FEATURE: "DmC: Devil May Cry" Review

Definitely not the worst game Dante has ever appeared in, by a long shot

Here, lemme get this out of the way, like a Band-Aid, because it needs to be said. DmC: Devil May Cry is not a bad game. As far as Devil May Cry games go, it's a solid effort toward making an otherwise scary-hardcore series approachable and fun.


Now, don't get me wrong--I love Devil May Cry, but I felt the series was starting to go downhill very quickly. After a viciously difficult hardcore-centric return to form with Devil May Cry 3, 2008's Devil May Cry 4 seriously disappointed me by being half a game that mixed a few smart concepts (the Devil Bringer) with some clunky ideas that really screwed with the flow of combat (having to rev the Red Queen sounds awesome until you're spending half a battle jamming on L2/LT while your rating plummets). DmC: Devil May Cry is a solid action game that introduces the themes, world, and style of Devil May Cry to a new audience, and it tries hard to please longtime fans of the series.


Despite Capcom and Ninja Theory's efforts to start fresh with DmC: DMC, it's hard not to compare this reboot to the original quadrilogy, so that's how I'll be discussing this game with all of you.


BACK IN THE DAY, Dante was a half-devil, half-human hybrid who ran a supernatural investigation agency called Devil May Cry. Son of the famed demon warrior Sparda, Dante battled the forces of Hell for fame, fortune and fun with a vast, varied arsenal of weaponry and a propensity for pithy one-liners.




BUT NOW, Dante is a half-devil, half-angel hybrid, unaware of his past and living a hedonistic lifestyle in a trailer on the boardwalk. Still the son of the famed demon warrior Sparda, Dante must come to terms with his traumatic past, taking on the forces of Hell with a smaller, but still-varied arsenal of weaponry and one hell of a mean streak--the one-liners don't come as easily as they used to.


BACK IN THE DAY, Dante faced several powerful antagonists throughout the series--from the nigh-invulnerable demon king Mundus to his twin brother Vergil to two other jackholes nobody cares about. The plot was almost always the same--the lead villain was trying to find some way to unleash Hell on Earth, or at least kill a lot of people, so it was up to Dante (and each game's leading lady) to save the day as stylishly as possible, often ending with Dante's trademark "JACKPOT!" followed by a well-placed gunshot.




BUT NOW, Dante basically fights his way through the plot of awesome sci-fi classic They Live. Mundus is still a nigh-invulnerable demon king, but he masquerades as a powerful human banker and keeps the human populace pacified through subliminal control. Dante's twin brother Vergil--along with newcomer Kat and her booty shorts--are part of a small resistance called The Order, which is vilified by Mundus' propagandic "Raptor News Network." Rather than attacking humans in the real world, demons are hidden in a pocket dimension called Limbo, where Dante must travel to fight them on their own terms.


BACK IN THE DAY, Devil May Cry was praised for its sharp gameplay, marrying fast-paced, fun-to-watch action with tight controls. Working almost like a fighting game at times, Devil May Cry and its sequels required you to handle crowd control as well as strong individual opponents with a suite of upgradeable moves. To this day, Devil May Cry 3 is on the short list of "greatest 3D action games ever made" for its smart, multi-style combat. In DMC3, your weapons could be switched on the fly during combos, and while you would choose one fighting style in DMC3, DMC4 tried to let you change styles mid-fight with mixed results.




BUT NOW, things are a bit simpler. This doesn't mean they're bad, it just means that it's not as balls-to-the-wall hardcore as previous installments. "Devil Hunter" (the baseline "normal" difficulty) is actually kinda easy for experienced action game fans, and even ratcheting it up one level to "Nephilim" is still pretty forgiving. Here's where one of my bigger problems with the game came up--there's no lock-on. [NOTE: If you're a casual fan of action games just looking for an exciting hack-and-slash-a-thon, you can skip this part. Compared to many standard action games, DmC: Devil May Cry is quite good, but as a Devil May Cry title, it warrants further dissection.]




You see, in previous Devil May Cry games, you would be able to hardlock onto enemies with the R1 button, letting you circle and evade around them, while giving you access to certain moves like the distance-closing Stinger or your launcher (the move that makes enemies airborne, and vulnerable to air combos). Now, with no lock-on, it means you'll have to get used to a slightly-streamlined combat system that loosens things up a bit for less-experienced players. The launcher is mapped to a single button (O/B), and dash/distance-closing moves like Stinger are done with a double-tap towards an enemy, then Triangle/Y. For someone used to 3D fighting games, it's a small adjustment, but dedicated Devil May Cry players will have to rewire their playstyle specifically around this change to basic mechanics. While attacks softlock onto enemies (when you start attacking, you'll continue attacking the same enemy unless you move in a different direction), it's frustrating to not have as much control over combat.




In the reboot, it's not so much that you can switch styles as you can switch weapons--L2/Left Trigger activates Dante's Angel weapons (putting him in "Angel Mode"), while R2/Right Trigger gives control over Dante's demon weapons (naturally activating his "Demon Mode," not to be confused with his powered-up "Devil Trigger" form). Color-coded enemies that can only be defeated with Angel or Demon weapons show up occasionally to throw you off your game, but they're not very frequent, even on higher difficulties. All weapons are available at any given time, but you change guns and weapons with the d-pad--Dante's signature Rebellion sword is always equipped. Instead of toggling through weapons like in previous games, you'll simply have to use combinations of triggers and face buttons for different moves. The game even gives you quick visual timing cues like Street Fighter IV does for its one-frame link combos, further enforcing the fact that this game was built specifically with new players in mind.


BACK IN THE DAY, there wasn't much platforming in Devil May Cry--or rather, it wasn't a major part of the main game. See, the goal in the first four DMCs was to kick ass all game long, but wandering off the beaten path would reward you with extra Red Orbs (money/XP) and incredibly rare health items (which were expensive in the games' store). Exploration paid off, and really just consisted of some very demanding jumping puzzles that didn't use any of Dante's abilities, although Devil May Cry 4 had quite a few segments that utilized Nero's grappling hook-like Devil Bringer. Abilities were expensive, permanent purchases, but you'd only really end up using a handful of them.




BUT NOW, there's a pretty visible split between platforming sections and combat. Surprisingly, it feels natural--use Dante's Angel Lift (launch Dante toward targets) and Demon Pull (bring targets toward Dante) to fly around levels and create platforms to stand on. Environments in this game are beautiful, and are really memorable. One of my favorite moments takes place in a strobe-lit neon nightclub, and once Dante is pulled into Limbo, the background changes into a graphic equalizer line that pulses to the level's soundtrack.




That same level shows how the platforming can take more subtle twists, as parts of the dance floor will change, damaging you if you're not in Angel or Demon mode. In another level, you fight in a world that's been turned upside down, with one battle taking place on an inverted glass-dome skylight. The game had (up to that point) encouraged you to use ground-bounce and ground-slam combos and finishers, but now almost every attack shatters the ground beneath your feet, forcing you to play smart and keep track of the limited space you have to fight in.




While the presence of platforming has been beefed up throughout the game, exploration pays off less. Red Orbs are just money now, so getting healing items is easier, with White Orbs giving experience. Get enough White Orbs and you'll get upgrade points, which you can freely redistribute at any shop or between levels. If a new move isn't working out for you, put the points elsewhere and try something else--you'll be almost fully-leveled up by the end of the game anyways.


BACK IN THE DAY, Devil May Cry didn't take itself that seriously. Yeah, there were a few grim moments in the series--it is, after all, about demons and devil hunters and looming apocalyptic warfare--but for the most part, it wore its goofy heart on its goofy red leather trenchcoat sleeves and went nuts. From Dante killing twenty dudes while eating a piece of pizza while half a scythe was stuck in him, to Dante talking about his wing-wong for a minute and a half in a terrible Antonio Banderas voice while blowing up a Hell Gate in the shape of a heart, Devil May Cry is not exactly the pinnacle of interactive storytelling, and it's proud of it.




BUT NOW, Dante is thrust into a gritty world where the populace is kept in check with insidious mental programming, and the message and the truth are so damn important it hurts! That's why it feels so jarring when Dante gets into an F-bomb shouting match with a succubus, or cracking pretty lame fat jokes to a new class of enemy. There's really only one part in the game where the story has the crazy, over-the-top action-at-all-costs feel, and it's right at the beginning--the rest of the game is trying way too hard to be cool. While Devil May Cry is cool, it was able to make fun of itself every now and then. The reboot wants you to take it seriously, which is a big mistake on Ninja Theory's part. The only time I really felt invested in the story was at the very, very end, during a surprisingly easy final boss fight.


With all said and done, DmC: Devil May Cry does exactly what it sets out to do: make a Devil May Cry game that everybody can get into, that offers challenge and replay beyond what it initially provides for hardcore fans. Those new to the series will be enthralled by the insane stunts and non-stop action, but longtime DMC fans will have to get used to this being the new face of their favorite actioner. The new Dante isn't much like the old one at all--he's closer to, well...




...yeah, that's about right, minus the Beantown accent. New Dante is funny, but kind of annoying, and really, really wants to be the coolest guy in the room. That shit gets old fast.


Thankfully, the gameplay holds up, even though it's not as precise or challenging as previous installments in the series. Angry longtime fans, chill out--it's not like Capcom is going to show up at your door and break all your original copies of the games or your HD Collection. If you liked the originals, you might like this one--I did.




But with all it does right, DmC: Devil May Cry does enough wrong to not hang with the big boys of the genre it popularized. Bayonetta, Devil May Cry 3, Vanquish, and Ninja Gaiden Black (or Ninja Gaiden Sigma) are all still around, and tower above DmC in terms of quality. Casual action fans, pick up DmC and have a blast. Hardcore action fans who need a challenge, wait until February for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, or go ahead and pick up Anarchy Reigns.



+ Beautiful backgrounds always give you someplace interesting to fight in

+ Platforming and the levels themselves also factor into battle, making you consider your surroundings

+ Flexible upgrade system lets you fine-tune Dante's abilities to your playstyle

+/- Streamlined combat system sacrifices the hardcore fighting-game-like system of previous titles for accessibility

+/- Multiple postgame difficulties give plenty of replay value, but must be unlocked by playing one of the easier default difficulties

+/- New world and story have some good ideas that build up to a pretty solid ending, but...

- ...the story tries way too hard to be serious and edgy, which just makes it look pretentious and dumb

- Underwhelming challenge on baseline "normal" and "hard" difficulties for experienced action gamers

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