Being a die-hard fan of the Devil May Cry series, I was one of the many appalled by the reveal of the “new” Dante, seeing the character I loved twisted into one that was clearly built to appeal to a new audience. Since DmC’s reveal, I’ve been continually struggling with myself – trying to give the reboot a fair chance, to look forward to a new title – while all the while fearing that the DMC I loved could possibly be dead, the king of action games dethroned with no adequate replacement in my eyes. That said – while I’m judging DmC for what it is, I believe it’s only fair that it is compared to its predecessors, as they are still the core soul of the series, and a history that should not be disregarded.
For those of you that don’t already know, DmC Devil May Cry tells the origins of a new, reworked Dante in the form of a prequel/reboot, as he discovers the truth about his heritage and rises against the demon king, Mundus. However, rather than the gothic scenario we saw in the first Devil May Cry, DmC takes a much more urban, gritty approach – Mundus rules Limbo City in the guise of a mortal, controlling the lives of mankind through control of information and finance - the demon realm of Limbo sitting in a parallel reality that only few others can see, the true workings of the city hidden from the eyes of humans.
However - for total control, Mundus knows that Dante needs to be dealt with, one entity that he cannot control. While the demons hunt Dante, there is also the mysterious group known as the Order who seek to break Mundus’ reign. Run in secret by Vergil, Dante’s long-lost twin brother, he and Kat – a psychic able to see the demonic side of Limbo - look to recruit Dante into their ranks to take down Mundus once and for all. I won’t go into too much detail with the plot, as I don’t want to spoil it – I’ll just say that I was satisfied with how it panned out and it was a rounded and complete plot.
It’s a refreshing take on the story, and I think I’d be doing an injustice to not commend Ninja Theory for being able to create something that feels completely fresh. Their talent for characterisation shines when it comes to the lead cast - all oozing with personality, and generally looking great in terms of motion capture and facial expressions. Not to forget Bob Barbas, the painfully greasy, disgusting newsreader who tells all of his incriminating lies under the guise of “just doing God’s work”. The kind of guy that you can’t help but want to punch in the face. In case you hadn’t noticed, the game does seem to have a distinct taste of V for Vendetta- a censor controlling dictatorship versus a couple of rebels who want to break the control of the corrupt system that enslaves the citizens.
That said, I have very mixed feelings about this re-imagining of the series – while the tale of Mundus’ control over mankind using deception is one I found very compelling, the game also has a much coarser tone than its predecessors, with a lot of swearing and sex thrown into the mix. While I could let the occasional curse slide, especially when Mundus is in a bad mood, it does seem that the designers have gone out of their way to include a lot of swearing throughout the game for no good reason other than to make the game feel more harsh and edgy. As for sex, there’s no nudity, but the game’s intro revolves mainly around Dante spending time with a couple of strippers, rather than the usual display of stylish fighting skills. And some of the scenes involving Mundus and his “partner” Lilith go from cringe-worthy to downright gross. While I understand that Dante is a raw, loose cannon, and Mundus is a disgusting, corrupt hell-demon, it just generally cheapened the experience for me - this is the first time I’d be embarrassed to play a DMC title in front of my family, that’s for sure. Rather than making the game feel more mature, it mostly just felt like they were trying too hard to be “cool”, and spoiling otherwise good storytelling. One of the things I love about the series is how it’s always managed to retain dignity through innuendo and quick wit, but DmC managed to make me feel awkward in a fair few places. That’s not to say that the story is bad – only cheapened by “smut” that I’d basically expect from a teen road-trip movie. Even Vergil has a line or two that move into this territory – and he’s the most stern, serious character the series has to offer.
Anyway – I think it’s about time I discussed the gameplay of DmC. Being part of Capcom’s own genre, “Stylish Action”, the general premise of the game is to hack, slash and gun your way through 20 missions of demon-hunting fun, and to look awesome doing it. Of course, this is also the aspect of which I was most critical - a Devil May Cry game with boring combat defeats the main point of the game.
Dante starts the game with his sword Rebellion - his usual weapon albeit with a DmC redesign, and shortly thereafter picks up his pistols, Ebony & Ivory. As you might expect, these weapons haven’t changed too much except from some new animations – Rebellion still has its iconic Stinger stab attack, rising Hightime strike, downward Helmbreaker and such, and the Aerial Rave air combo is now part of the weapon’s core skill set, allowing Dante to juggle enemies in midair from the get-go. E&I offer the usual supportive fire as well as a new charge shot that ricochets a shot between targets, and the Rainstorm abilities that allow him to fire while spinning upward or downward in the air.
In terms of the core gameplay engine, Dante controls quite well – while Rebellion feels a tad slower than his DMC3/4 counterparts, his attacks feel solid, fluid and responsive. While the physics do feel a little different to start with, it doesn’t take long to fall into the groove and it feels natural once again. However, for some reason the designers have felt the need to change the method of inputting many of the moves, which can be quite jarring for older players. The lock-on has been dropped almost entirely, while Stinger, High Time and Helm Breaker have all lost their original direction+attack button inputs. Rising attacks and slams are now performed by pressing the B/Circle button on the ground or in the air respectively, while Stingers and similar attacks are done by double-flicking the analogue in the direction you wish to aim it – something I still find quite unnatural to do in the middle of DmC’s combat. You can also perform a dodge roll by tapping either the left or right bumper, rather than the old lock-on rolling system. The rising/slam attack inputs work fine, although I’m not sure whether the change in control scheme was really necessary.
Of course, Dante obtains more weapons as the game progresses. For some reason, he doesn’t obtain any more guns until quite late in the game, but they act as you would expect – Dante can switch between them for varied typed of shot (i.e. range and damage) as well as upgrading for special effects such as charge shots and increased damage, as well as a couple of special attacks with more unique functions. Nothing ground breaking here, but it’s about what I’d expect compared to previous games.
The melee weapons (or Devil Arms as fans of DMC3/4 would call them) are a little different in terms of gameplay to previous titles. While Dante would usually have one melee weapon equipped at a time, and be able to switch weapons on-the-fly with a tap of the weapon switch button, he instead has two modes – Angel and Demon – that can be accessed at any time by holding LT/L2 or RT/R2 respectively. Angel weapons are usually fast with wide range (such as the Osiris scythe), while Demon weapons are slow and deal heavy damage (like the Arbiter axe). Each mode has two weapons that you obtain as the story progresses, meaning a total of five melee weapons in the game, including Rebellion. When you obtain second weapons for the two modes, they can be switched at any time by tapping the Left or Right D-Pad directions.
This style means you generally have three melee weapons equipped at all times, with all five easily accessible once you have obtained them. Obviously this means that weapons can be switched on the fly fairly quickly, switching mid combo by simply holding or releasing one of the triggers. The Y/Triangle button performs a weapons’ standard combos, while the B/Circle buttons are used for rising/slam attacks, although they vary per weapon – for instance, Osiris is able to perform a spinning Prop/Shredder move which is a multi-hit spinning attack, while the Arbiter’s launcher is a ground slam with a wide reach. As always, the game rewards you for mixing up your attacks and avoiding enemies by ranking your combat with a style meter that fills up at the top of the screen, with D being the worst, and SSS being the highest award. Similarly, your mission results are ranked depending on the amount of Stylish points you achieved, whether or not you died or used items, and how long it took you to finish.
While there are a decent amount of melee weapons, I was a little disappointed with the variety available in terms of attacks. While every weapon had a couple of basic combos and a few specials (e.g. a launcher, a charge attack, an aerial attack, a downward aerial attack, and a Stinger-type special), it really doesn’t feel as though each weapon would be solid enough to hold its own compared to some of the weapons in the past. Rebellion has less techniques than both DMC3 and 4, even going as far as Prop/Shredder and Round Trip being techniques allocated to different weapons. The Arbiter axe didn’t really gel with me as a weapon that flowed well, with its heavy strikes, and the Osiris scythe wasn’t quite unique enough to separate itself from the Rebellion as a bladed weapon. I did enjoy the second Demon weapon, but again it felt a little like a watered-down version of a previous weapon in the franchise. Perhaps it was a limitation of the new engine, but I felt as though DMC3/4 pushed the boundaries more in terms of exciting attack options - especially when it came to the more crazy moves. By the time I finished the game, I didn’t feel there was much left to see in terms of combat.
Aside from guns and melee weapons, Dante also gains access to some abilities that are used both in and out of combat. The Angel Boost allows Dante to do an aerial dash by pressing Jump while in the air holding LT/L2, which is reminiscent of the Sky Star Trickster ability from DMC3/4. Dante also gets access to the Ophion whip, a type of grappling hook which is clearly inspired by Nero’s Devil Bringer from DMC4 - allowing Dante to grab enemies to him (or him to enemies), as well as closing the distance between certain grapple points in the levels. By pressing the shoot button in Angel mode (LT/L2) he pulls himself to an enemy or object, or during Demon mode (RT/R2) it will pull the enemy or object towards Dante.
The game of course incorporates a Devil Trigger mode which, once unlocked, involves a bar that fills up as you fight. Once you have filled up at least the minimum amount of the bar, clicking in both analogue sticks activates Dante’s DT, where his hair turns white and his coat red, and his attack and defense go up temporarily, with health regeneration. New to this franchise, however, is the effect that all regular enemies get tossed up into the air allowing you to grapple between them and destroy them in mid-air. Personally, I found this to be more of a hindrance than a help, though – while I normally enjoy DT’s added performance, I found myself wasting half of my time trying to reach the enemies – whereas normally you’d just continue chaining your attacks with greater effect. I do feel that it spoils DT a little, though on bosses it generally works in the more traditional way.
The enemies in the game do feel somewhat different to previous entries in the series, and have their good and bad points. The regular Stygian opponents are your standard punching bags, which are fun for chaining combos and generally keeping your style rating up. Then there are flying enemies such as Pathos and Bathos, that are best dealt with by grappling (either you to them, or them to you) to take out with melee attacks. Some enemies employ shields, such as the Death Knight – which can be broken through with strong, charged attacks, or pulled aside with a Demon Pull to leave them open.
There do seem to be a lot of enemies in the game that are impervious to many attacks, however. While Death Knights’ shields can be pulled aside, many enemies such as the chainsaw-wielding Ravagers employ rage attacks that mean only very strong attacks can damage them. While they work in a strategic sense, they can often break the flow of the game as I found myself having to really play safe to pick them off, and found them less enjoyable to fight than other opponents – especially coupled with an attack that has an annoying impale animation that feels a little out-of-place. Perhaps my least favourite opponents are ones that are only affected by either Angel or Demon weapons – while they add some strategic value, I wasn’t too keen on the way there are many times where certain weapons are altogether ineffective – in most DMC games, you can play using whichever weapon you like in your own style, whereas I found myself sometimes being forced to use attacks I wouldn’t use, given another option. Especially when that means having to use a crowd-control oriented weapon on a single, strong opponent.
That said, there were a few enemies that I did particularly enjoy fighting. The Witch is a female entity that summons a protective shield around either herself, or another of your opponents. They quickly become priorities to defeat, and you have to break their defenses and take them down before they cast their shields again. Also, a later enemy in the game, the Drekavac, is a katana-wielding assassin with the ability to jump into portals and reappear elsewhere on the battlefield. It’s very satisfying to smash one with a well-timed charge attack as they reappear, and the enemies reminded me a little of the Hell Vanguard enemies from DMC3, which I loved – making Drekavac easily my favourite enemy in the game. There are also some larger enemies in the game that take a little more patience, though they can be taken down quickly once you get the hang of them – or even sometimes pulled onto their backs with a well-timed grapple.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Devil May Cry game without some big bosses to fight. The Hunter, for instance, attacks you at a few intervals throughout the first stage, using a giant grappling-hook that he flings at you from a distance. Once you get up close and personal with him at the end of the stage, it turns into a more traditional boss fight – evading his attacks and smashing in as many of your own when you get a chance. Sadly, the Hunter wasn’t particularly memorable, especially compared Phantom, Cerberus or Berial from previous games, and none of the bosses really had that obvious “Devil May Cry” vibe – but of course, this is a different style of DMC. A couple of the fights did remind me a little of the Saviour battle from DMC4 - having to grapple between platforms when the one you are on becomes too dangerous, which added a nice touch to some of the battles. One of the later fights was particularly impressive on the visual side of things, but I felt it was rather a shallow, repetitive fight when it came down to the actual mechanics of it. Playing on Nephilim mode (the hardest mode available at the start), I didn’t particularly struggle with any of the bosses or felt that they took much learning to vanquish – but that might be because I’m used to playing DMC games on the harder settings.
While using Angel and Demon modes in combat works fairly well for performing melee attacks, I must say that I found switching between the two modes quite complicated at times. Perhaps it is simply my co-ordination, but I would often get my two grapple abilities mixed up, or for some inexplicable reason I would often press RT+B rather than RT+X when trying to pull objects toward Dante. I think it was something to do with my mindset knowing I had to use the “right-hand” button (the right trigger) that made me press the wrong face key at the same time, but I can’t know for sure if this would be a problem for others. All I can say is that while I appreciate the concept, I can’t help feeling some of the grapple elements of the game could have been vastly improved by using the same input for both pull types. Perhaps just have had to tap the X button for the “Angel” pull, and hold it for the “Demon” pull. This was my main problem with the Demon/Angel system, although I did at times get mixed up in combat as well. While I don’t particularly enjoy the grapple ability in combat on the whole - as I think it makes for lazy combos and less crowd control skill - I don’t recall having as much trouble with Nero’s Devil Bringer sections in DMC4.
That said, aside from getting confused with grappling inputs, the level design is perhaps one of the most interesting parts of Ninja Theory’s take on Devil May Cry. The series has had a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to its level layouts, as the focus has generally been on the combat. However, DmC has obviously had a lot of work when it comes to stage design – as the areas are very interactive and visually impressive. Dante spends the majority of the game in Limbo, where the world itself works against him, the stages often shifting to block his path or open up holes in the floor to drop him in. This is obviously where abilities such as the Angel Boost come into play, as well as the grapple. A small blue circle indicates to do an Angel Lift grapple, while a red one indicates the Demon Pull grapple. Visually this works quite nicely, as you can chain them together to pull blocks through the air to land on, and grapple around the environment as they shift around you. I wasn’t sure how to feel about some of the stages, though – while they were visually diverse, they are often surreal to the point that you no longer feel as though you are in one, flowing world with “real” locations. It makes sense in terms of storyline – but with stages dropping to pieces and coming in all colours, I did yearn for some solid, sane ground at times. That said, the game does have some stunning areas, and it’s definitely very fresh.
The stages also have a mixture of things to find as you progress. There are a number of keys hidden around the game, and each one opens one of the hidden doors around the stages which lead to secret missions. These secret missions, not unlike their older counterparts, challenge your skills with timed objectives and special conditions. Each one grants you a quarter of a Health or Devil Cross, which when complete increase your maximum HP or DT. Also hidden among the stages are “Lost Souls”, trapped creatures stuck in the walls which add to your mission score if you find them all and destroy them.
Sadly, my biggest complaint with the game is in it’s replay value. While the harder modes do indeed offer harder challenges as always, I found the new enemies caused more frustration than enjoyment as they often involve evading like crazy and picking moments to pull off individual attacks to take down strong opponents – with many enemies immune to certain weapons, problematic combinations of enemies seemed to break the flow of juggling multiple enemies. Perhaps it does require more skill than the old titles, it’s hard to tell – but it’s certainly a lot harder to be both stylish, and utilise your own, personal tactics, which I found a lot less enjoyable than previous games in the series. The game’s stages also have a fair amount of moments that are a pain to re-play – various sections that simply involve walking whilst dialogue unfolds, or repeating sections of platforming that offer no new challenge or opportunity for working on improving your ranking.
The game also feels lacking in unlockables – during my review time I completed three modes – Nephilim, (the game’s equivalent of a “Hard” mode), Son of Sparda (Very Hard) and Heaven or Hell (DMC’s returning one hit-kill mode). While the game has a section for unlocked “Skins/Perks”, including weapon skins - I only unlocked two new costumes, which I felt were both fairly uninspired – and no sign of any “Perks” or weapon skins – which I hope will not be restricted to DLC. Of course, there may be better rewards for beating the game’s hardest modes – but I would have liked to have seen something that made subsequent playthroughs a little more interesting – such as a Classic Dante skin, an infinite-DT perk, or perhaps a new take on the “Legendary Dark Knight” costume using Sparda’s new design. There’s no Bloody Palace survival mode to unlock – though this has been announced to be added as part of a free update to the title in the near future.
+ Retains fluid combat true to the Devil May Cry series
+ Good visuals, stages and characters look great
+ Intriguing story telling a new take on Dante’s origins
+ More interesting platforming elements than previous entries
- Weapons have less expansive movesets than usual
- Poor selection of unlockables (at least before the final difficulties)
- Replaying stages offers little variety and sections that become a chore to redo
Overall, DmC provides an interesting retelling of Dante’s roots, and Ninja Theory have created a solid title with a well-told story and interesting takes on the series’ classic characters. It’s combat feels very much like a Devil May Cry title, yet with a few changes – and it’s stages are some of the most dynamic the series has seen to date. However, aside from some different tactics when it comes to combating the new demons, I felt the game rarely did anything better than the original series – especially when it comes to weapon variety, unlockables and replay value. While I thoroughly enjoyed my first run through the game, I’m not sure it will keep me coming back in the way that the classic series does – I just don’t feel there’s much left to explore within the game’s combat. I had fun, but I do hope this isn’t a permanent new direction for the series – DmC Devil May Cry is good, but I think the original games are better.
DmC: Devil May Cry is released 15th of January Xbox 360 and PS3
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