Played on: PS3
Played for: 9 hours to finish the campaign on the Nephilim difficulty and an extra hour or two of backtracking added on for trophy hunting.
There isn’t much I can say about the fan’s revolt of Ninja Theory’s reboot to the Devil May Cry franchise that hasn’t already been said a hundred times before. Honestly, I don’t even want to get in to it, but if you feel your favorite series was “ruined” there is nothing I can say that will change your mind. I haven’t seen a game bashed this much in a long time, but I’ve never been one to care what anyone else thinks. I liked the series, the reboot looked interesting, I bought it, beat it and here is my opinion. If you don’t agree with it, that’s fine, I’d love the discussion, but so many people have hammered this game to death without even playing more than a demo. In the end, I just want to share my opinion of DmC. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind, nor am I trying to defend Ninja Theory’s questionable business practices, but if you’re looking for a fairly solid action game with tons of replay value, some pretty delicious level design and generally slick combat, DmC – Devil May Cry could be right up your alley.
In the 11 or so hours I spent with DmC, I felt that it did a lot of things right while falling victim to some of the usual action/adventure/HnS tropes. Do I think it’s a great addition to the series? That’s like comparing apples to oranges, but do I think it was a good game? Definitely. The original Devil May Cry pioneered this entire genre of stylish action gaming, but it was far from perfect. Devil May Cry 2 is one of the worst games in history.. enough said. Devil May Cry 3 and 4 are the apotheosis of not only the series, but the entire genre with the exception of maybe Bayonetta, and even those games are flawed. I always knew that I could look beyond the questionable direction that Ninja Theory was taking Dante if what mattered most was still at the forefront–the gameplay. Thankfully, I felt that it was.
As a reboot, DmC takes bits and pieces of the original games and melds them together with Ninja Theory’s signature art style (Heavenly Sword, Enslaved) to create something brand new that still manages to feel familiar. Think of how the most recent Tomb Raider reboot is still Tomb Raider, but manages to be something completely different. Dante is a snarky, rebellious adult that likes women, cursing, lives in a trailer and was born of both demon and angel parents along with his twin brother Vergil. These “nephilim” are the only ones with the power to slay the demon king, so along with his brother Vergil and psychic medium Kat, Dante fights through Limbo in some extremely entertaining levels to take on Mundus, save humanity and avenge the death of his mother, Eva.
Mundus controls the world through debt, brainwashes citizens through the news and keeps them docile with a soft drink (think Slurm from Futurama). The world as we know it has a parallel dimension called Limbo where demons lurk and things aren’t always what they seem. While Mundus keeps both worlds separate with the Demon Gate, Dante and Vergil can freely roam Limbo as nephilim while Kat’s abilities as a medium allow her to see their spirits, guide them around and assist them in entering/exiting through demonic symbols.
Destructoid’s Jim Sterling compared DmC to the 80’s sci-fi horror flick “They Live“, and that’s a pretty accurate comparison if I do say so myself. It’s campy, but not to the extent as, say, a SUDA 51 game, but the dialogue and one-liners were hit or miss. I chuckled as Dante cracked on Kat’s “egg timer”, but the continuous F-bombs dropped during the Succubus encounter made my ears bleed. With a story bordering the absurd, I often wondered why I should care about the outcome—especially during the soft drink bit—but in the end I wanted to see Dante and Kat succeed in their mission to take down Mundus. This was mainly due to the relationship between Dante, Vergil and Kat that grew during the game. I honestly hated every single person in DmC for the first half of the game, but there was some odd connection between Dante and Kat that kept me interested. The ending was also pretty interesting and leads up to the Vergil’s Downfall DLC that I eventually picked up and reviewed here.
Combat in DmC is slightly slower than DMC4, but I feel it was executed quite well for the most part. In addition to his sword, Rebellion, Dante can use both angel and demon weapons that can be accessed by holding the L2 and R2 buttons respectively. While in human form, Dante wields his sword and the gun of your choice. Holding down the Angel button gives access to two different weapons that focus on fast, area attacks that don’t deal a lot of damage but control crowds and build combos extremely well. Holding the Demon button offers two weapons that deal slower, heavier damage to single targets, break shields and launch enemies in to the air or slam them to the ground.
Along with their respective abilities, the demon and angel weapons allow you to grapple on to terrain and enemies to either pull Dante toward them or vice versa (think Nero in DMC4). This essentially allows you to string together every single weapon in your arsenal (switching weapons with the D-pad), keep your combos going from enemy to enemy and traverse the amazingly detailed world of Limbo in style.
Every weapon can be upgraded by collecting red orbs, thus improving their damage, opening new abilities, extending combos, etc., and while this is nothing new to DmC, I enjoyed the fact that I could undo any upgrade I purchased to try something else. Since it’s impossible to purchase every ability or upgrade in one playthrough, this method really encourages experimentation and lets you customize your play style a lot more if you prefer a specific weapon over another. Personally, I used Rebellion, Aquila (a glaive-like angel weapon) and Eryx (giant demon fist weapons), so I applied my upgrades as such. Much later in the game I began favoring the demon axe, Arbiter, over the fist weapons and swapped the upgrades accordingly to accommodate my change in play style. Of course you can always use training mode to practice your combos and figure out how you like to play, reorganize all of your upgrades and keep on going without having to start over, so having the ability to change as you discover your niche was a great addition.
Earlier on I mentioned that combat was executed quite well “for the most part”. The game shines when you can use all of your weapons to devastate a group of enemies with stylish combos, but every now and then it throws an enemy out there that can only be damaged by your angel or demon weapons. In theory, this was supposed to keep things interesting, but it did nothing more than shove a giant stick in my spokes while I tried to build up style points. It didn’t exactly work as intended, but I enjoyed having to switch between angel and demon weapons to avoid damage on the ground or break angelic shields, I just didn’t like being forced to use one or two weapons for an entire fight. This was especially true using angel weapons only (with their low base damage) on higher difficulties to chip away the monstrous health pools later in the game. I was as unexcited about this gimmick as I was with the boring-as-Farmville “blade mode” in MGR Revengeance (although I still feel that the combat in DmC is superior, which I know is blasphemous) but limiting yourself to one or two options isn’t what DmC is all about.
Puzzles are generally absent in DmC but exploration and platforming are there in full force. To collect all of the extra goodies, many of the levels will require you to replay them later as you obtain new abilities or weapons needed to break walls or air-dash long distances for hidden souls, keys and optional side-mission rooms. I enjoyed this Metroid approach, and while it isn’t mandatory, it still extended the life of the game for me. Platforming has been in Devil May Cry since the original, but it’s never really been inventive or interesting and I use the term “platforming” very loosely. DMC4 had the most emphasis on platforming and exploration, but it was clunky at best, so the focus on this aspect by Ninja Theory is most welcome.
Limbo isn’t the most forgiving place and often changes while flying through the air, requiring frequent use of both grappling mechanics to pull yourself along or pulling certain parts of the terrain out of the way, sometimes immediately one after the other. This made platforming feel like a second element in the game rather than being a tacked-on experience, even though I felt it was fairly simplistic. I enjoyed swapping between angel and demon grapples so much that I really wanted some of the levels to test my abilities but never really got that aside from a few hidden missions. Still though, they’re on the right track and (for the love of God) didn’t add in any annoying quicktime events. Read that again. Stylish action game without quicktime events. Got it? Good. God of War, Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising.. take notes.
Graphically, Limbo was always nice to look at but some of the character models are a bit off-putting. The variety in level design is great, with the most diverse having Dante navigate Limbo while stuck inside of a news report to confront the head of Raptor News, Bob Barbas. It had an interesting art design that was part Rez, part El Shaddai, and culminated in a boss fight that switched back and forth between the actual encounter and a news feed where you kill swarms of enemies on live TV. From the opening level in the fair grounds to the final encounter, I was continuously impressed with the level of detail in each zone.
Fanboy complaints aside, Dante has a pretty solid character model with some good mo-cap work, but everyone else was kind of generic, especially Vergil. I get that in the real world Mundus looks human, but Vergil’s d-bag looking Tapout style trench coat design and Rocky-esque porkpie hat made him look like he just stepped out of an episode of Ghost Adventures. Kat is human and I liked her character as a whole in the end, but she didn’t stand out either. I guess in Ninja Theory’s attempt to “westernize” the series, they strayed from the Japanese clichés of spiky hair and wild outfits that make it easier for characters to stand out.
Industrial rock music has been around since DMC3 and DmC continues the tradition with Combichrist and Noisia providing the background themes this time around. I’m a big fan of the Industrial music genre outside of the game, but I’m not the biggest Combichrist fan in the world aside from a very small handful of songs. The sounds they provided definitely fit the themes of the game, especially when you consider the video for the song “Sent to Destroy”, but it still had that lingering feeling that I was listening to a band I didn’t really care for. Expect plenty of bass heavy electronic tracks with screaming vocals that are a bit darker than something you’d hear from Nine Inch Nails, but nowhere near as technical. Noisia typically delves in to the dubstep genre, which I’m also not a fan of, but provided a nice blend of ambient electronic tracks that play between the more intense tempo handed out by Combichrist during battles. It was an effective combination of music that matched the feel of Limbo, but outside of the game neither of them are my cup of tea.
My main complaint with DmC is its unnecessary need to constantly remind me that it’s an edgy game trying to explore a new direction where Dante is an adult, yet says things a teenager would say if they were upset with society. I don’t need to hear F-bombs to understand Dante is a rebel, nor do I need to be shown unnecessary sex scenes to feel like the game is taking risks. If they would have focused more on the game and less on this false sense of rebellion, I would have enjoyed it a hell of a lot more. One scene in particular shows Mundus and Lilith having sex as a way of explaining a point later where Lilith is pregnant and you fight their spawn as a boss in her nightclub. It didn’t need to be done at all and was more uncomfortable to watch than the random sex scenes that Kratos enjoys in God of War.
Just because a game is geared toward an older audience doesn’t mean that it needs to cross those lines in the process, but that’s just my opinion. Sex scenes are easier to digest in something like Mass Effect where you build a relationship with someone and have a little “end of the world” slow jam, love making session while Rick James “Ebony Eyes” plays in the background, but when it’s there just to remind me that I purchased an M-rated game, I don’t care for it. Sometimes I feel that game developers don’t understand the difference between the “big kids” that still like to play video games, and the “immature adults” that learned the English language on Xbox Live. The maturity level between an 18 year old who is barely old enough to purchase an M-rated game and the average 30-something gamer is night and day (unless you’re playing Call of Duty, of course).
My other complaints with DmC are the wonky camera angles in tight spaces and the complete absence of a hard lock-on system. When the two combine, it’s the face of evil and leads to many a game over screen on the higher difficulty levels. The soft lock-on works pretty well when all of the enemies on screen are on the ground, but when you throw in a swarm of enemies that not only fly, but have shields, it’s hard to get a feel for jumping around while demon-grappling their shields off. Generally, it works as planned unless your target is off-screen, but I’d say 1 out of every 10 attempts I’d wind up grappling on to a different enemy and yanking myself in to an unexpected pain train. In retrospect, I don’t think a hard lock-on system would have been any more beneficial in the long run as I’d prefer not having to swap between ground targets with some tacky reticule on-screen, but when the soft lock didn’t work it became extremely annoying.
The Verdict – B-
Overall, I had some general complaints about the camera, the lack of a hard lock-on system and the minor annoyance of demon or angel weapon-only enemies. These things I can get over. What took away from the experience the most was the inability for the game to pry its head out of its own ass and get over itself. I’m not an 18 year old punk kid that still giggles at the F-word and I don’t need sex in my games to sell me on the mature themes. I absolutely loved the combat, chaining together some good combos and being able to easily swap to every weapon available with the touch of a button. The angel and demon grapple mechanics really let the platforming segments shine and allowed DmC to also be considered an action/adventure game rather than just another stale hack & slash affair littered with quicktime events to give that false sense of control.
Ninja Theory has finally put their creative foot forward with the level designs in Limbo and the story, however absurd it was, built on the relationships between Dante, Vergil and Kat in a way that helped me forget about the crass one-liners. We’re not talking RPG quality stuff here, but when Dante manages to stop acting like a teenager and put aside his nephilim ways to fight for a human (Kat), I thought it was pretty damn cool. It’s not a hard game on the three default difficulty settings and chaining together SSS combos is easier than ever, so that might turn away the more hardcore fanbase, but that doesn’t make landing multi-weapon combos any less satisfying.
With the overall sales of DmC being well below the expectation of Capcom, the odds of seeing Ninja Theory pen a sequel is slim to none, but this reboot has enough meat on its bones to warrant multiple playthroughs and future DLC releases. Say what you want about the new direction of Devil May Cry, but I enjoyed the overall gameplay more than any of the original 4. Maybe not so much the characters or their attitudes, but the game plays phenomenally and Limbo was an amazing backdrop to such an absurd story of freedom fighting. If you’ve had hesitations as a long-time fan, play it for yourself and form your own opinion, but it’s definitely some good fun worth having.