Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: January 15, 2013 (Consoles); January 25, 2013 (PC)
Never before have I seen a game with such a nasty, hateful buildup. Ever since the announcement in 2010 for the new Devil May Cry reboot, rabid fans lashed out at Ninja Theory with some of the most vitriolic, hateful comments I’ve ever witnessed. All for a game that hadn’t even been shown outside of a short trailer. Flash forward a few years and the boundless, unwarranted hostility has hardly been extinguished, but now we have a tangible product, DmC: Devil May Cry, to actually play and legitimately judge. This reboot has come out swinging and goes far beyond anything the series has ever tried before, quickly dashing away any pessimism one could have. DmC isn’t just the best in the franchise; it’s up there with the best of the entire genre.
Being a reboot means it has some consistencies with the older material. Dante, Vergil, Mundus, and most of their backstory are still mostly true to their prior histories but each has been given a twist. Dante, a womanizing, shit-talking punk with a forgotten past lives an aimless life where waking up naked with lipstick smeared on his loins next to an empty bottle of whisky is considered just a normal Thursday. That is until demons find him and hunt him down, pushing him into Limbo and forcing him to wander and lay low. Such events unite him with Vergil, his long forgotten twin brother and leader of an Anonymous-like group simply called The Order.
In this world, demons run corporate America, meaning their Bill O’Reilly equivalent is on Satan’s side. Demons are enslaving mankind through propaganda and lies and Mundus, a big wig CEO, is at the head of it all. The Order’s job is to wipe the demons clear of power, something The Order needs Dante’s help with.
One of Ninja Theory’s strengths has always been developing strong character relationships and intelligently telling the player the story. DmC, despite the series’ muddled narrative history, benefits greatly from Ninja Theory’s expertise. Dante might be an arrogant little shit, but successful efforts are made to humanize and show off more than snarky one-liners. Ninja Theory also doesn’t hesitate to slow down and allow for cutscenes to flesh out character relationships, something the series has never taken the time to do. Dante’s comebacks, while still funny in a corny sort of way, don’t quite match the franchise’s past endeavors, but the “new” Dante is a likable demon hunter with enough old pizzazz and new blood that meld together to make him a strong protagonist. He’s no longer just a wisecracking machine and he’s better for it (so shut up about it).
Performance capture helps Dante along with the rest of the cast. Vergil and Kat, their female human helper, are captured brilliantly as well, but they shine because of their nuance. Vergil’s proper, borderline nerdy (thanks to the fedora) demeanor appropriately clashes with Dante’s brash personality and creates a healthy conflicting dynamic between the two. Kat’s vulnerability and innocence adds a more human element to the demon-heavy story and grounds it in some sort of reality. She gives Dante a face to attach his care to and can drive the story forward in more ways than one. Like Kai in Heavenly Sword and Trip from Enslaved, she’s a worthy sidekick that gives an emotional attachment and without her the story would feel like it was missing that special something. Mundus plays the part as an unlikable villain well, even if his role is in the periphery for most of the game.
The simplicity of the plot makes it easy to follow, but the moment-to-moment story wonderfully leads you from point to point without missing a beat. Putting it briefly, the pacing is brilliant all the way to the end. The finale shouldn’t come as a huge shocker to veterans of the franchise, but its presentation and delivery wraps up this game nicely while obviously planting seeds for the inevitable sequel.
In this DmC, however, the combat is at an all time high for the series. Fans had a right to fret about this vital aspect of DmC, especially given Ninja Theory’s track record of having mediocre combat, but DmC‘s swordplay is a brilliant orchestra of violence that wonderfully melds flashy, accessible moves and nearly unparalleled depth.
The accessibility is apparent because just about anyone who picks up the controller is capable of doing something flamboyant almost immediately. Swinging the sword and initiating juggles with the pistols is incredibly easy and intuitive to do, which lowers the bar for entry on such a previous impenetrable franchise.
But the hardcore need not worry, because Ninja Theory and Capcom have crafted a game that satisfies the hardcore crowd as well. Chaining together moves is shockingly deep given the combination of weapons at the player’s disposal. Instantaneously and seamlessly switching from one weapon to the next, combat feels very open and unscripted, with the player’s mind and dexterity being more limiting than the actual game’s rule book.
Let me elaborate. Once you get situated, Dante has access to angel and demon weapons along with his trademark (neutral) sword. Holding down the left shoulder button acts like a shift key for activating the angel weapon while the right shoulder button acts as the demon weapon trigger. The d-pad allows for an instant swap between the two different angel weapons and the two different demon weapons, along with switching between the three firearms. When all of these different variables get thrown into play, the ceiling for combos is nearly limitless, especially considering the incredibly useful angel and demon grapples that bring the action right to you. Tapping d-pads and swapping triggers puts every weapon the game has at your fingertips and since almost all moves link into other moves, it can feel nearly overwhelming when the opportunity comes to decide which combos to unleash. The sense of truly seamless combat has been touched on before, but never this flashy and streamlined.
Instantly subbing out weapons is a large reason of why the swordplay is so gratifying, but peripheral systems all collaborate and make for a better experience. Upgrades are pretty standard, granting skill points when enough enemies have been slain, but the ability to try out and see what the new technique does makes for well-informed decisions. If you don’t instantly jive with your new upgrade, you can instantly and easily respec without any penalty, which encourages experimentation.
Although a smaller facet of DmC, platforming has never been more fluid. Instead of being a pace-changing, irritating way to traverse the various locales, grappling and gliding have been improved to make these sections a highlight rather than a poorly designed mess. Similar to how Dante can grapple enemies, he can pull and be pulled to environmental objects with the right symbol, hence sending him flying in that direction or vice versa. This system auto-locks well and is responsive, leading to a platforming system that is not only visually impressive, but functional as well. Swordplay takes priority throughout the game, but the smooth movements of gliding and zipping through the air made me actually want to use the system more often.
Pacing is the bigger talking point to champion because nearly everything positive can be somehow contributed to impeccable timing. New toys are handed out at a steady clip, so it consistently feels as though you have a new variable to add to your combat skills. Enemy types share this thought out execution. Near the game’s start, you are fighting simple infantry, but quickly you’ll encounter new foes in almost every level. Pretty soon, after a short introductory period, the game starts mixing and matching different classes so by the end, you’ll be facing a whole circus of the game’s baddies all within the same battle. Because of this, no skirmish feels identical and keeps the game fresh throughout.
This invigorating feeling is shown in a much more spectacular fashion in the higher difficulty modes. Yes, DmC is leagues easier than Devil May Cry 3 on its default list of settings, but sadists on the hunt for punishment will be satiated by the many modes available after a complete playthrough. Rather than taking the lethargic route of buffing health bars, enemy configurations are mixed up and instantly made more intricate. Adversaries that only were present in the end game are now available within the first level so you have to be on your toes from the start. New attack patterns for both normal grunts and bosses have also been added, yielding even more nuggets of replayability. The unconventional modes Heaven or Hell (everyone, Dante included, dies in one hit) and Hell or Hell (only Dante dies in one hit) are even there for the most self-hating of the bunch. Add in the collectibles, upgrade path, and healthy play time (around ten hours) and DmC becomes a game that is not only initially great, but one that has the power to keep on giving.
Limbo is also a world capable of infinitely giving. In a controversial decision, Ninja Theory opted to go for a more dynamic setting over sixty frames per second and with these results, it’s hard to argue against them. The human universe is rather plain and uninspired (almost as if to show the heavy contrast), but once the demons pull Dante into Limbo, it pulls a complete U-turn and morphs into an awe-inspiring canvas that consistently impresses. Colors such as bright red, greens, and blues pop off the screen and make every level something to write home about.
Screen shots will delightfully showcase the raw technical and artistic beauty of DmC, but only videos can convey the impressive dynamic world that Limbo is. Besides being outright creative at the outset with a few of the most genuinely cool levels in all of gaming, each world beautifully morphs as you play. Paths twist and deform right before your eyes in real time, buildings will instantly skyrocket into the stratosphere, tracks will oddly contort due to some otherworldly force, and more will lend to the idea that the environment itself is alive, writhing around with its focus on killing you. It happens in every level at almost every turn and it looks fantastic every single time. Stagnant levels now feel like archaic relics of gaming’s past after seeing what Ninja Theory has done here in DmC.
Cheesy metal riffs have always appropriately matched the corny tone of previous installments but DmC has decided to update the musical formula while keeping some of the same atmosphere. Artists Combichrist and Noisia have both composed a soundtrack with a healthy hybrid of metal and dubstep sounds that perfectly compliment the mood DmC evokes. The fast-paced action syncs up well with the BPM found in the main tracks and, like Dante’s jokes, are sort of a guilty pleasure that you can’t help but adore. I’ll admit that I feel a little embarrassed for liking the soundtrack as much as I did.
Devil May Cry was in dire need of a reboot and with the final product out, it was easy to see why Capcom grabbed Ninja Theory to perform CPR on this fading franchise. DmC: Devil May Cry is a game that feels right at home within Ninja Theory’s stable for some reasons, but a stark contrast in others. Familiar in a sense that the narrative and characters are of high quality but with the undeniable fluidity and complexity of the combat being the outlier of their usual work. For DmC to come out and not suck would have been a noteworthy achievement, but for it to release and freshen up an entire genre was something delightfully unexpected. You look different and slightly more like a punk, but welcome back Dante.
+Deep, fast, incredibly satisfying melee combat that superbly paces new items to give a great sense of progression
+Absolutely gorgeous visuals that have a wide, beautiful color palette coupled with a head-bobbingly awesome metal/electronic soundtrack
+Incredibly creative, shifting level deign that looks stunning and allows for good platforming
+Well-told narrative with interesting characters that drive the plot forward
+A good sized campaign with multiple difficulties and unlockables that make it well worth replaying
-Dante’s insults, while pretty entertaining on the whole, aren’t quite as strong as the series’ past
Final Score: 9.5/10
Platform Differences: The console versions run at a solid thirty frames per second and the PC version runs at a much higher, more smooth framerate that just also happens to look much prettier. If you have the choice and the rig, the PC version is the way to go (but the console versions are fine).