Altering the appearance of a popular character is guaranteed to bring forth the wrath of fanboys/girls – just ask Nintendo. When the gaming community caught wind that Capcom was putting their sacred hack n’ slash franchise in the hands of developer UK developer Ninja Theory (Enslaved: Odyssey to the West/Heavenly Sword) and images of Dante’s new look were revealed, panic quickly ensured. Any lingering concerns you may have about the direction of the series will diminish within the first few hours of gameplay, this is a prime example of how a reboot should be handled.
Since this is a reboot, Ninja Theory had the opportunity to renew the story of Dante and Vergil. The setting is set in an alternate timeline, where the Son of Sparda is just as egotistical and reckless as ever. Shortly after waking up from a one night stand with some strippers, he is recruited by a terrorist organization called “The Order”, which happens to be lead by his long lost brother, Vergil. Along with a human medium and spiritual helper named Kat, the group embark on a mission to end the deceptive reign of the demon Lord Mundus against humanity. The plot is rather predictable, but there are a few twist and turns, as well as moments of drama and excitement. In comparison to what we’ve come to expect from the series, the storyline is vastly improved and is further enhanced by some well-realized characters and terrific voice acting.
DmC‘s greater focus on storytelling comes at expense of some freedom. Eliminated is the tedious backtracking and repetition of past entries, replaced with linear progress that propels you onward at a rapid pace. While the previous Devil May Cry games firmly rooted themselves in Gothic architecture and dark, gloomy settings, DmC displays far more variety. The extensive, neon-lit metropolis of Limbo City is constantly changing around — and under — Dante. City streets twist, contort, and vanish, while alleyways and buildings implode all around. Every new area is full of surprises, and you’ll marvel in awe as static environments transform into creative death traps. Further enhanced by spectacular lighting effects, the settings are often so beautiful and so odd that you may spend some time just panning the camera.
Gone are the tedious puzzles and instead DmC shifts its focus to delivering a full-on action hack n’ slash experience. The grading system, an intrinsic element of the series’ combat, once again makes a return, encouraging style, variety and precision in your attacks. Each tool in Dante’s broad arsenal comes with a astonishing number of ground and air-based combos. While the series has never suffered from a lack of combo variety, the ease with which you can transition between weaponry is effortless. It’s extremely gratifying to utilize each of Dante’s eight weapons into a single combo chain without missing a beat but the lack of a dedicated lock-on button is surely missed. Easily obtaining the coveted triple-S rank is credited to a combat system that is simple to control but takes time to master.
The reward for all your hard work, aside from the visual payoff, are souls. Souls can be used to upgrade Dante’s abilities and weapons, giving you new moves and increased power to play with. Indeed, there are quite a few moves, including Dante’s famous Rainmaker, that are essential purchases for combo chasers. Upgrades that increase your power make some of the tougher enemies–particularly those towards the end of the game–a little easier to deal with. Meanwhile, separating the lengthy combat sequences is some pretty intense platform segments. Many of the locations are broken up into floating platforms, requiring some precise leaping on Dante’s part. These sections make use of our hero’s Demon Pull and Angel Lift, requiring you to switch between the two in order to pull yourself towards an area or literally pull chunks of the environment toward you to create a platform. These “hookshot” maneuvers can also be used to yank enemies from afar and pull Dante into the air to attack flying hostiles.
While DmC has a decent amount of demons to slay, you’ll encounter most of them within the first half of the game. From there, you’ll come across slightly altered versions of familiar monstrosities — some may have a shield, while others will be immune to certain weapons. These mechanics certainly help make fights more dynamic, but they also ruin the emphasis placed on combo variety. It’s baffling that the game builds such a free-flowing combat system and then at certain points eliminates its use. DmC‘s towering boss battles are impressive to behold, and many have some of the most unique designs I’ve seen in years. Unfortunately, they’re not always enjoyable to fight as they are to look at, because most rely on cliche “hit the glowing weak spot” mechanics. Each fight follow the usual formula of learning each boss’s repetitive movements, and then identifying key moments to launch an attack.
Aside from perfecting your level score, each of the game’s 20 missions are furnished with hidden secrets, some of which you can only be located after obtaining certain abilities and weapons later on. This evokes a bit of Metroid-vania aesthetic to the experience, and you’ll fervently replay each level in an attempt to find every hidden treat. Also included are Challenge rooms that require you to defeat waves of enemies under certain conditions. Some will task you with taking out demons without receiving damage, while another will impose certain stipulations like only being able to inflict damage to foes in the air. These are a great opportunity for testing your combat mastery, and you’ll be compelled to complete them as quickly as possible to secure a top spot on the online leaderboards.
It’s natural to feel uncomfortable about change – especially when dealing with a beloved franchise like Devil May Cry – but underneath the candy-coated exterior is the gameplay that we’ve grown to love. It’s challenging, accessible, and fresh in all the right areas, while retaining the top-notch combat that put the series on the map in the first place.
Editor’s Note: DmC Devil May Cry was reviewed using a PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360 copy of the game. The PS3 version of the game runs fine in combat, but has a few frame-rate drops, audio glitches, and odd shadowing issues in cutscenes. If further investigation reveals any further differences between the two versions, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.