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DmC Hands-On + Preview [E3 2012]

Sometimes I can be brutally blunt about my particular stance on a game no matter what sort of article I’m writing. There’s supposed to be an impartial way to writing news and a somewhat unsaid rule of not being too brutal when it comes to previews otherwise one will feel the wrath of PR and even the developers (see the great Denis Dyack incident of E2 2008 as an example). In the past I’ve been honest about my feelings for DmC, the Devil May Cry reboot that in some ways seems unnecessary or ill-conceived compared to the brilliance of the past entries.  

The direction taken by Ninja Theory for DmC has been debated endlessly by fans and gamers alike since it’s almost unlike anything we’ve seen before. Honestly, when has an established video game series undergone a massive makeover within the same console generation as opposed to being resurrected a decade or so later?  Well for whatever has happened in the past concerning DmC my feelings on the game have changed after seeing it at E3 in a way that matches the angelic/demonic hybrid of Dante himself, there’s some good and some bad to it.

As much as my previous posts on the matter may have had a certain amount of vitriol for the game, I didn’t go into E3 wanting to hate DmC as I assume other folks did.  Sometimes there’s “enjoyment” to be had wanting to hate something from the start no matter what advances are made to better the product.  So upon picking up the controller for DmC I really didn’t know if I was going to experience a great revelation that would forever change my perception of the game or if I would have justification for my previous minimal levels of disdain. Well to be honest my view on DmC as of now in respect to the gameplay fall just kind off in the middle between being good and just ok.

Now the mere thought of a Devil May Cry game just being “ok” is something that may send folks into a mental state that is completely unhealthy. But to be honest DmC isn’t that god tier great and I think my lukewarm feelings towards the actual game demo may be because it’s simply that – a demo that’s only the taste of a bigger product. Understanding the purpose of a demo and what it’s supposed to do is integral when such a thing is created and people play it. So with that said I can understand what Ninja Theory is striving for in DmC but I honestly wasn’t blown away by the small taste that was offered to us.

There’s really no questioning the visuals and art design of DmC as it’s honestly on a level that surpasses most games today but I’ll get to that in a bit. The element in the game that left me a bit cautious after I played the demo was the combat, you know the most vital component in a DMC game. From the start of DmC being announced nearly two years ago the big issue gamers had was how Ninja Theory would handle the combat and what sort of changes would be made seeing as how fast stylized combat isn’t the strong suit of the studio.  

The combat in DmC is definitely serviceable in the sense that it works and doesn’t feel like a cheap ruse as Ninja Gaiden 3 did, but what was presented in the actual demo was kind of a 50/50 mix between being extremely cool yet a bit slow. Dante’s look may be different but his basic moves remained the same since I was able to whip out Ebony & Ivory to shoot some enemies or launch them up in the air with the sword and then proceed to shoot them or merely use the new grab ability to bring them back down for more punishment.  So with the fundamentals in place there was room for DmC to show some of its original craziness yet nothing really happened in the demo as it was more of the same.

Basically if you’ve seen any of the recent footage showing Dante in a city that turns all demonic and sets out to kill him then you’ve seen what was presented to the gaming media, at least the non-special folks, at E3 this year. To delve deeper into the combat, there’s honestly nothing fundamentally wrong with the combat in DmC. Things certainly may not be as fast as what was in DMC3, but the combat still allows a sense of freedom in what combos I could pull off and it allowed me to be adventurous in what I did.  Switching between angelic and demonic moves (angelic moves consist of holding L2 while demonic moves are R2) was easy and the differences between the two were obvious as the demonic moves were of course more brutal and elaborate with Dante whipping out a giant hammer to smack enemies with.

The moves themselves occasionally had a more fragmented feel to them at times since I wasn’t completely able to effortlessly move from one move to the next. Perhaps that could be chalked up to me playing a demo only twice at a convention, but other elements of the combat system did show some nice elements such as being able to use enemies as a skyhook and battle an evil cherub nearly 100ft in the air, basically reaching the max height of the stage.  Mad aerial combat moment aside, DmC almost felt by the numbers in what it was doing with the combat. Things felt good as there was no noticeable input lag nor was I ever stuck in animations I couldn’t cancel out of, but at the same time what was presented wasn’t something that I felt could immediately stick out amongst the other 3rd person action games out there.

Enemies weren’t dull bodies that did nothing as most of the basic attacks were fast and some foes did require me to use specific skills to defeat them otherwise I was just banging my head against a wall and accomplishing nothing.  With that said, it was kind of odd that on the surface DmC really didn’t have an immediate hook as far as the combat is concerned, at least in the sense of it either being exceptional or unlike anything we’ve seen before. The lack of an immediate hook in the DmC demo is odd considering the presentation I saw given by Ninja Theory was all kinds of awesome wrapped up in the DMC we all know and love.

For one afternoon, around 25 minutes to be exact, I had the honor of being given the big boy treatment by attending a closed presentation for DmC.  A basic demo run-through helmed by the Ninja Theory chaps and creative lead Tameem Antoiades, the presentation had me once again not knowing what to expect from DmC. Surprisingly I ended up being sold on DmC almost a minute into the presentation since it combined the old DMC we know with a new take that didn’t feel too forced and instead felt like a natural evolution of the DMC DNA.  

The presentation I saw featured Dante going into a posh electro nightclub that of course happened to occupied by demons who then attempt to kill Dante.  Upon the club entering Limbo, the demonic netherworld that rests between our reality and the demonic realm, DmC took one of the most original and visually arresting designs I’ve seen in a video game.  Combining the already established mechanic of the environment morphing around the player, the nightclub stage took things a step further by changing the environment to a mixture of a rave mixed with a demonic world as envisioned by The Designers Republic – it’s totally mental and stylish.  Full of neon colors, ever changing equalizer bars, and walkways that flow with color as they unfold in front of Dante, the nightclub stage was an amazing feast for the eyes that while “unconventional” for the DMC franchise was just a cool visual that didn’t feel too forced or like it was playing up the egos of someone at Ninja Theory.

The entire club stage of DmC shows a tremendous amount of character, both in the narrative and how that plays off in the gameplay being altered in a way that doesn’t seem like a curve ball was thrown.  The proprietor of the establishment Dante found himself in was a lady named Lilith, who of course was actually a demon who seemed to have some sort of demonic hell spawn growing in her stomach.  For whatever reason there may be, Lilith and Dante have some kind of beef so Lilith puts Dante through the ringer, which is represented through a series of combat challenges masqueraded as a game show dubbed The Devil’s Got Talent.  Yeah, such a name actually pops up with a corresponding announcer and music and there are even Round notifications for each combat challenge, whether it’s to defeat a specific number of enemies in 30 seconds or something else.  Seeing something that kind of goes into parody mode within the DmC universe is certainly odd at first, but it works in a way similar to the 4th wall breaking or referential work that Grasshopper Manufacture does – it’s simply so insane that such a thing is happening that it’s simply cool and works in the end.

Beyond the visual direction of the club stage while in Limbo mode and the corresponding level motif, there was actual some genuine combat ingenuity shown in the demo presentation.  Some basic enemies once again made an appearance in the club stage, but several new foes were featured as well all of whom had specific combat challenges or tactics.  Included in the demo was a new flying enemy which Dante could either shoot the wings of while on the ground or pull down using his chain attacks.  It’s a basic enemy combat system but it’s nonetheless something that goes beyond simply holding down the attack button and having a merry time causing havoc.  

The most interesting enemy encounter came in the form of two tiger like enemies reminiscent of the frost enemies from DMC4.  These extremely agile foes work in tandem to coordinate their attacks and even when one of them dies the other simply becomes stronger with improved armor, a situation that will ultimately require gamers to hop back and forth between enemies strategically so they don’t find themselves in a crappy situation.  For not being combat masters like the old DMC team or Platinum Games, I was really impressed with the direction and amount of thought Ninja Theory is sinking into the combat of DmC as they aren’t merely making an extremely pretty action game but one that instead has equal parts substance to go along with the abundant amount of style.

DmC’s appearance at E3 2012 was basically what the game needed the most – something to prove to gamers and the ever jaded gaming press that the project is on the right track. While I may not have been overly impressed with the demo that was available on the showfloor, the demo presentation I saw behind closed doors really turned me around on the game as it was stylish, original, and featured multi-layered combat – three things that have always been integral in the DMC franchise.