DmC Devil May Cry review
Read it and weep, haters…
Come on… why are you so angry? Just relax, have a nice little lie-down on the entirely fictional X360 therapy sofa as we, your wildly underqualified and entirely inexperienced shrinks, attempt to get to the bottom of what has made you so angry. Angry enough to disown an entire franchise based on one [insert misspelled expletive here] spin-off. Angry enough to blister the Internet with pockets of bile, poor grammar and bizarre entitlement. Angry enough even to bombard the poor development team with hate mail and oddly creative death threats. So take a breath, clear your mind and we’ll ask one more time – why are you so angry?
Is it the style of the game? That seems the most likely thing, especially given that the original reveal of the redesigned Dante – a young, dark-haired punk in unfamiliar threads – was a clear high point on the Backlash Bar Chart. Which totally does exist. We know because we drew it ourselves. Ninja Theory wasn’t expecting an easy ride when it reinvented the gaming icon, but they don’t even make hatches secure enough to be battered down and weather the kind of shitstorm that followed. In the context of a full experience, though, we can safely say that Dante’s new look works. It does. This is a solid origin story that begins with Dante a young man enjoying life – a little too much at times, it appears – due to being inexplicably brilliant at everything. His spiky demeanour is smoothed slightly over the course of the game as he learns his heritage, his loyalties and his true purpose so if you were worried about playing an entire game as a snotty little punk, don’t be. Granted, he’s still coarse and edgy right up until the moment the credits start to roll, but at least by the end he’s a rebel with a cause.
And in any case, Dante’s makeover is at least in keeping with Ninja Theory’s interpretation of his world. The real world is depicted as all washed out and grey – to the point of making Birmingham look positively colourful – and in this humdrum landscape, Dante sticks out as different, as unique. But as walls cave in, floors collapse and environments dissolve into Limbo (a plane of existence between the human and demon worlds), he feels right at home. The world of Limbo is an impossible clash of two extremes, just as Dante’s unique angel/demon parentage makes him an exceptional exception – a two-legged anomaly that walks between two worlds without fitting comfortably into either. After allowing Ninja Theory to explain itself in videogame form, we certainly don’t see any reason to get angry based on the lush and beautifully realised visual style on display here.
Is it the combat, then? Many seemed to be concerned that Ninja Theory would drop the ball in this most crucial of areas for the franchise. And based on the studio’s prior form, this was for a while a valid concern. PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword, the team’s fair first attempt at a genre Capcom had long since mastered, simply lacked the grace and bombast of Dante’s adventures (DMC2 notwithstanding) while Enslaved shifted focus away from melee combat, meaning that aspect of the game felt somewhat underdeveloped and lacking in depth.
But first hands-on sessions were months ago and for some reason, many still refused to believe the words of those who had stepped into Dante’s new size-9s (“HEZ MENT 2 B SIZE 10 U DIX”) and found them incredibly comfortable. Even with a demo out there, some blinkers remain on – it’s no DMC3 in terms of precision or depth, sure, but that’s no grounds on which to trash an entire game. By that logic, 99.9 per cent of games are terrible, Assassin’s Creed is the world’s most popular cut-scene and Halo 4 is irrelevant because Doom still exists. It’s just daft.
And in any case, Capcom has been keen to hammer home the fact that it has been heavily involved in DmC’s combat and only the most stubborn of nay-sayers could claim that its expertise doesn’t shine through. There’s a weight to the swordplay that makes it feel largely unlike anything Dante has done before but at the same time, the attention to detail – to precise timings, to frame data, to combo potential – proudly carries the Capcom watermark. It’s a slightly more cinematic experience here, as evidenced by the frequent camera zooms, micro-cut-scenes and awesome slow-motion slaughters – visual shrieks of delight and satisfaction as action scenes climax. But none of these intrude on the moment-on-moment gameplay, making combat almost as good as it has ever been. It’d be courting the wrath of the fan base to claim that only DMC3 does it better but having aced all four previous games, we’d struggle to hear it said that this wasn’t the case.
So is it maybe the weapons? No, can’t be – who could hate weapons? Well, except pacifists. In any case, DMC has always had ridiculous weapons. A set of ornate elemental blades fashioned from the bodies of twin demons, an electric guitar that spits out bats, a suitcase containing literally every gun ever… nothing in Ninja Theory’s game even comes close to the silliness seen in Dante’s previous loadouts. In fact, the collection of demonic and angelic tools at your disposal makes for one of the tightest arsenals seen in an action game. With every weapon available at the touch of a button and each serving a different purpose, there’s as much depth as you want to combat. Beginners can mash Y a bunch and stick with Rebellion attacks (at least until enemies dictate the use of other weapon types) to spam their way through the easier difficulties, while experts can piece together intricate combos that use all eight weapons in one YouTube-friendly SSS extravaganza.
Ever since DMC3, switching weapons on the fly has been a staple part of any self-respecting action game and DmC’s system refines the concept beautifully. The concept isn’t exactly easy to take in and chances are, you’ll be a good way through your first play before you really unlock its full potential. At its most basic, devil weapons are slower but more damaging while angel weapons serve as quicker, broader tools with which to work your orb-gathering magic. But it extends far deeper as you upgrade your kit – individual moves with certain weapons fit perfectly into combos as comfortably as neighbouring puzzle pieces and before long, you’ll have a move for every situation and a combo ready for any opening you manage to carve. And with the addition of a duo of whip moves to either pull yourself towards enemies or drag them to you, decent players will come to learn that combos don’t end until they say so.
Hold up – could it be that the anger has something to do with the game’s difficulty? DMC has a history of being punishingly tough and while this certainly isn’t a walk in the park, the fact that we were able to tame Dante Must Die difficulty with far less stress than the older games’ equivalents presented (which was A HELL OF A LOT, as we recall) suggests that the game is probably easier than its predecessors. As does the more generous grading system, although DmC’s willingness to throw around high grades and slightly undeserved alphabetic appraisals is offset by the more fleshed-out scoring system, where clean runs, tight combos and a refusal to rely on support items lead to better overall numerical totals as you battle for control of leaderboards. It’s different, sure, but it’s in no way bad.
Well maybe it’s the fact that Ninja Theory as a developer seems to champion storytelling over all else? Again, that’s a worry we can entirely understand, having been troubled by the very same thing on the game’s announcement. But while the game does take pride in the fact that it gets to define Dante’s origins, it seldom places greater importance on narrative or performance than combat – we dusted DmC for Andy Serkis’s prints and it came up clean. Anyway, what is there is a simple, solid and generally well-told story that doesn’t deviate too far from what we already know of the son of Sparda – Ninja Theory’s writers (with the help of Alex Garland) don’t elect to claim Dante was raised by pigeons, not do they decide that his demonic powers came from eating an out-of-date Twix, so that’s something.
No, wherever these still unresolved anger issues come from, Dante’s family issues are far easier to identify and understand. Mummy was an angel, daddy was a devil and they begat him, The Thing That Should Not Be, along with a brother in Vergil, The Thing That Also Should Not Be For Exactly The Same Reasons As The Other One. Mundus had mum killed and dad eternally imprisoned for daring to produce Nephilim offspring – conveniently, the only people/things/peoplethings capable of slaying him – and understandably, our young hero ain’t too happy about this turn of events. So partly looking to find revenge and partly in search of Boy Scout badges, the two set off to topple the demon lord from his throne atop the human race. Narrative is not and has never been an important part of the Devil May Cry experience and while Ninja Theory sets out (and manages) to weave a story around all the awesome things that are happening, it’s generally well-written and well-delivered enough to make up for the action downtime.
Right, well could it be the music then? That would be fair enough, after all. DMC has long been drenched in shouty nonsense metal but this time out, that’s joined by a little bit of the old wub-wub to create what critics are calling ‘something quite noisy’. Like the game’s artistic direction, though, it pretty much works in context – coarse loudness complements the action sequences really quite well (hence why it has become a thing) while the epic boss battles don’t taste any worse for the rich Dubstep Sauce in which they’ve clearly been marinated. There’s the odd moment where comes dangerously close to tumbling off the bandwagon but generally speaking, Combichrist and Noisia fill their roles at least adequately in providing a (moderately) musical backdrop for the high-intensity combo showcase.
It’s the hair, isn’t it? It must be. Some are still hung up on the new barnet, the flowing white locks of gaming’s number one action hero cause for the shedding of tears. But once again, it really isn’t a deal-breaker. From the streaks of white evident in Dante’s hair during certain cut-scenes to the shocking peroxide treatment it gets when Devil Trigger is activated, the seeds of that famous white wig are planted in this fledgling icon and those bleached moments even serve to offer a fairly exciting sniff of what awaits Dante in later life.
Well… what if it’s… no, we’re out of ideas. Turns out we’re terrible at this therapy lark, most likely because we’ve done all the talking and haven’t listened to a word you’ve said. But it isn’t just our therapeutic ineptitude that has led to utter failure in unearthing a single decent reason why DmC could or should incite and enrage – it’s just that those reasons don’t actually exist. While not cast from the exact mold Capcom uses in making Devil May Cry games, Ninja Theory’s freehand attempt at a reboot is outstanding in its own right. Hell, if it didn’t carry the name, we’re sure DMC fans would lap this up as a more-than-competent alternative.
So there’s the problem. It’s the name. The game itself is categorically excellent and even if it isn’t quite what you might expect from something labeled Devil May Cry, this is a robust, deep and brilliantly executed action game, not to mention a sterling effort at reinventing something that was – if DMC4 was anything to go by – beginning to grow stale. So it’s just the name that’s the issue, then? Heh. Maybe we aren’t such shitty shrinks after all.