When DmC was first unveiled to the public, the fan response was overwhelmingly negative. Many fans didn’t like the new redesign of the series’ cavalier antihero Dante, mainly because he had lost his trademark hair and red trenchcoat. From then on, DmC faced an uphill struggle to win back the old fans, while trying to appeal to newcomers to the series.
After four previous games, the Devil May Cry series was starting to feel stale. After the backtracking and derivative nature of the fourth instalment, Capcom decided to hand the reigns of its signature stylish brawler over to a new developer, with the intention of making the series more relevant to audiences outside of Japan. Ninja Theory (of Heavenly Sword and Enslaved fame) took up the challenge of rebooting the franchise, and they promptly put their own stamp on the game with a complete artistic overhaul.
This unsentimental departure from the series’ style suits the game world that they have tried to create. Dante is able to transition between the human world (where he always seems more vulnerable), to Limbo where he is an unstoppable badass. When demons arrive to destroy Dante’s trailer, he is approached by a young woman named Kat who works with a “terrorist” organisation called The Order. The Order are working to destroy the demon king Mundas and break his cruel stranglehold on the world. From then on your goal is clear; bring down the demons controlling the government and defeat Mundas.
On the whole, the new developers have done an exceptional job. A grittier, less anime-styled Dante fits their new theme perfectly. The environments fizzle with inspired detail, especially when the levels begin to shift and contort around you, adding to the malevolent tone as the game drags you down into its version of hell; Limbo. Some of the transitions that occur while in Limbo are nothing short of breath-taking, and the way you can pull pieces of the scenery around to make a path through is always creative. As is typical of a Ninja Theory game, there is an emphasis on providing great motion capture during their cutscenes which just piles on heaps of character. There is some inspired artwork on display throughout the game, especially when cutscenes transition into stills of what is reminiscent of classical art to convey its backstory. The whole game drips with style and personality, making DmC a visual treat from start to finish and fully justifies the redesign of its characters and setting.
While it may look great, a Devil May Cry needs to provide engaging combat in order to cut the mustard. Luckily, DmC has a flair for the theatrical, providing a fully comprehensive combat system that encourages the player to experiment and play. Dante has a standard arsenal which consists of his signature sword Rebellion, and his pistols, Ebony and Ivory. As the game progresses, Dante begins to collect a mixture of Angel and Demon weapons which can be switched to on the fly. By holding down the left trigger while attacking, Dante uses his speed-orientated Angel weapons such as a scythe and a pair of pinwheels. These both have a wide area of effect and are great for crowd control in tight situations. The right trigger provides hard-hitting Demon weapons such as an axe and a pair of gauntlets, which are perfect for taking on tougher enemies, or bullying your foes one-on-one.
As with other games in the series, you earn a style ranking for chaining combos together and using a variety of different attacks, which gives you points and bonuses as you go. These bonuses will eventually translate into new abilities, and you get to choose which skills to upgrade. DmC gives you the opportunity to try before you buy, which is handy for making those tough decisions on what to spend your upgrade points on.
With great visuals and a deep yet accessible combat system, it would seem that Ninja Theory have managed to craft the fundamentals necessary for a decent Devil May Cry game. There are, however, some deeply annoying elements that really hold the game back.
For starters, there is a distinct focus on annoying platforming sections from start to finish. When in Limbo, the landscape is constantly changing around you, and occasionally, if you’re moving forward at a normal pace, the ground will sometimes cheaply move away from under your feet. While this doesn’t kill you, it does deduct a chunk of health which may have been vital in the battle ahead. There are also moments when the game’s camera will shift just before you’re about to make a jump, sending you in the wrong direction or leaving you unable to see where you’re going. This will mean that you will have to redo annoying sections of the game when you’re just itching to reach the next battle.
Boss fights are often repetitive once you’ve figured out the two or three attack patterns they have, meaning that each climactic battle is actually easier than fighting some of the game’s low-level grunts. They are often drawn out affairs that provide very little challenge and just serve as window dressing.
For all the motion capture performances and character redesign, Ninja Theory still have a tendency to revert Dante’s awful puns from previous iterations. Whenever he smashes through a glass window, he’ll say “smashing”. If he cracks his way through a stone wall, he’ll quip “cracking”. He does this with every action without fail, which contrasts poorly with the story that begs you to take it seriously. The game’s over-reliance on cutscenes is also a chore and often serves to get in the way of the action, especially when the narrative isn’t up to that much and you can pretty much plot out the entire story from the moment you start playing the game.
For everything that DmC does right, there are several fundamentals that seem to hold it back and push you further away from the game’s best moments. DmC will take you roughly 8-10 hours to complete on a first playthrough, but it feels that nearly half of that time is spent on irritating platform sections and derivative story. Still, when everything comes together, the game is pure poetry and motion and is more than worth your time.