways. You can sneak past them. You can soften them up with rockets from afar before moving in. You can go straight at them, blades a-twirl. Or you can try an awkward combination of all three, mess it up and simply run away to the end of the level, hoping that you dont get wiped out before you get there. The choice is yours, as is the guess of which of the above options is most likely to have been our approach.
Devil may buy? Metal Gear sold?
So which of the big three are you thinking of grabbing when they land early next year, and what has informed your decision? Let us know in the comments. We take it everyone's finally over Dante's hair colour now though, right?
And if you need any more of a case for any of these three, check out the respective Tokyo Game Show videos for DmC , God of War: Ascension and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance via the very links in this here sentence.