Ninja Theory haters, I bring you bad news.
As prejudiced as you all were, as determined as you all were to ignore the visual quality of the trailers leading up to its release, and as contemptuous as you all were of people who actually liked what they saw, it may come as a surprise for you to know that DmC: Devil May Cry is a good game.
A very good game in places and an excellent game in fewer places still, but for all the praise I could heap upon Ninja Theory for delivering a great experience there are areas in which I feel short-changed. And we’ll get to those areas – oh, yes. Rest assured that I will leave no stone unturned after stoking the trolls’ eternal flames of senseless hatred. First, though, we discuss what’s great about DmC: Devil May Cry and why fans of the originals should at least give it a chance.
In case you’ve been living in a cave the last couple of years, DmC: Devil May Cry is a franchise reboot; square one of a new board game with the same playing pieces and rules.
Dante and his twin brother Vergil have been recast as Nephilim, a hybrid species of demon and angel, and the overall goal is to take down the demon king Mundus. The grimy atmosphere of the new Devil May Cry is soaked with contemporary themes on political and social corruption, with bankers and media bosses stamping all over the complacent and obese common folk. It’s hilariously black and white, but makes for cracking entertainment between the thick lines of supernatural goings-on.
The world is split between human reality and Limbo, where Mundus’ demonic subjects reside, and this means Dante’s battles take place almost entirely in Limbo. The effects of these battles are felt in our reality, where buildings, roads, and statues inexplicably shatter into pieces – promptly described by the glowering front man of the Raptor News Network as “terrorist attacks” which could “take place anywhere and at any time”.
Ninja Theory certainly don’t lack for creative settings. In Limbo the very architecture of the city comes alive, warping around and attempting to trap Dante whilst demons pop out of the ether and try to hack him to death. This twisted reality is taken full advantage of throughout the game, not least of all during the memorable boss fights which are as playful as they are disgusting. There’s even a boss showdown within a television network news report. Now THAT has never been seen or done before and whoever thought of it should be recognised as a genius.
The story of Dante and Vergil is retold with a combination of spoken dialogue and a graffiti-filled backdrop, which is in a lot of ways much classier than the typical cutscene and the art styles lend a graphic novel tone to the overall feel of the game.
As far as style and presentation go, this is the superior Devil May Cry game, though on the gameplay side of things we’re likely to find ourselves at a point of contestation.
One of the few reasonable arguments to be picked out of the mud being slung at Ninja Theory by disgruntled fans is that they would oversimplify Dante’s combat skills. The last couple of games had us selecting specific styles to fight with, then cutting or blasting a path through demonic entities, and you had to work very hard indeed to understand what styles worked best for every situation and how to mix up the best moves and combos.
Does this Devil May Cry contain that same depth and intricacy to its combat? No, not really. Does it build on what was done in previous Devil May Cry games? Absolutely, it does.
Ninja Theory has applied the ‘one button for everything’ logic to the combat, with one button for melee combat, one button for launch moves that send enemies into the air, and one for ranged moves that include firearms and the new demon-angel ‘whips’ that bring enemies to Dante or Dante to the enemies, depending on your preference. Holding left or right triggers equips angel or demon weapons, while holding neither lets Dante use his standard sword moves. You can instantly switch out angelic, demonic, or ranged weaponry with a press of the D-pad, which means lining up new combos and keeping your style rank on the rise is a lot easier.
There is a clever system at work here, as you can no doubt tell already, but the button combinations for Dante’s moves are pretty much the same regardless of what weapon you have equipped. This basically means once you’ve mastered the art of pressing the melee attack button with one weapon you’re more or less going to be successful with the other weapons, which makes attaining the coveted ‘SSS’ style rank much too easy. It was a style rank you strove for with every breath on Devil May Cry 3 and Devil May Cry 4, and if you managed to attain it you were officially awesome. Ninja Theory have made it far more accessible and some might argue the ‘SSS’ rank is little more than a sugar rush mechanic to enhance an otherwise watered-down combat system.
‘Son of Sparda’ difficulty goes some way to make things tougher and more interesting, but when we cut right down to the bone it just gives you incentive to refine your technique rather than make combat any deeper than it already is. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t take away the gloriousness of what Ninja Theory has done with the franchise, but with combat that’s this easy to master you’re going to expect a sequel to have a lot more flavour to it.
They could start by improving the enemies you’re fighting, because if anything they’re part of the problem. Small fry are a rabble of blade-wielding ‘Stygians’ who are far too easy to predict; even the tougher elite variants present no real threat. Middleweights who carry chainsaws and shields are more interesting, but having ones that reacted to only angelic or demonic weapons (colour coded blue or red, no less) was a mistake as it negates any sense of intellect on the part of the player fighting them. The flying brats with crossbows and grenades made cheap escape routes from the ground, providing no real challenge to seasoned demon killers, and the less said about the obvious charging tank enemies the better.
Redemption for DmC: Devil May Cry’s demonic foes can be found in the nippy swordsmen and giant buzzsaw monstrosities later on in the game (on normal difficulties). They were genuinely tough to work around. The rest is a solid but unimaginative crowd of enemies you won’t find as memorable as the ones Capcom came up with.
Chances are you’ll want to look past these minor annoyances and focus on what Ninja Theory got bang-on with a more engaging origin story, more interesting characters, and for the most part excellent boss fights. With more DLC promised in the form of Dante’s idealistic and coldly calculative brother Vergil being a playable character, there’s plenty of life to draw from this game before you get bored. The combat might be simplified, easier than other Devil May Cry games, but it isn’t easy.
A solid and impressive first performance from Ninja Theory with room for improvement, you will lap up this game like cream…Delicious, bloody cream.