Review: DmC: Devil May Cry

7 04 2013

Ever since the debut of Dante the Demon Hunter on the Playstation 2, the Devil May Cry series became the new standard for what an action game ought to be. Although the series is still fairly young, it has produced more grand slams than strike outs and has gathered a strong following due to the consistent quality and polish of the games, and DMC became one of Capcom’s most successful and hot properties. When the announcement of the latest game bearing the DMC name went live, sporting both word of a new studio at the helm and a much punkier, “emo” look for a younger Dante, there was a backlash of revulsion and doubt. Series fans had their doubts in such a drastic change both in the aesthetics and development for this newly minted image for Devil May Cry, and doubly so since it appeared to be a reboot bearing no numbering or subtitle; an implied end of the “devil we know.” Can the new developer Ninja Theory uphold the pedigree of the series, or will this experiment be a sin against it?

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DmC’s plot takes place at the earliest point yet in the timeline of the Devil May Cry series, preceding DMC3. In DmC, players take control of the youngest iteration of Dante yet and delve a little deeper into the origin story of the Sons of Sparda. Dante’s character is a little rougher around the edges with a “fuck you” attitude, but still exudes the swagger and smarmy charm that we’ve come to expect; more crass than cool and a joker without being (too) juvenile. The overall tone of the game is much ruder and raunchier with a more grungy, urban beat.

Visually the game is quite captivating and this is where it makes the best use of its stylistic divergence. Throughout Dante’s quest he will be repeatedly thrown into the world of “Limbo,” which is a twisted alternate reality dimension where the landscape itself springs to life as a malevolent entity intent on killing Dante any way it can. You’ll be treated to some awesome spectacles as the environment lurches and folds back onto itself like a huge stone serpent, or inverts gravity to change the layout of the level. It’s a world with no rules except the ones that are stacked against you.

The developer Ninja Theory cut their teeth on the PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword, and their experience carries over into this highly combat-centric game. The general flow of combat will feel familiar to series veterans, chaining together combinations of sword slashes, aerial juggles, and endless streams of bullets to tear apart wave upon wave of demonic spawn. The new addition is a modification of the controls that closely mimics that of Heavenly Sword, in which the L2 and R2 buttons can be held down to modify attacks, instantly morphing Dante’s signature Rebellion sword into “angel arms” or “devil arms” to expand his moveset and adapt to different situations. Additionally, Dante is able to utilize the Ophion chain to snare enemies and either pull himself towards the target or yank the victim towards him, enabling him to execute some very extensive and creative combos. Unfortunately the interesting angel/devil arms system sometimes becomes cumbersome when it is forced upon the player. The various enemies that arbitrarily force the player to use certain weapons eventually end up being obnoxious rather than interesting, and when some of them show up at the same time in a battle, it sometimes begins to feel like a to-do list. Several enemies swing closer to a “bitch” than a “challenge” to fight, when your options for dealing with them feel constrained. The problem could have been mitigated if those enemies made the other attacks less effective rather than completely ineffectual. The most fun to be had is experimenting with crazy attack strings to devastate your opponents and the foes that inhibit that don’t much contribute to the fun.

The Ophion chain is also heavily utilized in navigation and platforming, which is mostly how your time is spent when not in combat. Using the chain to fling Dante around the environment doesn’t quite give the sensation of freedom and exploration; it mostly ends up boiling down to a sequence of button presses that must be made to get from point A to point B, but it does encourage a sharp eye to look for hidden areas where Dante can find hidden items. At its best it emulates the sensation of movement of the PS2 era Prince of Persia games as Dante catapults and bounds about the twisting cityscape of Limbo, but at its worst it can be a miserable crapshoot on gauging distances with poor perspective and visually confusing ques that can be a quick way to drain your health bar for no reason at all (you are penalized whenever you fall from one of these acrobatic sequences). Spotty targeting, camera issues, and the propensity for platforms and ledges in the level design makes for repeated eye-rolling missteps during both the combat and platforming sections of the game.

Devil Arms are still intact for a fair amount of variety, but none sport the originality or gimmicky appeal of previous offerings, but are fairly effective and still satisfying to use. A nice addition is the ability to reassign your unlock points to the various moves available in the devil arms in case you change your mind later or acquire a weapon that really suits you. A large variety of launcher and air-launcher moves coupled with the Ophion chain means that Dante tends to spend a lot of time juggling opponents in the air, and finding creative combinations of moves with the various weapons to create intricate and lengthy air combos is when the game is at its best.

DmC manages to retain the soul of the series throughout, but there are some things that series veterans will find off-putting. In particular the “new” (old?) Vergil will throw off perceptions previously held about this character and will clash with the image that he has held up until this point. There are various winks and nods thrown in to dedicated fans, primarily in trophy/achievement names or in passing by some of Dante’s numerous quips and one-liners. The notorious difficulty of series is maintained, particularly on Nephilim difficulty which is where old hands should go to get the authentic “Devil May Cry” experience.

In the end DmC is somewhat of a misfit, but it has legs to stand on its own. It won’t please every series fan, and it is unlikely to win many new ones, but is still a solid contender that does more things right than wrong. I would recommend DmC to dedicated fans of Devil May Cry that want to see a fresh take on the series as Dante settles in to his demon hunting legs.


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