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by Take Two

“Devil inside, devil inside…” over and over again. Delivered in this hyper-raspy Michael Hutchence wannabe timbre. That’s how it’s been ever since the editors passed me TalonSoft’s “The Devil Inside” pc game. “What’re you working on? Oh, yeah. ‘Devil inside, devil inside…’”. The joke’s okay until Rick starts doing the batdance and Al ties his front shirttails into a knot over his bellybutton and starts voguing. Actually, Al and Rick’s shenanigans are in keeping with the campy atmosphere and goofy story of “The Devil Inside” and suggest the preferred sensibility players might adopt while they play this game.

Other reviews of “The Devil Inside” (“DI”) have been spotty. Some critics assert that “DI” is the worst game ever released, or at least the worst game they’ve played in a while. Others claim it is a worthy successor of (or at least a step-cousin to) the “Resident Evil” franchise. Not content to rest in either camp, I’ll stick to the road and say that “DI” is a pretty good game with some commonplace glitches.

Before addressing the good and bad points, here’s a few words on the story: In “DI,” players assume the role of Dave Cooper, a pretty-boy tough-guy who used to fight crime for the LAPD before his scorching good looks and blistering wisecracking landed him a gig as a gumshoe-gunslinger for the controversial WWWL@ television network. What makes WWWL@ controversial? Namely, its shady emcee, Jack T. Ripper, and its paranormal content, both of which rival SSSW network contends are sensationalistic pabulum manufactured to exploit a stultified and superstitious viewing public. DI actually occurs as an episode of a popular television series of the same name, which is sort of like a bastardized “COPS” cum “X Files” show replete with in-your-face camera work and freakish pandemonium.

In an attempt to rend the shroud of sham that cloaks WWWL@ programming (and in a bid for broadcasting supremacy), SSSW sends their own version of broadcasting badass to the DI “set”: Ms. Angelina Axelrod. Angelina is supposed to provide an antithesis to the dark and sarcastic Dave Cooper; he is suspicious, she is curious; he seeks the sensational, she goes after the facts; he believes what he sees, and she trusts only scientific method. Of course, it all goes badly for Angelina and Dave has to play the hero. But this isn’t the mission of the game. Rather, Dave’s assignment is ridding a haunted Hollywood mansion, Shadow Gate, of the spiritual minions of the—get this—Night Howler, an insane serial torturer and murderer who had been executed for his crimes and somehow got sprung from his eternal damnation in Hell because of some afterlife technicality. I won’t get into the theological subtleties of “DI” here, but rest assured that they are as silly-assed as anything posited in “Dogma.” But the game wasn’t designed to please the Thomists out there. It’s supposed to be fun, and that it is.

One of the most entertaining components of “DI” is this “live-action” television show concept that frames the game. The game moves back and forth between Dave, who is constantly trailed by a cameraman, and the DI set, which is glitzy, packed with a live studio audience, lots of neon and scantily clad, uh, hostesses, and dominated by big screens and Jack T. Ripper’s podium. Ripper’s job is to egg on the audience and Dave, and to supplement our hero’s terse, witty comments—“You just lost some weight, buddy” when he blows off a zombie’s head and “Do you need a hand?” when he blasts away an arm—with zany commentary and advice. Ripper’s remarks aren’t always reliable, however, and players always risk clobbering if they take his advice. While some might assume that this banter could become annoying, “DI’s” developers use it pretty tastefully, and it adds a lot of character to the game. Admittedly, the shift between studio and live-action cameras is sometimes jarring and disconcerting, but it fits the chaotic mood of the game. Also, when rapid shifts do occur, players can expect to get locked into some hairy combat when the commercial’s over.

In order to extend and enrich the notion that players are participating in a live action program, game play is seamless, notwithstanding the commercial breaks and camera shifts mentioned above. So there are no levels in “DI.” All action occurs around and in Shadow Gate. And while players must backtrack at times, this repetition, too, adds more depth to the “live-action” concept that unifies the game.

In terms of actual gaming controls, “DI” features a standard customizable keyboard/mouse combo. Character and camera control are solid, although the camera options in “DI”—players can choose an isometric, side scrolling, or first-person cameraman point of view—aren’t very useful. It is kind of cool to pause during the game and try the different cameras, but the options don’t really enhance game play or strategy in any significant way. They DO, however, mess with game design and virtual reality possibilities—Who REALLY designs the games? Programmers or players? Who’s watching who? Says who?—in compelling ways. “Thief II” toyed with such questions in more complex ways, but “DI” persists in exploring these ideas with absurdity and humor. Also, control and animation slows and becomes woody when there is too much going on aurally and visually; when open flames and reanimated corpses proliferate, the game play and sound tend to get sticky.

The graphics in “DI” are decent. Particularly impressive are the architectural nuances of Shadow Gate. In this decrepit hellhole, mirrors accurately reflect whatever’s in front of them (there’s that “Who’s watching who” motif again, at least when Dave’s looking in the mirror staring back at the player), toilets flush, and torn paintings reveal brown paper backing. The characters aren’t as convincingly rendered, but they look pretty good, especially when viewed isometrically. This visual disparity may reflect—or add to—the idea that a jarring difference separates what falls into our line of vision in the world and what the television deposits there for us. “DI” also calls into question the nature of celebrity and what it demands of those who want it. Dave, for example, has a televised antithesis in Angelina, but his alter-ego is Deva, a fearsome and buxom demonette who dispatches stray souls to her master Lucifer after Dave has dealt with their fleshly incarnations. As the game progresses, players wonder how Jack T. Ripper’s celebrity depends on Dave’s peril, or whether Dave matters at all without Ripper.

So “The Devil Inside” is pretty good entertainment. Challenging and compelling gameplay and story more than make up for mediocre graphics and the occasional technical snafu. If asked to issue a withering bitch about “DI,” I’d have to point to the game’s documentation and say that it’s complete crap. The manual consists of eight graphics heavy pages that give players some ironic fluff but say little or nothing about options, game play, control or strategy. Still, even this minimalism says something substantive about “The Devil Inside”: there’s nothing new here, but what more needs to be said or done on the topic of PC gaming fun? Coulda, shoulda and woulda, maybe, but “DI” still delivers enough familiar action/adventure shenanigans to make it an adequate holiday diversion.

Greg Matthews


Ups: Novel concept; Shadow Gate haunted house outdoes anything local Rotarians or Jaycees can scare up; seamless and familiar game play.

Downs: Worst documentation this side of Cerberus’ three heads; occasionally woody animation and sound; nothing new here.

System Reqs: P233, 32 MB RAM, 4 MB 3D card


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