DMC: Devil May Cry
The verdict is in. This is the game which tore opinion down the middle as fans were introduced to a modernised take on the beloved demon-slayer, Dante. Gone were the feathery white locks of old, as were the blood red coat and carefree demeanour, replaced perhaps forever by a younger, grittier take on the character. After an uphill struggle and a few character tweaks to make this reimagining more palatable, the guys and girls at Ninja Theory are finally ready to set their creation loose on the world. There’s no denying the risks taken here, but with an emphasis on high-octane combat and a renewed sense of style, has Dante at last found redemption or is this every bit the demonic misfire we’d been dreading?
It’s clear from the cinematic opening that things aren’t as you remember in the battle against demon kind. Mundus is cementing his rule over humanity, subduing the populace with both physical and mental restraints while a small band of rebels known as The Order seek a power that could turn the tide in their favour. That power is none other than Dante, a hedonistic womaniser of few ambitions and no idea of the challenges ahead. It’s a much more involving tale that evolves the character as the game progresses – sure, Dante isn’t the white-haired hero that fans have been clinging to so dearly, but that aside, he’s tough to dislike as he discovers his past, the truth of the world as well as his destiny within. He’s no longer a one-note layer of unfazed coolness, but rather a super-being with very human beliefs and trust issues.
The minds behind Heavenly Sword and Enslaved have always been masterful storytellers (with the return of Alex Garland – 28 Days Later) and so extra care has been taken into crafting a cinematic experience unlike anything the series has seen to date. The writing is usually tight and often heads into unexpected territory; those who played previous games will expect major plot twists only to have them dissipate, then see them crescendo in a big way later on. Whether you love or hate the new direction, it’s clear that someone had a stellar time writing with the source material as a notebook, and this is never more apparent than during the interactions between Dante and his estranged brother, Vergil. There’s affection there, but with a degree of mistrust.
If Dante stands a hope of moving up from his trailer and into the halls of greatness, he’ll need the tools and techniques to do away with even the most powerful foes. This won’t be a problem, as the game does a great job of dishing out a variety of weapons each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Devil weapons are slow, cumbersome but do incredible damage while Angel weapons are broader, lighter and are the perfect choice for clearing out a room. Every weapon can be upgraded with a host of new moves for added impact. Interestingly, the Stinger attack is much harder to pull off this time, so you’ll be more inclined to mix things up with easier (but much flashier) combos than before. Now here is the key to DMC’s success; all weapons can be selected on the fly through use of the d-pad… there are no preset styles, no delays and no pace-killing menus to navigate.
Combat is arguably the best it has been in the series, and that’s one very big statement to make. Combos for the different weapons tend to align, so there won’t be any exhaustive lists to memorise in the heat of battle. It’s entirely possible to perform a variety of moves just by using the same attack pattern but with a different armament, and things change up further once you take to the air. It’s accessible yet challenging, intense, chaotic, but very satisfying with attacks that feel like they genuinely connect with the enemy. You’ll encounter all manner of demons, some of which can only be harmed by a specific weapon type; red indicates that only a devil-arm will work – blue and it’s all down to angelic means. Enemy design is messed up and threatening, though boss encounters can be a hit-and-miss affair, with some of the high-end grunts such as the Dreamrunner serving as more thrilling opponents than their set-piece counterparts.
The biggest change is a stylistic one. You’ll find no finely detailed gothic architecture here, but rather a brightly coloured, twisted city that takes you to abstract realms more often than not. There are times when it works and times when it fails, coming across as garish and even downright ugly. The industrial areas fare poorly, the nightclub level is a missed opportunity, and although the game certainly presents a unique style of its own, it won’t be to everyone’s taste. Abstract design and floating platforms make up the majority of the world and are explained by having Dante dragged to Limbo on a near-constant basis. The upshot is that much of it’s been designed with traversal in mind, with a quick yank pulling out a chunk of wall or hurtling the hero forwards.
Despite being a completely linear affair, there’s reason enough to explore off the beaten path. Each stage features a set number of lost souls as well as golden, copper, argent and ivory keys that need to be collected to open their corresponding doors. What you’ll find inside are secret challenges that reward you with fragments to boost your health meter or devil trigger (a power that sends Dante into a white and red flurry of demonic rage). These missions range from extremely easy – often requiring swift traversal – or incredibly tough, with one vaguely demanding that no single attack be repeated. A standard playthrough should take around ten hours, with time spent hunting around for keys and challenge rooms already factored in. Harder difficulties are plentiful with the return of Dante Must Die and Heaven or Hell mode, where a single hit means the difference between life and death.
Appearances to the contrary, DMC plays like the sequel fans have been hoping for. It positively crushes the gameplay of the fourth instalment and does away with the overused backtracking. With a story that finally explores the truth behind Dante’s supernatural heritage and reveals the decisions that lead him to become a hero, DMC achieves something no previous instalment could. It’s the art direction and technical problems that let the package down, and they often do so in a big way. We encountered visual hiccups galore, shaky animations and a major crash on our PS3 review copy, yet the game remained enjoyable to the end. Leave your preconceptions at the door, don the trenchcoat and prepare for weirdness as DMC takes you through uncharted territory.
This review is based on a PS3 copy provided by Capcom.
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