DmC: Devil May Cry Review
Developer: Ninja Theory
Genre: Hack n Slash, Action-Adventure
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
It’s difficult, as a longtime fan of the series, to play this game without being overly critical. When a new team comes in hell bent on changing everything you love about something, allowing a more objective head to take in the fruits of their labor is a herculean feat. It’s probably more difficult to play this game and not be of two minds about it. On one hand, it takes a formula that revolutionized its genre back in 2001 and raises the bar even further. On the other, it fails to take this opportunity to refine and mature some of the series more consistent follies.
The absolute strongest part of the Devil May Cry series is its over-the-top combat system. In the past, when executed correctly, you felt absolutely untouchable. But the learning curve was steep, and the style system as a complete mystery. Eventually, swinging a sword as Dante became a convoluted experiment in bringing a job system into hack-n-slashes. Ninja Theory has solved all of these problems.
Ripping enemies up as Dante is easier than ever to master. With nine different weapons at your disposal, all of which having different attributes and can be accessed on the fly, the kind of epic death that can be delivered to opponents is unprecedented. With an extra emphasis put on juggling and aerial ass-booting, looking like a pro is effortless, and with a very visible and reactive style meter, scoring like one isn’t that difficult either.
In fact, veterans of Dante-related affairs may find that this game on its default level might be too easy. You’ll find yourself moving from D-rank to S-rank in one combo. Vets will also find the lack of a manual targeting system disturbing. It’s easy to overcome, and by the second or third stage you won’t miss it generally, but there will be moments when you wanted one baddie, and got the wrong one.
But don’t let this sway you. Beating wholesale, Costco-grade demon ass is seldom more empowering and fun as it is in DmC. Exploring the depths of each weapon, learning their new combos and then finding ways to add them into your face smashing vocabulary is a significant part of the adventure. Spending points to master certain skills isn’t permanent, either, as you can refund those points in full at specified areas, in order to broaden your experimentations.
Of the biggest talking points volleyed violently back and forth throughout the internet during this game’s rather long marketing phase was the jarring difference between Capcom’s original Dante, and Ninja Theory’s interpretation. Many people couldn’t take the idea that their demon killing private investigator wouldn’t be wrapped in scarlet leather with a wispy white mane. Or more correctly, they didn’t want their Dante to be the grungy emo-bro he appeared to be transformed into. Though one isn’t more ridiculous than the other, this new Dante shouldn’t disappoint anyone wondering if losing his trenchcoat would somehow strip him of his attitude. In fact, for better or worse, this Dante isn’t much different than the original.
He’s brash, flashy, and arrogant, which are all things that encompass the character’s heart and soul, and being a badass is his number one priority. Anyone who loved these things about old Dante will probably have a hard time not liking this one. They aren’t exact clones, and there are noticeable differences in attitude (and new Dante’s love affair with the F-word), but consider new Dante a repurposing of the old formula; a product of this new and twisted environment.
That said anyone who found Dante to be sophomoric, insipid, or just plain lame, will probably find little charm in this one, either. Yes, this Dante is a bit more of a well-rounded individual with that tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold visage, but he is still somewhat the lowest common denominator of male power fanaticism. When he hasn’t spouted a hit-or-miss one-liner in a couple minutes, he almost seems offended, sometimes just yammering for little reason. Not in the same sense that Nathan Drake may speak to himself, saying what you’re invariably thinking about the situation you’ve gotten him in, but more like an over presumptuous version of that. It’s a disconnect that I’ve long felt with that character; I like Dante, but my version of badass is far more silent, because I have less of a chance of saying some of the stupid stuff that comes out of his mouth when I just don’t speak at all.
Which is a shame, considering the pedigree of Ninja Theory’s generally well received writing in both Heavenly Sword and Enslaved. Monkey and Trip have tight, funny, and poignant dialogue in Odyssey to the West. Even Nariko’s dialogues, though usually just more verbose Kratos-esque rants, hit the right notes. DmC’s writing, across the board, falls short of expectations. It seems overly dedicated to homage, but unfortunately what came off as witty and badass over a decade ago doesn’t hold water now (it barely did then.) In a game where everything else was taken back to the drawing board, this was the area I most expected to shine, and frankly, it’s the worst aspect of this reboot.
The acting, on the other hand, is actually quite good. Ninja Theory’s patented facial scanning techniques provide that extra level of depth for the acting, which makes everything seem that much more real. Dante’s tiny inflections, be it in his voice or small ticks in his face during tense moments, really helps convey the idea that this character can be related to in some way, if that way is even something as simple as his eyebrows actually furrow when he’s upset. This sort of detail really helps tell this reimagined story of the Sons of Sparda; one that’s broader, darker, and more tragic, even if it is super simplistic and pretty predictable.
The world you know is a lie. Borrowing a page from movies like The Matrix, common folk are simple sheep, grazing in a world we have no reason to believe isn’t real, when in actuality, we are being corralled by demons that we can’t see, led by their king, Mundus. They keep us tranquil with debt, weak with poisoned food, dumb with television; we are helpless to stop it. Except Dante, who could see through the ruse for as long as he can remember, and has been raging against the machine ever since. After being approached by Vergil and Kat, two members of a resistance group who also know the truth, they set out to right this wrong, because they’re the only ones that can.
The fleshing out of the Devil May Cry mythos is a welcome addition, considering most of its established presence is more implied than evident. Much of the older games stories were backburner stews to the main course and as this game isn’t much different in that respect, having the story be transparent and easy to understand is really one of the most important things in storytelling. Dante used to just exist in an arbitrary world where there were really no consequences for the game’s actions. Even though this world isn’t super detailed, it is still a very real looking place, where if buildings blow up, civilians are hurt, and blame is placed on someone. Another check mark on the list of ways to get people to relate to this game.
Most of your personal interaction in this game is in Limbo, a parallel dimension where demons dwell. In this place, everything is upside-down and backwards. A street isn’t a street if it doesn’t want to be, and the door you thought you were walking to can turn into growling maw at any moment. Limbo turns the structures and obstacles of the city around you into a living, breathing beast that really doesn’t like you. It makes every effort to kill you, and its amorphous and unstable nature provides some pretty intriguing level design and platforming patterns. Floors give way on the fly, making you think on your toes in order to get to a safe spot. These moments are really engaging, though unfortunately, the more dynamic world moving events that are the most fun to wiggle out of are few and far between. More often than not, the world will take a certain shape, and will remain that static shape long enough for you to traverse that particular section, giving the appearance of volatility, but not the actual experience.
It still looks damn good, though. The palette is rich and dynamic, and doesn’t get caught in the same predictable motif for too long. The soundtrack, made up almost entirely by original cuts by Nosia and Combiechrist, really cements the visceral, moody, and menacing vibe of Limbo and its denizens. The audio/visual combo, in addition to the level design, delivers some very unique and highly enjoyable gaming moments. Some of the game’s most creative levels, for instance the club mission, are a bombastic barrage of vibrant colors, entrancing sounds, and clever level design, sprinkled with clever social commentary and pop culture references. If every level was as creative as this one, the game would be truly stellar.
But, especially towards the end, a lot of what made the game so charming in earlier stages is gone. This is partly due to how quickly the final act proceeds, and how narrow the end goals become. Narratively, I get it, but it’s disappointing when you have grown to like the wide exploration of the platforming and the deep and rewarding combat, only to have narrow hallways to explore, and very small groups of specialized enemies to dispatch.
When everything comes together, the level design, the monster mix, the music, the combat, etc., DmC shines brighter than every other game in the genre. Unfortunately, the moons almost never align perfectly, which gives most of the game the feeling that something is missing, or could have been done better. Those who value deep and unique storytelling and competent script writing will not be swayed by the new Dante’s punky good looks. But you will not find a more satisfying hack and slash experience in this generation, making this the perfect reboot of this franchise, even with its detractions.