We’ve had The Intern’s review, which was a verdict on DmC from the perspective of a newcomer to the Devil May Cry series. Now it’s time for a review born of a DMC veteran’s experience with Ninja Theory’s reboot.
Like every other fan of Devil May Cry, I remember thinking something often abbreviated to WTF!? when I saw the first teaser trailers of DmC, a reboot of the popular action series featuring the grizzled, white-haired demon hunter Dante – only it wasn’t the grizzled, middle-aged-looking white-haired Dante we’d come to know and love.
Instead, it was some young, black-haired, poncy-looking pretty-boy. Is this Dante? Apparently it is. Seriously? But it can’t be, he looks like a nancy boy who got lost on his way to auditions for Twilight. After my initial amazement at this new design, I became strangely enthused about the idea, partially because I’m always in favour of a fresh new start and direction to an established franchise – but mostly because I knew how much it would piss off the fans, and anything that pisses off an idiot fan must be worth supporting.
In fact, that point was actually in the brief that the designers received. I can’t remember where I read it, but apparently the supervisors from Capcom asked for a radical new design for Dante – something that would shock them and make them angry. Well, you gotta admit, they nailed it. Also, the game was not being developed by the original team at Capcom, but by UK-based Ninja Theory, who gave us the pretty but shallow Heavenly Sword, and the halfway-decent Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. With only those two uninspiring offerings [Really? I actually thought Enslaved was pretty damn good. Heavily underrated even. – Ed.] as proof of their skill, Ninja Theory didn’t seem to be a top-pile choice to develop a game with DMC‘s pedigree. What kind of product would they deliver?
Well, it’s been out for a little while, so let’s take an in-depth look at it. As you start the game, you’re treated to a loud, colourful, violently sexualised opening in which we’re introduced to the new young Dante as he picks up two slappers at a strip club and takes them home to his boardwalk trailer near a beach carnival. It then cuts to the next morning, as Dante is forced to get out of bed to answer a knock on his trailer door – which he does stark-ass naked, no less. He’s greeted by a strange-looking young woman who tells him he’s in danger, mere seconds before he’s attacked by a massive demon.
The demon wrecks his trailer and knocks him backward – while he’s still naked, but luckily it’s a cleverly shot scene, so we don’t have to see little Dante flapping around in the wind. He manages to grab his clothes during one of those ridiculously over-the-top acrobatic action scenes we’ve come to expect from the series, after which it plonks us into the tutorial. You’ll learn pretty quickly that this really is Devil May Cry. The game feels basically the same as its Japanese-made predecessors, and about the only real difference I noticed was the lack of a lock-on feature to make Dante focus on a single enemy, meaning you have to manually point him in the right direction.
After you finish the first stage and go through the rest of the game, you’ll start to notice one of the biggest standout features of DmC: the tone. It’s much darker, grittier, and adult than the relatively anime-like originals. Take for instance Dante’s cocky discourse with the many bosses in the game. In the original games, he was cocky too, sure, but his pre-fight banter with the building-sized monsters usually had a high-brow, bombastic tone to it, “How dare you challenge me, you insignificant human! I’m am the lord of the fire hell, and my power is wasted on you!” and so on. But in DmC, things often degenerate quickly into four-letter name-calling. It’s not uncommon to hear demons telling you they’re going to eat your flesh and shit on your bones, and Dante’s screaming match with a succubus boss ending in, “Eff you! No, Eff You! No, EFF YOU!”. I’m not even kidding.
It’s hilarious, and strangely fitting, because the demons this time around are portrayed as fleshy, disgusting and gross, rather than the supernatural, flame-wreathed, crystal-studded, scale-covered, majestic-looking demons of before. The boss fight with the Mundus spawn in the nightclub was particularly stomach-churning for me, and I was pretty sure I’d been thoroughly desensitized through years of gaming. [Convenient link – Ed.]
As far as the story goes, I found it pretty compelling. The woman who rescues Dante turns out to be a psychic named Kat. She takes Dante to meet his brother, Vergil, who convinces him to join them on a mission to kill the Demon king, Mundus, who has taken control of the world through debt, commerce and invasive surveillance. Hmmm, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Maybe the game is trying to tell us something. Anyway, Dante, Vergil and Kat make for an appealing trio with strong personalities who you’ll care about enough to want to see the next cut scene. They kind of come across like the sexy young stars of some kind of supernatural TV series, like Buffy, Angel or Lost Girl – you know, the kind of shows that generate obsessive fans.
To achieve their goal, Vergil tells Dante he must draw Mundus out by wrecking his two main operations and kidnapping his demon squeeze, Lilith. That’s far from easy, though. All the legions of hell stand in his way, and they’re not the kind of mindless beasts that wander blindly into the arc of Dante’s sword like the enemies in other games. Each enemy type has its own strengths and weaknesses and attack patterns. Some enemies block, others stay out of your range, and others dodge. Some enemies attack with melee weapons, others use projectiles, some use bombs, and others charge at you. Fighting each type of enemy on its own isn’t much of problem, but once you get past the first few stages, enemies usually appear in grab bags of two or three types. Avoiding the attacks of three different types of enemies – and possibly some environmental hazards – while trying to attack them in ways they’re vulnerable to is trickier than I could ever put into words.
Luckily, Dante has plenty of offensive options to tip the odds in his favour. After starting out with only his twin pistols and his sword, he can acquire several other melee weapons and firearms. The melee weapons fall into two categories: angelic and demonic. Each of these weapons has several attacks, and players can make Dante switch instantly between them by holding down L2 for angelic weapons and R2 for demonic weapons. Not only does this allow him to mix-up dozens of attacks to create impressive and stylish combos, but it’s also used intelligently in the gameplay. While holding down the L2 button, Dante is in angel mode, and R2 puts him in devil mode, each of which allows him to avoid certain types of hazards or damage enemies he wouldn’t otherwise be able to damage. For instance, devil mode makes Dante immune to fire; and angel mode allows Dante to glide, which is used in hazard traversal and in combat, particularly against bosses.
Speaking of bosses, the bosses in DmC are awesome. They continue the series’ tradition of being incredibly hard, but not impossible, especially when you start to experiment. Sure, you can beat them fair and square in a straight up battle of attrition by memorising their body-language and patterns – but if you sacrifice a few lives to mess around, you can often discover useful tricks or ludicrously effective weapon combos you would never have thought of before. There may be ways to interrupt their powerful attacks, hidden ways to knock them down outside of the obvious attack-pattern, or ways to reach their vulnerable spots sooner than normal. That’s classic Devil May Cry right there.
All of this is made even more impressive by the amazing visuals. DmC looks like nothing you’ve ever seen. The visuals are mind-blowingly gorgeous with superb designs and tons of cool effects. If it’s possible for games to look like this, why do we even need another generation of games machines? Lilith’s dance club stage is a particularly good example, the way they ran with the metaphor or music and fused it into both the visual and gameplay design is something I’ll remember fondly for years to come – which is quite amazing, because in reality, I hate this fake, shallow, sexy, idiotic club culture bullshit. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, the Raptor News Network boss may just go down as one of the coolest video game experiences in history. Ever. Seriously, the game is worth playing for that experience alone.
Anyway, this is starting to sound like gushing, even to my own ears, so I’ll wind down on a more sober point. Before I played DmC, I was dabbling in a lot of RPG-ish type of games – games where you grow in power with a time investment and no real skill. Well, that won’t work in DmC; you’ve got to sit up, pull your thumb out and seriously concentrate. Sure, you can buy new attacks and abilities with white souls earned by fighting stylishly and acquiring a high ranking at the end of each stage – but all they do is give you more options, they don’t make you better at the game. The only thing that can make you better at DmC is you… and effort… and practice.
If you’re going to buy DmC, play it through once on normal difficulty and then trade it in, I guess you’ll have fun, but you’d be missing the point entirely. It’s a hardcore action game for hardcore action game fans – people willing to sacrifice social interaction and personal hygiene in pursuit of that elusive SSS ranking on each stage. If that’s you, then buy DmC. It’s exactly what a hardcore action game should be.