There is an old adage which states, ‘Better the devil you know’. Since the unveiling of DmC Devil May Cry, this seems to have been the prevailing sentiment of gamers who have whined about every announced change to the familiar formula. From a complete aesthetic redesign to the apparent shuffling around of the roles of certain recurring characters and, most heinously, the halving of the traditional framerate, forums have been set alight time and again by ‘fans’ venting their frustration at the direction taken by Ninja Theory in the reinvention of the acclaimed series. The game has been hated and reviled, with preconceived notions taking hold and never letting up: but is such virulent dislike justified now, on the game’s release?
In a word, no. What Capcom and Ninja Theory have delivered is an eminently solid production that pays homage to the original Devil May Cry at almost every turn while managing to carve out its own compelling personality upon the strength of the developer’s storytelling. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has knowledge of Ninja Theory, as each of their prior productions has been acclaimed for the narrative that they possess and with novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland returning as Story Supervisor (after acting as co-writer on Enslaved: Odyssey To The West) a recipe for success is adhered to.
One of the things that makes the story so engaging is that it closely follows the layout of the archetypal “Hero’s Journey”, and manages to be one of the most excellently executed examples of it to be found in gaming. Dante’s nihilism and purposelessness is clearly expressed through his attitude and interactions with the other lead characters in the opening chapters and his progression to overcome these flaws is brilliantly handled. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the revamped character is someone entirely different to the old Dante, however. He is just as brash and self-assured as ever, if not more so, though he is also more profane and just a tad anarchistic. Taken as a character study, DmC is a marvel, creating a more believable and likeable protagonist than the original continuity managed across four titles.
This wouldn’t be possible without a supporting cast, however, and it is of crucial import to not overlook them. The most prominent supplementary role is that of Vergil, Dante’s twin brother, who has been a fan favourite since DMC3. In this incarnation, he acts as a guide and friend, creating a dynamic heretofore unseen, allowing for a wonderful sense of camaraderie to spring up between them that is often amusing. The other lead role belongs to Kat, a medium who provides a very different kind of foil that makes her a charming character in her own right. Though these two are responsible for most of the characterisation of Dante, different facets of his personality are displayed in interactions with both enemies and one particularly memorable unaffiliated, philosophical individual.
As for the key narrative thread, it is most reminiscent of the seminal game with the goal being the death of the Demon King Mundus, who is a major businessman in the human realm with the power to topple governmental regimes. In this respect, the character pays homage to the antagonists of both the first and second games while providing a far more convincing threat than either. His backstory, and the way it is interwoven with that of Dante, is also better explored, providing a palpable reason for hatred. Better yet is that, although evil, he isn’t entirely one dimensional and enough time is dedicated to his portrayal to get this point across.
The quest to get to him winds about, but none of it feels superfluous, giving the game a palpable sense of direction. And this carried through to the closing moments, which are bittersweet and simultaneously conclusive and open. To witness the ending is satisfying, a rather rare experience in gaming, though it still leaves enough loose threads for a potential sequel to not feel forced. Perhaps most brilliant is the theme of identity that underscores the narrative, which serves to make it an even more interesting ride. That being said, the exploration of this theme could have used more depth but to knock the story due to an unfulfilled wish, especially when it deserves to be counted among the best that gaming has to offer, would be petty. If there is a single, indisputable fault to be found in storytelling on show here, it is that the dialogue can feel slightly off. Sometimes it stems from unnatural interactions and others from an overuse of profanity but it doesn’t detract greatly from the quality inherent in the overall writing.
That being said, the fault for it does lie entirely in the script as the cast of voice actors has done an exemplary job across the board. Friendly banter, philosophical waffling, heartfelt conversation and explosions of anger; every intended emotion is elicited and encapsulated, helping to elevate the strength of the narrative production, and when backed up with the admirable motion capture performances, we find acting that is all but perfect. Working in concert with this is the powerful composition headed by electro groups Combichrist and Noisia. Primarily threaded with immensely fitting heavy metal tracks, there are few occasions when the impact of the background music flags. That being said, it is important to note that it isn’t all pounding beats, as there are brief moments of respite where they are most appreciated. Only slightly less impactful is the sound effects. This isn’t because they’re unfitting or asynchronous to the action, but because they don’t seem to give enough of an aural focus, more often blending into background noise than feeling as though you are controlling the swings and strikes. That being said, the different ideals match up to the variance in the weapon classes, with demonic arms featuring powerful, visceral notes while angelic ones are lighter and breezier and the standard Rebellion strikes a fine balance between these two extremes.
The times that these sound effects stand at the fore correspond wonderfully with the gameplay. The demonic weapons are the stronger class, though this comes at the expense of speed and area of effect. These weapons are best used for quickly dispatching single foes in moments of relative peace, while the angelic ones are better for herding enemies and dealing widespread damage. With Rebellion sitting between the two, there are arms for every occasion, and the ease with which you can switch between them to chain insanely long combos is refreshing. In this respect, it is quite welcoming to newcomers though, as advertised, long term fans will also find plenty of depth to keep them satisfied as it isn’t exactly easy to attain the coveted SSS style ranking. Several core mechanics are essential to achieving this, including evasion, gunplay to keep the combo counter active and the grapple which allows you to move quickly and efficiently from one enemy to another. Familiar moves, such as attack cancelling and jump resetting are back for those that know how to take full advantage of them.
And speed really is the name of the game here. Veterans of the series will inevitably notice that the combat is slightly slower but the drop really isn’t enough to be a deal breaker. It is still hectic and frenetic, requiring you to always be aware of what enemies you are facing and the best stratagems to deal with them. Thankfully, the developers have created enough different enemy classes to ensure that combat is diversified throughout and the difficulty ramps up in line with your ever-growing arsenal and knowledge of the gameplay mechanics. That being said, the battles rarely pose any great challenge on the default difficulty settings. This is a definite disappointment given the sentiments of the battle system, but dedication is well rewarded with the unlocking of additional difficulties that ramp things up magnificently upon completion of the campaign. Further issues raise their head in the lack of a lock-on function, which results in certain aspects of the combat control being fiddly, including making the classic Stinger move, and other attacks that use the same input, difficult to execute, as well as necessarily removing the number of attacks available. The automated lock-on does a pretty good job in general, though. The final flaw is in the Devil Trigger. Yes, it powers up Dante and regenerates his health, as in its previous incarnations, but it just doesn’t feel useful here, partially due to the way that it launches every surrounding adversary into the air, making it a more specialised manoeuvre, rather than a general purpose one.
But combat is only one aspect of the gameplay, albeit the most important. As seems to be increasingly common in games of this ilk, liberally interspersed between arenas, and sometimes a part of them, are platforming segments. These actually help in learning certain controls that aid immensely in the combat – namely the double jump and the ability to quickly switch between the two different grapples. Unfortunately, they do little more than this, as they are scripted to the point that failure is almost impossible unless your reflexes aren’t quite up to scratch. Simply put, there is little finesse and it makes these sections almost unwelcome. On another note, the game is largely devoid of the uninspired puzzles and fetch quests of the previous games, meaning that it has finally shaken off the last vestiges of Resident Evil’s influence. This is not a bad thing.
What is, however, are the areas in which you are stripped of your abilities. The justification for this is the implementation of two separate realms: the “real” world and Limbo. The first is home to the humans, while the latter belongs to the demons. Dante does not have access to his weapons in the real world, which makes the sections that you play either in or alongside it tedious and boring. A case can be argued that they are necessary to moderate the pace and enhance the story, but this still isn’t enough to validate their inclusion.
Arguably even weaker than these are the boss battles. Particularly for games in the vein of DmC they should be designed to challenge your combat prowess and familiarity with the tenets of the core gameplay but this is not the case here. Instead, they are fairly weak in terms of the amount of damage that they are capable of inflicting, making it largely unnecessary to dodge their attacks when you can simply wail on them without fear of major harm. Beyond this, they are uninspired, with the traditional weak points to expose and exploit with the assistance of the grapples. The single notable exception found in the game is not enough to wash out the bad taste left by the rest of them.
Indeed, it seems that Ninja Theory have taken great pride in substituting substance with style and scale when it comes to these confrontations. Many of them are awe-inspiring in terms of their visual design and their ugliness is one of the things that makes it so satisfying to send them to an early grave. Even the regular enemy designs are startlingly good, giving you a decent indication of the abilities and attack patterns that they utilise at a glance. A stellar design ethic permeates the entire game with the human world being suitably gritty, while Limbo is far more fantastical. A lavish feast for the eyes, the predominant colour scheme is a lurid red that serves to visually differentiate the game from its competition and when you factor in the randomness of Limbo and the way that elements of reality are bizarrely positioned within it, it becomes even more unique.
But the realm is even more complex than this. It builds upon the tendency of the earlier games to trap Dante within certain areas until the player could overcome the enemies or solve the puzzle within it. The way that this is achieved is by having it alter and shift as you move through it. This provides the world with a sense of danger and dynamism, even though it is very clearly scripted. When the ground suddenly rends itself at your feet or a path slams closed or the walls collapse to crush you, it is always invigorating and enforces the idea that the very world is under the control of Mundus.
The artwork found in this production is grand, though it must be admitted that visual proficiency is lacking slightly, particularly when it comes to the interplay of light and shadow, the swathes of emptiness in the backgrounds and the fuzzy detail in the sky when you can see it. These flaws contrast oddly with the detail in the character and environment models, as well as the texturing. Considering that Ninja Theory elected to work with the ageing Unreal Engine 3, perhaps it is unsurprising that it leaves something to be desired. In any case, the distinctive design makes up for the lower quality when compared to the most technically proficient games.
The charm of DmC does not lay in its graphics, but its gameplay and this should be more than capable of grabbing anyone who has a mind for the technicality of it all. Although a single play through is of average length, higher difficulties are unlocked with subsequent campaign completions. And these aren’t just throwaway inclusions, either. Each presents a unique challenge, from Son of Sparda mode allowing enemies to use Devil Trigger to Heaven or Hell seeing every character dying in a single hit. Completing each mission on these higher difficulty settings, achieving 100% completion on them and garnering a SSS rating for the level unlocks additional concept art that should interest anyone that likes seeing behind the scenes a little bit, meaning completionists are well served. There are also 21 Secret Missions to be found throughout the campaign, with each testing what you know of the game thus far and Capcom has already announced that the traditional Bloody Palace Mode will be coming soon as part of a title update. Even without multiplayer, Devil may Cry should provide more than enough content to keep gamers satisfied for a long while.
And this is, in part, because of how satisfying and fulfilling it is to come to terms with, and ultimately master, the gameplay. The sheer brutality and accessibility of the combat banishes bad moods, making it a great game to throw into the system when you want to vent. Combine this with an almost singularly engaging narrative and you wind up with something very special indeed.
Devil May Cry did not need to be rebooted. It may have been discontinuous, the narrative arcs unfulfilled but there was still room to remedy this. In the creation of this reinvention, one can try to argue that Ninja Theory has tarnished the legacy of the series, but this is a fallacy. They have brought it to new heights and proven that sometimes, the Devil you don’t know can be just as good as the Devil you do. Sure, certain aspects of the gameplay design leave a little to be desired but that’s nothing that can’t be hammered out if Capcom and Ninja Theory collaborate on another entry.
(Reviewed on PS3. Review code provided by Capcom/All Interactive Entertainment. Many thanks.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 10/10
Gameplay/Design – 8.5/10
Visuals – 8.5/10
Sound – 9.5/10
Lasting Appeal – 8.5/10
Overall – 9/10
(Not an average)