When the first images of Dante, the main character in Devil May Cry, surfaced showing the new design and character appearance as imagined in the new game developed by Ninja Theory, the DMC purists went ballistic. “That isn’t Dante!” they said, “That looks like an emo frat boy. Dante has white hair! Dante has a red coat!” and so on. There was much decrying the new direction that Ninja Theory was taking the well-loved and classic franchise, without much of the game actually have been played, in that time-honored tradition of the “Internet Rage.”
Luckily, Ninja Theory has largely proven the naysayers wrong.
The gameplay of Devil May Cry is silky smooth, once the loading screens finish, and the combat is visceral. The frenetic pacing of the fight sequences is interspersed with well-thought-out environmental platforming puzzles, and all wrapped together with a decent, but slightly hollow, storyline.
Telling the story of Dante, a young man who doesn’t know much of his past, DMC‘s slick presentation uses visuals to great effect. All Dante knows is that he can see things others cannot: the world of Limbo that overlays our own reality and the demons that inhabit it. Limbo is a slightly dark and twisted reflection of our own world; where a carousel in our world is a source of entertainment, in Limbo, the music is off-key and stuttering while the ride moves too fast and the horses are menacing.
Through this collision of realities Dante tries to make his way, eventually becoming jaded, sardonic and callous — the full embodiment of arrogance and cynicism that sometimes are the hallmarks of youth. Until one day when he’s a bit too careless and leaves a trail that an assassin uses to track him down. After that, the story unfolds and tells of Dante’s history and why he is now being hunted by the king of the demons. The scenes where Dante’s forgotten past is told to him while being illustrated by the graffiti on the decrepit walls around him stands out as a brilliant bit of design conceit. I really liked it.
The core of this new DMC game, the combat, is true and pure to the mindset and history of the franchise. The combat is incredibly fast paced, and you will get graded on the style of your combat: Using varying tactics and weapons will gain you higher scores than using the same two weapons (using the sword to smack an enemy into the air where you then use your pistols to “juggle” them higher, after which you use the grapple hook to pull yourself up to their level before using a whirlwind attack with the scythe, and then finally use the gauntlets to pile-drive them into the ground below). Some enemies require certain tactics, and timing is key. Many times, the game becomes just as much about timing and pattern recognition than it does about combat skill and style.
Speaking of style, the visuals here deserve special mention. The game’s visuals are beautiful. The way that Limbo and our own world overlap allows for many great moments. Some of the effects are great, like when the environment is used to show subliminal messages: As Dante passes a sign for an ice cream shop, the logo fades out and you see “CONSUME” instead. Similarly, the demons hunting Dante receive instructions about their quarry, with “HE’S HERE” and “STOP DANTE” appearing on walls or billboards to direct them towards Dante.
The audio is well-produced, and appropriately industrial, with the group Combichrist providing several of the tracks that play during various sequences and also including “Throat Full of Glass,” which plays over the opening cinematic. The voice acting is well-done, and Dante, in particular, walks that fine line between being sincere and obnoxious fairly well. The first two games in the franchise were well written with decently rounded characters, but one of my biggest fears for this game was that, similar to the last couple of installments, Dante would be basically a mouthpiece spouting one-liners, a Sarcasmatron. Yes, he still has plenty of one-liners here and is appropriately offensive to the demons he’s battling, but the characterization of Dante lacks some of the depth that was found in the first couple DMC games in the franchise.
Speaking of the potential for offense, this game is rated M for a reason. There is much foul language and, as expected, much gore from the combat. Parents are cautioned to evaluate if this is appropriate for their under-age gamers. While, as an adult, the language still caught me by surprise at times, it could also be humorous; the fight against a 1,200 year-old succubus who spouts vulgarities as a means of trying to distract you springs immediately to mind. Incredibly, a millennia-old demoness has a wildly foul mouth but can’t quite string the words together effectively; it’s like Insult Mad-Libs.
Unfortunately, the game’s load times on the PS3 are ridiculously long, leaving you to stare at a screen that rotates helpful combat tips while you wait. The timing required for certain platforming segments of the game can require much frustrating trial-and-error as you figure out which areas you should jump to or where to use which of the two grapple hooks you have in your arsenal. Learning the patterns and weaknesses of the various enemies will take time, and you can’t expect to breeze through the game too quickly. There are multiple difficulties available, including the incredibly difficult “one-hit-and-you’re-dead” mode that will encourage replays to unlock achievements and other extras such as concept art, skins, costumes and more.
Even with its flaws, the game is a welcome reboot to the DMC franchise, and one that I have enjoyed immensely. It’s interesting to see how the “love it” and “hate it” opinions have sometimes come down along age groups, with older gamers disliking the new reboot and younger gamers (perhaps without some of the nostalgia baggage?) tending to enjoy it. Although the new Dante makes an oblique reference to his previous incarnations in the first 15 minutes of gameplay, no, this isn’t the same Dante that many are fond of, and the new DmC: Devil May Cry is better for it in my opinion.