DmC: Devil May Cry [Review]
I wasn’t afraid about how the new DmC: Devil May Cry was going to turn out until it was sitting in my hands. The idea of re-envisioning Dante as a British punk seemed so outlandish compared to his original anime toughguy character that I thought it stood a good chance of working. Really, anything had to be better than playing as Nero in Devil May Cry 4, but I don’t think anyone on the internet saw it that way. For me, I saw this as a chance to take the game and make it interesting again, as the last one just felt kind of phoned in. Devil May Cry 4 was good, but when I beat it I just put it down and walked away. Considering I beat the original release of Devil May Cry 3 on every difficulty level, I was expecting a game that would draw me in and never let me go. Devil May Cry 4 failed to do that, but I’m beyond happy to say that DmC: Devil May Cry has. Through smart streamlining in some places and radical changes in others, Ninja Theory has revitalized the game and made it their own.
If you’ve been playing these games for a long time, one of the first things you’re going to want to know is if the combat is still as frantic and option-filled, and it definitely is. One thing they did well was give you access to many different weapons and moves within the first few levels. You get two brand new weapons really quickly, opening up a lot of combat options. It’s not long afterwards that you’re given a few different kinds of grappling hooks, one that you can use to pull the enemy toward you and another that lets you pull yourself toward your enemy. I had all of these options within the first hour, and soon found myself flying all over the place swinging weapons left and right. The combat didn’t waste any time getting interesting, and I loved it.
It might not seem all that exciting for series veterans to get a bunch of weapons early on since you could only equip two at once. Not only that, you had to buy abilities for each weapon to make it really useful. Ninja Theory went to work on both of these issues to make the game faster and more fluid, and you can feel the results immediately. The first thing they changed was the way that players unlock new abilities. Instead of everything relying on red orbs, you can now unlock new abilities by getting combo points during combat, so the better you fight the more upgrade points you can get.
I typically got at least one or two upgrade points per level even when I was making a lot of mistakes, so that was one or two new moves each level. This meant that I didn’t have to scrimp and save for hours earning red orbs to buy a single high-level upgrade, but instead could apply my points to moves as I saw fit. If I wanted to get to the third level of an attack I just had to get 3 points. It let me customize Dante in a way that suited my combat style quite quickly, and I think it was a great change. Also great is that if you don’t like a move you can pull the upgrade point from it and stick it on a different ability, so you never waste an upgrade. A lot of smart work went into this system.
There seemed to be a downside to this, as I quickly found that I didn’t really want to buy many new moves after I’d unlocked all my favorite staples. I thought I was going to be a little bored and disappointed, but instead I decided to just splurge on something new and try it out in combat. It encouraged me to try new abilities that I soon added to my list of favorite moves. I don’t think I’ve ever used the fire gauntlets much in the previous games, but I had excess points to spend so I bought a few new powers for it and now I use it quite a bit. If the moves had cost a lot I doubt I would have bothered with them, but since they were so cheap there was no reason not to just spend some points and try something new. The new system makes branching out something you can do on a whim, and it actually got me to broaden the moves I used.
The weapon carrying limit was also thrown out the window. Now, you can carry all of your weapons at the same time and alternate between them by holding down either the left or right triggers to access your current angel or demon weapon. Not only does this let you have more weapons on you at once and therefore more combat options, but switching between them on the fly is a snap. If I want to stop swinging the slow hammer weapon around or start cutting into a group with the wide-arced scythe, I can do that nearly in mid-swing just by pressing the trigger down and holding it. It made some really spectacular combos very simple to pull off, and just being able to cycle between a sword, scythe, hammer, and your guns over the span of a few seconds just looks and feels awesome.
There is simplicity to the game in that the moves for each weapon are all executed with similar button presses. There are really only a handful of pretty straightforward button combinations that the game will ask you for, and learning them takes seconds. This made throwing crazy moves all over the place extremely intuitive and simple, something I adored about the game. Between the five weapons and three guns there are enough moves with the limited set of commands that the game still stayed fresh and interesting. It also kept combat straightforward as I never really had to learn a new move set when I switched weapons, nor did I have to think of which commands worked with what weapon. It also means that you know a few moves the second you pick up a weapon, which makes each addition a breeze to get used to.
When you can do all of your moves with ease between all those weapons, combat becomes an amazing ballet of destruction. Where I would normally rely on just the sword in many of the other games, in DmC I was flicking through everything; switching from my sword, to scythe, to fists with a few shots from the shotgun in between. I could hurtle across the map and bury my sword into a demon, tuck and roll out of the way and then cleave into a whole group of enemies with the scythe, singling one guy out with my fists while the rest of the enemies were stunned. Despite all of this chaos, combat always feels like it’s under your complete control, and it’s so good that it’ll easily drag you into multiple playthroughs.
It may not feel like it’s under complete control at times, as there’s no way to lock onto enemies. The game lacks a button to do so, but will often lock on to tougher enemies or bosses all on its own. Also, Dante tends to aim whatever attack you’re trying to throw at an enemy no matter what, so you’ll rarely waste attacks completely. Just the same, there were times when I really wanted to prioritize an enemy but couldn’t because Dante was flying anywhere but where I wanted him to. The game has more than enough tools for this to only be a minor nuisance since you can easily adapt to the situation, dodging and attacking as you see fit, but it’s still bothersome at times. I can see it being a problem on the highest difficulty levels, but for those who might just play on hard or below it’s very manageable. It’s a bit of a silly problem to have in 2013, though, so I’m a little puzzled as to why this feature wasn’t put into the game. Still, it’s the games only slip up as far as combat is concerned, and it’s a minor problem at worst. Most of the time.
It’s not all combat, though, as even the best systems can get a little flat. There’s some well-planned platforming thrown into the mix to break up the fights. While 3D platforming might have you rolling your eyes, the game has a couple of different ways of getting around. You’re given two styles of grappling hook, one that pulls objects and the other which pulls you toward things. It seems silly to have both at times, but it allows for some interesting timed sections where you have to switch back and forth between the two. These sections might feel like they’re on rails a bit, but sacrificing that jumping freedom means that you don’t fling yourself off cliffs all that much unless you screw up what you’re supposed to do. The platforming wasn’t exactly challenging most of the time, but it seemed to be naturally fun in and of itself. Like swinging around in the NES Bionic Commando or web slinging like Spider Man, it’s just fun to fly around these levels. Limited in freedom, yes, but still fun.
The bizarre environments go a long way to keeping the platforming interesting, as the world is literally working against you in DmC. I’ve never worried too much about the background buildings in a game outside of Disaster Report from way back on the PS2 (Hey, I think that building is falling down…uh oh), but in this game the buildings are just as hostile as many of the enemies. They move and shuffle around at will, closing in around the player while hostile words shoot across the walls. It makes it very hard to expect what the game’s going to throw at you, since the whole street you’re standing on could just start to collapse without any notice. I’m surprised that more games haven’t used the environment as an enemy before as it kept me from taking any detail for granted. It made me feel like the buildings were more than just set dressings as they could work to attack me or stop my progress any second.
The enemies themselves aren’t willing to let a couple of buildings steal the show, though. There is a lot of thought behind many of the game’s creatures. Many of them having specific weaknesses that you need to know. Combat would have been a muddled mess without the variety of creatures that are immune to all but one weapon, forcing the player to carefully weight how to fight the varied mobs. I often had to deal with aerial enemies shooting crap at me while shielded enemies approached, or a big creature that was protected everywhere but its stomach would walk up with an enemy that created energy barriers. These enemies are all noticeably different and are easy to spot in combat, making them visually interesting while also making combat decisions easy to make.
Speaking of being visually interesting, I loved this game’s art direction. A lot of the early game just seems like cityscapes cast in red, but it soon broadens into some downright strange places. Some of my favorites include working my way down a demonic news station symbol and making my way through an ever-broadening nightclub. That nightclub seemed to be changing along with the music, and just had this really bizarre, video game aesthetic that showed a lot of work for only showing up in one level. Also, since the buildings were moving and attacking they could change the way some levels would orient themselves. Something that changed the way they could present something as simple as a hallway.
Nothing compares with some of the art they’ve come up for a few of the cutscenes. I was not expecting this game to adopt a renaissance art style in some of its depiction of Dante alongside demons and angels. It’s some seriously incredible artwork, and it looks nothing short of beautiful. These images are incredible, and yet the game only focuses on them for a few seconds before moving on. In another section on the streets, a character is telling a story while the graffiti on the walls changes with every few steps to show another aspect of that story. I wish this much work had been put into making the characters in the game look this good, as I found Dante and his crew to look a little uninspired (especially compared to the rest of the game), but serviceable.
The music suffers a bit of the same problem as the character design. Don’t get me wrong, it got me pumped to play the game in a few places, but it just didn’t feel all that memorable in places. It may have come from the combat being so involved that I wasn’t paying much attention to it, but a lot of the songs just felt like they were just generic metal thrown into the game. That poor fit may have come from the songs being pulled from Combichrist albums and stuck into the game rather than making new music for it, though. I enjoyed the tunes when they played, but I just didn’t really get into the soundtrack as the rest of the game.
It provided the necessary tunes to beat enemies to, though, and that’s all that mattered. Nothing could have dulled this great game for me. I went into it a little nervous that Ninja Theory would screw it up, but they’ve done anything but. They’ve simplified and expanded the combat, making moves more accessible and keeping the game flowing and interesting after every stage. They’ve taken the world, turned it on its head, and filled it with great fights. I had trouble putting it down to take the time for this review, and as soon as I’m done I’m going to pick it back up again. If you’re looking for an excellent beat-em-up, this game will scratch that itch.