It’s the start of a new year, and with that comes the usual early-year game releases. One game release that has been stirring up a lot of buzz is the American reboot of the Devil May Cry series from Capcom. Such a bel0ved series seeing a complete 0verhaul from a developer half a world away from its origin causes everything from eye-rolling to downright hostility from the gaming public. But taken on its own merit, could DmC: Devil May Cry be a return to form for the iconic series, or is it just another attempt to cash in on a familiar name?
The elephant in the room is Dante. Even if you aren’t familiar with Devil May Cry, as a gamer you’ve probably seen the white-haired half-demon protagonist of the series. He is an awesome character: cool under pressure, eats nothing but pizza, has a unique sense of style, and makes his living running a demon-hunting business called Devil May Cry. Sorry, but forget all that. This new Dante shares nothing in common with the series icon, save for his reddish coat. This new Dante is younger, faster, wittier, and fresher than his previous incarnation. He develops along a well-trodden path for an action-adventure protagonist, transforming from a reluctant hero to willing savior. The devil, as they say, is in the details. Series faithful may contend that he doesn’t stay faithful enough t0 his pr0genitor, but I feel like that criticism will fade with time. He doesn’t succeed as a character because he rides on the coattails of the past, but rather transcends the comparison to be wholly unique, and that’s no easy task. This new Dante is a likable protagonist and he is endlessly entertaining. During boss fights and cutscenes, he spits one-liners and provides hilariously crude commentary. His dialogue is excellently written, and brilliantly voiced. He is a base animal, to be sure; however, he is a strong character in a genre with too many forgettable protagonists. Like him or hate him, we are witnessing the rebirth of an icon.
The world is run by an Illuminati-like cabal of demons that control everything we do by leveraging their influence in banking, industry, and information. Humanity is kept in blissful ignorance of their enslavement. As Dante, the game starts with Dante taking a few lovely ladies home from a nightclub to his boardwalk trailer for some… party time. He wakes up to someone banging on his door. The person at the door is Kat, a medium who works with an organization called the Order, an insurgent group fighting against demonic control. Apparently Dante was a bit careless, and the demons have tracked him down. He gets pulled into Limbo, and you (as the player) get to killing pretty much right away.
The current-generation hardware may be aging and on the way out, but you can certainly teach some old dogs new tricks and this game proves it. While the Unreal engine powering the visuals may be one of many oft-used industry staples, it’s used to great effect in this title thanks in part to its stellar conceptual design. The 20-mission campaign has immense variety in its level design, and no two levels feel similar in their visuals. From the brown palette of cobblestone cities collapsing and rearranging themselves to thwart your advance to the warped TRON-esque visuals of a demonic nightclub, all the way through a gripping climax inside a demonic office building, the level design continues to impress and ground the narrative through its visuals. While the overall design is stellar, there are plenty of small touches that sell the experience. When Dante is pulled into the purgatory-like Limbo- a demonic world that exists parallel to our own- you can see the outlines of people in the real world on the street pop in an out of existence. This is a cool effect that really makes the idea of a parallel world so convincing in this context. The streets twist and contort during scripted events to stop your advance and funnel you through the mostly linear design. Enemies deploy by essentially bursting forth from the ground, and it looks great. The enemies themselves range from fairly standard action-adventure archetypes (basic shock troops, fliers, heavy troops) to some wholly unique offerings, such as the ninja-like Dreamrunner or the porcupine-like Rage. Without spoiling anything, the bosses are some of the most impressive seen in the genre in quite some time, big standouts being the Succubus and Mundas’ Spawn. While the graphics are stylish and very high-quality, let’s not forget that this game is being presented on aging hardware regardless of which console you choose. Expect a few muddy textures here and there, and don’t be surprised if a texture pops in or sometimes fails to load during a cutscene. Most of the graphical oddities seem to rear their head during cutscenes, rather than gameplay, and I did find it to be a bit frustrating, if understandable. Of course, Dante himself is the star of the show. His attacks are colorful and quick, stylish and just over the top. His demonic weapons cause bright red explosions and his sword Rebellion has some of the coolest attacks in the game from a visual perspective. The animation and design is spot-on and has lots of flavor.
The audio design isn’t quite as impressive, but is largely par for the course for the genre. The sound effects are passable, with gunfire and weapon noises being largely what you expect without any big surprises. The audio doesn’t stand out in any technical fashion, but it’s executed well. Enemies will often give audio cues before they attack, allowing you to dodge out of the way or make another attack plan. It’s a smart, common-sense approach to audio involvement that prevents the sound effects from simply being noise. As far as music goes, most of the soundtrack is licensed music from metal band Combichrist. Not exactly my cup of tea for pleasure listening, but the auditory motif works well in this context. Metal is pretty standard for the stylish action-adventure fight sequences in this series, and the selected tracks are serviceable, if somewhat forgettable. The true standout in the audio department is the voice acting. Dante, Virgil, and Mundas are the standouts, delivering passionate performances that round out the narrative with a solid sense of believability.
As I always say, you can have pretty graphics and a good plot, but it’s pretty meaningless if the experience isn’t fun to play. This is what is going to make or break this reboot. Can Ninja Theory stay true to the over-the-top nature of the series while still providing a robust uniqueness that doesn’t rely on the past as a crutch? As it turns out, they can. They manage to have one foot planted firmly in the soul of the series while still offering enough new stuff that you’ll constantly be impressed with the gameplay possibilities. Like most action-adventure titles, you gain upgrade resource from performing well in combat. You can use these upgrade resources to learn new moves for any of the insane weapons that you collect over the course of your adventure. What’s really cool is that you aren’t married to any of these choices. You can unlearn and experiment with any of the moves at your leisure. It’s a welcome change, one that encourages experimentation without forcing you down an upgrade path. All these new moves are, of course, designed to make you more proficient in combat. During combat you earn a rank for how well you do, with mostly has to do with your variety in attacks while avoiding getting hit yourself. A rank of SSS is the goal, and is surprisingly attainable if you plan your attacks wisely. Rinse, repeat. The game attempts to knock you off balance by pitting you against different types of baddies during the same fight, in some cases requiring you to use different weapon types on specific enemies. The different kinds of weapons are solid as well. The left trigger will activate your fast crowd-control oriented angel weapons, while the right trigger will awaken your hard-hitting single-enemy demon weapons. You can switch between these weapons and your sword at any time, and you also have a few guns to use during combat as well. You can switch the equipped weapon in each slot using the D-pad, and if you’re especially dexterous, you can theoretically use every weapon in the game during a single fight without ever pausing the action. It’s a lot of fun to mess around with. Even more fun is the whip. Using the left and right triggers during combat also activates your whip, which can pull an enemy towards you or you towards an enemy. You can use it to get out of a tough situation, or to slow down an enemy with a shield. I could just keep going on and on about how deep the combat experience is, but I think you get the idea by now.
Unfortunately, not all is perfect with this experience. I did run into a few odd glitches that felt remarkably out of place in a title this polished. During one of the final boss fights, I skipped an in-engine cutscene and found that a building that was supposed to have been destroyed was still standing, and the boss spawned inside it. The building was in between me and him, so I was unable to determine when he was going to attack. I reloaded a checkpoint and watched the cutscene, which fixed the problem. During another boss fight, the boss stopped reacting entirely, and let me hack away for two full minutes until he died. I was happy that I got a SSS rating on a hard boss fight, but it wasn’t a hard boss fight due to his AI being asleep at the wheel. A few AI and graphical problems also poke their heads into the experience from time to time, and it feels a bit strange to see in a game that is otherwise brimming with polish and quality. Lastly, I encountered an unbelievably frustrating problem where my controller would turn off every 15-45 seconds during the last ten minutes of the game. I tested my controller on 5 other titles and was unable to replicate the problem. I went back to DmC , and the controller started acting up again. I don’t see how the game could be having this effect, but it does seem to be the case.
DmC: Devil May Cry is an excellent start to 2013. While this generation of consoles is on the way out the door, it’s good to see a developer taking a chance by meddling with a beloved series and breathing some much needed life into a stagnant genre. While this re-envisioning may rub series faithful the wrong way at first, the accessible nature of the gameplay combined with Ninja Theory’s obsessive faithfulness to series canon makes this title the best Devil May Cry experience yet. It has a few bugs and glitches, but this is one experience that series die-hards and newcomers alike will enjoy time and time again. A stellar reboot for the series, and a spectacular achievement in its own right.