DMC: Devil May Cry
Developer: Ninja Theory
Release Date: 1/15/13
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when Capcom announced a Devil May Cry reboot, much of it centered around the massive redesign of series lead Dante. Some people were upset about the franchise being rebooted, some about the (admittedly stupid looking) redesign, some about the choice of Ninja Theory as the development team over an in house developer (as the prior games had been), and some… well, just because, really. So for the purposes of this review, let me say that I generally came into this review with no real inclination to believe that DMC: Devil May Cry was going to be a bad game, nor did I feel it was going to justify rebooting the franchise. I think Ninja Theory is a fine developer, I like the Devil May Cry franchise fine even though fifty percent of the games in it are not very good, and as such, I figured that the game would end up being mechanically fine. I also, however, thought that the redesigned Dante looks like a homeless person, and there wasn’t a single story so good that it would justify completely starting the series over, given that Devil May Cry 4 wasn’t Superman 4 or Batman and Robin levels of terrible. Well, now that the game is available, surprise! DMC: Devil May Cry is a perfectly fine game if you like Bayonetta, as it takes the majority of its cues from that game, and it’s perfectly enjoyable by and large. It’s absolutely not going to please anyone who was part of the whining throngs opposed to the reboot, and it absolutely doesn’t even make a good argument for rebooting the series, but taken as a game, reviewed in a vacuum, and not at all held to those expectations, it’s honestly pretty good.
DMC tells the story of Dante, who in this universe is basically a British street punk sort of character (aesthetically, anyway) who bounced around in the system until he dropped out of sight, choosing to spend his time having lots of sex while living in a trailer park over anything productive. That all changes one day when he’s visited by a girl, Kat, who informs him that he’s attracted the wrong sort of attention, and he’s invited to join The Order, a terrorist organization that uses propaganda to try and open people’s eyes to some sort of unspecified truth. Well, the truth is that demons run everything, as Dante discovers when he meets the leader of The Order, his own brother Vergil, who shows Dante their shared past and outlines his plan: take down the demon lord Mundus who rules everything behind the scenes and release humanity from his iron grip. On its own, the plot of DMC is fine enough; it’s basically riffing off of They Live, but that movie’s old enough that it’s fair game to borrow from if you have a compelling hook to work with. The game makes a good effort at having that compelling hook, and while some aspects, such as the blatant Fox News parody that is the Raptor News Network or the high level storytelling of a demon who controls the world through debt conflicting with the low level storytelling of people screaming profane words at each other, don’t work as intended, for the most part the plot carries things along fine.
Franchise fans will find the plot to be basically nothing like what they’d expect, however; the storyline doesn’t have any sort of sense of humor about itself and tends to treat its concepts as serious business, and the only character who seems to be having any fun is Dante, though even that’s sporadic. The plot also makes the obvious end game twist that everyone saw coming, and while that’s fine, it’s also obvious, so it’s not a big surprise when it happens or anything. The game also doesn’t really know what a Nephilim actually is, describing it as an offspring of angels and demons when it’s an offspring of angels and humans, which, again, isn’t the worst thing, but when Bloodrayne is doing a better job with its hybrid terminology than you that’s kind of depressing. Oh, and you can kind of tell that Ninja Theory isn’t taking the massive explosion of hatred against them terribly well, as there are a couple random moments where the plot seems to jokingly reference the prior franchise whilst also giving it the finger. Still, the plot does a good enough job of carrying things along, so long as you can accept the odd failings now and again.
DMC is aesthetically pleasing by and large, though the most impressive aspects of the design come from the way the game uses its environments. The game primarily takes place in Limbo, an ethereal world that exists alongside the normal human world, where the laws of physics are basically tossed aside. The game uses this to great effect, changing the environments frequently and constantly showing new and interesting landscapes for Dante to traverse that are easily the most exciting thing about the game. The bosses Dante faces are also quite interesting and diverse, as are the larger, more imposing enemies you’ll come across. The grunt enemies aren’t particularly exciting and tend to just look acceptable, though they do animate well, and Dante and Kat still look like homeless people (though Vergil looks impressive at least), but overall the visuals come together well enough and the majority of the game looks fantastic. Aurally, the most interesting thing about the game is its soundtrack, as it features tracks from electronic act Noisia and industrial/aggrotech band Combichrist, giving the game a feel that’s very much conducive to destroying everything you see. The soundtrack is quite unconventional and it works to distinguish the game from others in the genre, and as an added bonus, the soundtrack really fits. The voice work is generally pretty solid, and while there are the odd or overdramatic lines here and there, most all of what is here is well delivered and fits in nicely. The sound effects also compliment the experience well, between the odd ambient noises that fill the Limbo zones and the obvious and powerful combat noises that come up when Dante is destroying various monsters in front of him, and nothing sounds out of place in the least.
If you’ve played a game similar to DMC ever, such as the prior Devil May Cry games, Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta and so on, you’ll have a pretty solid idea of how things work going in, but the game does a lot to try and make its own mark. The left and right sticks control movement and the camera respectively, A jumps, and either bumper can be used to dodge around when needed. Attacking is fairly simple, as the Y button and B button control your attacks, with the Y button commonly being the primary attack and the B button often acting as a special attack, such as a launcher, a ranged attack, an attack to ground enemies and more depending on the weapon. The X button, in its default form, fires whatever gun you have equipped at the most immediate target, as there’s no lock-on function in the game, though you’ll not miss it as much as you might think. The first mission of the game acts as something of a tutorial on these elements, as well, so you’ll largely have this down inside of your first half hour or so of play with little difficulty.
Where the game gets interesting is with the Angel and Demon weapons. By default, Dante will always attack with Rebellion, his sword, when no modifying buttons are pressed. However, by holding the left or right triggers you’ll enable your Angel and Demon weapon, respectively, which opens up combat in a few ways. The most obvious addition is being able to quickly swap between weapons on the fly by holding and releasing triggers, but you can also use the D-Pad to swap weapons between sets as you unlock more, giving you even more options for crazy combos. Additionally, the weapons fall into distinct categories, as Rebellion is a balanced weapon, while Angel weapons (Osiris, a scythe, and Aquila, a tri-bladed shuriken) are faster but weaker, and Demon weapons (Arbiter, an axe, and Eryx, gauntlets) are slower but stronger, so you can dictate the pace of battle to your wishes. Further, the weapons also modify other functional elements, as the X button becomes a whip when a trigger is held, allowing you to pull out objects for puzzle solving or pull enemies to Dante, or to pull Dante to environmental elements or enemies, expanding both puzzle elements and combat. Dante can also learn to glide long distances through plot progression for escaping from combat to regroup or to cross long distances. Finally, Dante can also be upgraded with points earned through good performances in each stage and the general slaughter of enemies, allowing you to earn new moves for each weapon and in general, or to improve existing moves, and you can respec these moves whenever you can reach a shop to do so.
Devil Trigger and enemies exploding into colorful orbs also return to the game, and function in the same fashion as they always have. Devil Trigger is learned about halfway through the game, and it’s pretty simple to grasp: you earn energy by beating on things, and by pressing in both sticks at the same time, Dante powers up, turns red and white, and starts heavily regenerating health. All of the enemies around him launch into the air for easy air combo abuse, which you can make good use of until time runs out or you turn Devil Trigger off. This can help turn the tide in poorly progressing battles or be used just to inflict more damage to enemies, since you’re also more powerful in this mode, making it useful for several reasons. When you defeat enemies or break various environmental objects, you’ll also see orbs that look like ghostly heads come pouring out, shortly before they go flying into Dante. There are four kinds: red pays into funds you can use to buy power-ups from the shop, white pays into upgrade points you can use on Dante, green refills your health, and purple refills your Devil Trigger energy. Enemies generally drop a variety of orbs when defeated, depending on how well you do in combat, as the stylish combo system from prior games returns here as well; the more variety you use in battle and the more hits you land, the better your overall rating, which goes from D to SSS. Take a hit and you’ll lose ranking, however, so you’ll need to make sure you’re on your toes while fighting to get the best scores, and in turn, the best payouts.
You can complete the campaign of DMC in around ten hours, depending on your skill level and the difficulty you choose, but there’s a lot to do in the game to make things last a lot longer than that. You can find Lost Souls, Keys and Doors in each level in hidden locations; Lost Souls simply pay into your red souls, while Keys unlock Doors, which in turn lead to challenges which reward you with items to upgrade the size of your Health and Devil Trigger meters. The game is laid out such that some Keys, Lost Souls and Doors are inaccessible the first time you come upon them, either because you won’t have the right gear or because the Key you’ll need for a specific Door is later in the game, so you’ll want to come back to clear everything out for the best results. Aside from collectibles and side missions, you’ll also find that upgrading Dante to his maximum level will take quite a long time to do, so you’ll have motivation to come back if you want him fully jacked out as well. There are also seven difficulty levels to play with; Human, Devil Hunter and Nephilim are essentially â€œEasy, Normal and Hardâ€, and use the same basic enemy layouts with better AI and less friendly damage ratios, while Son of Sparda and Dante Must Die! redesign the enemy layouts entirely for maximum brutality. There are also the expected â€œHeaven or Hellâ€ and â€œHell and Hellâ€ modes, where in the former, everything dies in one hit, including Dante, and the latter, Dante dies in one hit, but enemies have normal life, for those of you who want a bit more punishment. Finally, there are also a substantial amount of Achievements built into the game (including difficulty-based Achievements, sadly) and DLC is coming for the game for those who want more out of the experience, so you’ll get a good amount of time out of the game if you’re into it, believe me.
The biggest issue with DMC is that, while it’s in the same genre as Devil May Cry, it’s not the same kind of game so to say. DMC has a lot more in common with Bayonetta than its predecessors, both mechanically and conceptually; the Limbo concept is similar to that of the alternate dimension stuff Bayonetta did, and the fighting mechanics are more in line with that game, if easier to work with. It’s arguably less inventive than Bayonetta, in fact, as that game had weird gimmicks based around her demonic costume/hair and a silly shooter level, while DMC is a lot more conventional in its scope, and any originality in the concept comes from its presentation. This isn’t bad per say, but the game doesn’t have anything new to say that hasn’t been said in other games in the genre, and while it’s a slick, well designed game, it’s also one that’s been done several times before, and this game adds nothing to the narrative. The game also isn’t likely to impress those looking for a challenge, as Son of Sparda difficulty, while it has its moments, isn’t on par with Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry 3 on their regular difficulties, and while it’s nice that Human difficulty is actually quite manageable, the game doesn’t compensate for that much in the other direction.
Basically, DMC is absolutely a good game, there’s no reason to indicate otherwise; it’s simply a good game that’s not going to make much headway in impressing those who were pissed off about the Devil May Cry reboot, and it’s not a game with much of a voice of its own. The game is visually stellar, aurally exciting, and offers play mechanics that are instantly familiar but make good effort to be different enough to make the game feel like it’s not just a rehash of the prior games. The mechanics are familiar enough that fans can appreciate what the game does, there’s plenty of solid depth to the experience and a lot of content packed into the game will give players a reason to come back to it. However, the plot is adequate but overly serious at times given what the game is trying to get across, the game certainly isn’t going to win over people who were annoyed about the reboot on any level, the challenge isn’t especially high, and the game doesn’t have much of a voice of its own, as everything it does has been done before. DMC doesn’t have to be original to be enjoyable, and it’s certainly that, so if you’re not upset about the reboot and just want to wreck demons with Dante, you’ll find that here in spades. If you’re looking for what made the original games what they were, though, you’re not going to find much of it here, so if that’s going to be a problem, at least you know.
Short Attention Span Summary: DMC is a fine enough reboot in that it’s a fine enough game on its own merits to be worth playing if you’re not upset with the reboot, as it’s a pretty solid game on its own, albeit one that borrows most of what makes it what it is from other places. The game looks quite nice and does a good job aesthetically with its Limbo world, the audio is quite fitting and there’s nothing quite like this game’s soundtrack in gaming, and the mechanics are easy to appreciate and learn whether you’re a newcomer or an old hand. The game offers a solid amount of variety in its gameplay, lasts a solid amount of time for one playthrough, is accessible for gamers of various skill levels and offers a lot of content to come back and collect, so there’s plenty of reason to jump into the game multiple times over. That said, the plot is a bit more serious than the franchise is known for and the concept is a bit much at times, the game is absolutely not designed in a way to satisfy upset fans of the franchise in concept or challenge, and what the game isn’t borrowing from the franchise proper was done in Bayonetta and They Live already almost entirely. DMC is a great game, even if it’s not an original game, and while it’s not going to appease franchise fans upset about the reboot even a small bit, everyone else should have plenty of reason to try and enjoy the game, as controversy aside, it’s rather good.
Mark B. is the Senior Editor at Diehard GameFAN, mostly because he’s been on staff for a decade. He has previously written for 411Games, InsidePulse Games, Not a True Ending, Retrograding and Beyond the Threshold, and he maintains multiple infrequent columns, as well as a Hitbox stream on Saturdays. You can check out his archives and non-game related work over at markbwriting.com, and follow him on Twitter at MarkBWriting or Facebook at MarkBWriting. (Special thanks to J. Rose for the artwork.)