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Devil May Cry 5 Review — SSSlick as Hell

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Devil May Cry 5

Capcom’s slow drip of Devil May Cry rereleases has finally led to the only logical conclusion. More than ten years on from Devil May Cry 4, Dante and Nero have returned, alongside a new playable character—V—and the result is staggering. In so many ways, Devil May Cry 5 is the most diverse, rambunctious, bombastic, and engaging in the series’s history. The game is an action extravaganza on a scale that has never come before, but Capcom has fumbled the execution slightly.

Series fans will be instantly familiar with the set-up. A demonic threat has emerged to wreak havoc upon the human world, and the legendary demon hunter Dante steps forward, courtesy of V’s intervention. Meanwhile, Nero (now a kind of mobile branch of Dante’s business) also gets drawn into the fray. So far, so familiar, but Devil May Cry 5 does the unexpected, beginning with the three protagonists being dominated by the new adversary, Urizen.

Flash forward a month and the story begins in earnest. Dante is missing, while Nero and V have returned, powered up and hoping that their refined skills will be enough. The mystery of V’s identity and his connection to the events taking place is a driving force for the story, and this intimate, character-driven approach works well. Ninja Theory’s ill-fated reboot/sidestory excluded, this new entry offers the most engaging and cohesive narrative of the entire saga. Memorable characters abound, and the motivations are not only clear, but entirely justifiable. Even so, any misguided hopes for deeper meaning should be set aside; the series has always ruminated on themes of family and power, and Devil May Cry 5 offers few surprises on this front.

In fact, the adherence to type is the most disappointing thing about the game. The central plotline is entirely predictable, and, while Capcom should be commended for attempting something different with the conclusion, it is dissatisfying from both narrative and gameplay perspectives. More problematic, though, in this age of God of War, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is the absence of context for boss battles. As has historically been the case, such foes cap missions, but are rarely presented as anything more than obstacles preventing Dante, Nero, and V from reaching their ultimate goal of Urizen. The regression is particularly prominent when contrasted against DmC: Devil May Cry’s approach, where bosses were telegraphed far in advance and contributed to the social commentary of Ninja Theory’s subtext.

The archaic design principles extend to the battles themselves. Before every combat sequence comes the means of healing and upgrading the player character, with minimal effort apparent to integrate them logically into the overarching level design. Furthermore, too many of these battles resort to the worn-out trope of arena-style battlefields where the only agency is to go on the offense to chip away oversized health bars. The tired combat design stands out even more in terms of the sheer imaginative value of the look of bosses. The gothic aesthetic returns in full force for some, while others draw more from mythology and even outright horror. The visual diversity is brilliant. Furthermore, for all the aforementioned criticisms, this type of boss battle is exactly what fans of the series crave.

Therein lies the biggest caveat for Devil May Cry 5: it is a game for the fans. Outsiders will no doubt appreciate the slick gameplay and intense combat. However, veterans will take the most from the title thanks to allusions to the past and a heightening of the tenets that have long driven the series forward. If any step back is worth noting, it is the reduced difficulty when compared to previous entries. Unfitting platforming challenges and bizarre puzzles have been excised almost entirely, making progression more straightforward. Meanwhile, failing to fight stylishly will still result in quick deaths, but the battles are more forgiving than they have been since Devil May Cry 2.

To that end, any concerns about the game’s online connectivity should be set aside. Other players sync into the campaign, but their influence is minimal, as they are rarely seen. Nonetheless, their presence does have the measurable effect of providing additional gold orbs (an item that revives the character after death) if they rate you as a stylish fighter. Much has also been made about Capcom’s decision to make red orbs purchasable through microtransactions, but Devil May Cry 5 remains as generous with this currency throughout the campaign as the series has ever been.

Each of the tritagonists has a unique fighting style. V uses demonic familiars to battle foes, keeping his distance and recharging his Devil Gauge through reading. Nero’s motorcycle-sword/gun combo returns, with his combat skills expanded through an array of mechanical Devil Breakers following the loss of his demonic arm. Meanwhile, Dante is aplomb with variety—four different combat styles combine with eight weapons and two separate Devil Triggers to make controlling him a dance more intricate than action-gaming has ever seen before. With every style, weapon, and skill being upgradable, the wealth of options is simply jaw-dropping. Capcom could have made three separate games, and no-one would have had cause to complain.

Unfortunately, environmental diversity is not to the same standard. Early on, players explore a variety of locales within the anywhere of Red Grave City. Alleyways, metro stations, and churches are just some of the locations accounted for, all offering distinct (if not unique) spaces for combat encounters. However, the later stages see the city increasingly set aside in favour of the demonic world, where a kind of organic horror predominates. Massive roots twist through a world dominated by reds and browns for an aesthetic reminiscent of nothing so much as Dead Space or—in some ways—Agony. The inclusion of an obstacle course for Nero’s rocket arm is a testament to the lengths that Capcom has gone to ensure the demonic worldscape remains interesting, but the repetitive look wears out its welcome quickly.

The same cannot be said for the audio. The experienced voice cast play their roles with gusto, striking a fine balance between humour and seriousness that never falls into melodrama. As ever, Reuben Langdon as Dante is the standout, setting and carrying the tone of the entire game. Supporting the voice work is the hard rock soundtrack that provides a perfect backdrop to tear apart the demon hordes. Few individual tracks stand out, but that is more because of the high standard of the entire selection.

Devil May Cry 5 does so many things right: the engrossing narrative, the understated integration of online elements, and, most prominently, the stunning amount of variety in the combat mechanics. These aspects move the series forward, but this new entry also replicates some of the duller qualities from action games of yesteryear. This tendency prevents Devil May Cry 5 from being the new standard bearer for the genre, but that does not prevent it from being something truly special.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on Xbox One X.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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Review

RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure

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RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 5

A Conflicted Beginning

The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.

Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.

As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.

Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 1

With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).

Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.

Gunplay To Die For

Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.

Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.

The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.

Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 2

Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.

The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.

The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.

However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.

A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast

The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.

Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.

With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 6

To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).

Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.

A Slipshod Structure

Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.

Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.

Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 8

On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.

Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Xbox One X.

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