DmC: Devil may Cry is not a hardcore action game with nefarious puzzles. It’s a somewhat more simplified experience where the combat is a touch easier and slicker, the characters are more flawed than ever and the world around them is less fantastical and more troubled.
It’s also a game that puts previous instalments in the franchise to shame, because of those decisions, and gives fans a better Dante in the process, something that Capcom could never do.
It’s a new take on the tale of Sparda and his legacy in Ninja Theory’s DmC. A reboot that oozes style, charisma and charm. Gone are the plastic sarcastatrons of previous games, and in it’s place is very real and disturbing world populated by characters who walk a grey line between good and evil.
It’s a layered world of demons and unaware humans who barely notice the They Live atmosphere around them, as they suck down demon-tainted energy drinks and believe everything they see on TV, all the while clamouring for a brief 15 minutes of fame. Enter Dante, a renegade hybrid of demon and angel blood, with a chip on his shoulder and a dry wit to match, as he spends his nights fighting and partying in a city that is trapped between hell and Limbo.
After a night spent raising all kinds of hell, Dante eventually finds himself in the cross-hairs of the Demon King Mundus, a man with links to Dante’s past. With an army of demons wanting him dead now, Dante has to fight his way up to Mundus, as he uncovers more about his past alongside his twin brother Vergil and the witch Kat, fighting all manner of limbo-spawned abominations along the way.
Rebooting the story of Sparda and his sons was always going to be a tall order for Ninja Theory, as previous Capcom instalments have always been a bit of a stretch on the imagination. What Ninja Theory gets right in this instance, is that their take on the tale actually feels far more believable, and easier to identify with.
There’s a thick layer of subtle satire hidden inside the game as well, as players find themselves treading the dimensions in financial institutions inhabited by beings who are less than human, or night clubs filled with vapid beats and distracting colours that lure in people seeking to stand out from the crowd.
Add to that a capable selection of voice-actors, and once again, the characters in DmC feel like fleshed out players in an action game that you can actually identify with. Previous DMC games have painted Dante as a loner with a sense of humour and a quick quip at the ready, but the Dante in this game is a touch more bitter, dryer and prefers to pepper his lines with curse words. But in the context of this game, you actually understand why he happens to be like that.
Yes, he lacks the trademark white hair and red coat of previous games, a controversy that he addresses in the game, before he nonchalantly disregards that criticism and gets down to business. And yes, he’s a better character because of those decisions that Ninja Theory made to make him less of a sword-swinging barbie doll, and more an anarchist with a bone to pick.
And it just works superbly, as it somehow grounds the ridiculous nature and over the top action of the game. Ninja Theory has always managed to score 2/3 when it came to developing games in terms of story and acting, but were usually left wanting in the gameplay department.
But with DmC, Ninja Theory finally bats three for three, hitting a high note with the gameplay. On the surface, it couldn’t be more DMC when it comes to combat. All the familiar moves are there, the juggles, the dodges and the slashes.
But it’s a quicker sense of combat now, and in a way, works like a puzzle. The core experience in DmC is that Dante finds himself in Limbo, a twisted mirror to our world that warps and corrupts the environment around it. Within that world, are the numerous beasties and demons that populate it.
Within those combat scenarios, Dante has to use techniques that walk the angelic and demonic side of his heritage, in the form of weapons that carry the usual benefits and drawbacks. Combat in DmC is done sans a lock-on feature, and while it may be an annoyance at times, it’s hardly a game-breaker as Dante moves from enemy to enemy with his assorted weapons.
Angel weapons such as the Osiris and favour speed and crowd control over power, while the hellish Eryx and Arbiter prefer to dish out punishment one heavy fist at a time to enemies. Alongside the trademark Rebellion sword and Ebony & Ivory Pistols, Dante unlocks even more abilities and weapons throughout his journey, including the DMC 4 idea of grappling.
Accessing demonic and angelic powers is done with the touch of a shoulder button, and likewise for grappling. Use an angel grapple, and you’ll pull yourself towards enemies, while a demon grapple pulls them towards you. It’s a fine system overall, and the crux of it comes from how well you can combine various attacks and weapons to ramp up your style score at the end of the day.
Sure, you can just rely on Rebellion to hack and slash your way through, but doing so defeats the purpose of the game. Controlling your zone of combat is about experimenting and adapting, something that is hammered home by various heavy demons that require a rock-paper-scissors method to defeat. Dante still has access to a devil trigger later in the game, although it’s been tweaked to favour dealing more damage to airborne enemies, as activating it sends foes flying into the air, ripe for a juggle assault.
Hit that style meter just right, and you’ll unlock more red and white orbs with which to upgrade your attacks and purchase more in-game items, an incentive to fight hard and fight with grace and skill. The combat system allows for easy weapon-changing overall, and you’ll find yourself clobbering in S level scores with a bit of practice. Granted, the streamlined combat may not be as deep as previous DMC games, but is sure is a hell of a lot more fun overall.
And it’s that embrace of supernatural qualities that is prevalent in the rest of the game world as well. Platforming sections require quite a bit of grappling, and while Ninja Theory drops the ball here by not exploring this element further, it’s still a fun idea nonetheless.
And it’s this exploration which opens up other avenues of exploration. A fork in the linear path, a quick look behind here or there, and you’ll find items such as health gauge replenishments or colour-coded keys for secret challenge levels, hidden throughout the game.
Some of these stages will require some backtracking though once you have the right equipment, in order to obtain them. Lost souls also populate the game world, waiting to be freed, while completing certain bonus objectives rewards players with concept art and bragging rights, symbolized in the leaderboard at the end of each mission.
There are plenty of enemy types with which to do battle in DmC, from witches to chainsaw-fisted behemoths and sneaky swordsmen that have a Nelo Angelo vibe that harkens back to the first game. And while taking on a varied group of them can be a challenge on the higher difficulties, it’s those precious few boss fights that makes the game stand out.
From ricocheting a giant blade back into the face of a demonic hunter beast, to punching the digital face of a Glenn Beck/ Bill’O Reilly news anchor, or taking on an energy drink secret ingredient demon that has a foul mouth, those fights best capture the spirit of the franchise.
They’re ludicrous, over the top and colourful, and while they may consist of some pattern recognition encounters, they’re still a treat to play. Grappling takes center stage with this idea, as pulling in and escaping enemies makes use of that gameplay mechanic through environmental hazards, before a smackdown can be administered.
And all in all, it’s the design of DmC that deserves some massive praise. Limbo is an ugly nightmare of a world, skewed and broken, while the denizens within it have faces that only a blind, deaf and dumb mother could love. It’s distinctly western in the design department, as the world that Ninja Theory has created combines imagination with a gritty reflection, before hitting the patriotic web of the demon-infested internet or the shallow pop-laden arena of a nightclub from hell that looks like a Black Eyed Peas video gone wrong.
And with a heavy metal soundtrack that is blacker than the blackest black times infinity, it completes the package of decadence, violence and absurdity.
At the end of the day, many longime fans are going to be downright pissed off at this new take on Devil May Cry. But scratch away at the surface, and you’ll find a game which doesn’t only honour the previous titles in the franchise, it stays pretty close to them in the core fundamentals.
Devil May Cry is an enjoyable romp, a ludicrous explosion of colour, fun and ideas wrapped up in some tight visuals and acting. If you’re stupid enough to dismiss this as a bad DMC game because it’s too shallow for your tastes or not Japanese enough, then you’re also being ignorant and too dismissive to appreciate a damn good action game at least.
[Disclosure: As of writing, we have yet to receive a review copy of DmC. The game was purchased at retail for the purposes of conducting this review]