It may have seemed unlikely at first, but Ninja Theory’s take on the Devil May Cry franchise has yielded good results since DmC is flat out entertaining to play. Filled with the same combat depth that the DMC franchise is synonymous with, DmC offers a new take on the tale of Dante and in the process delivers a game with a unique identity that actually expands the core lore instead of dishonoring it. Some of the changes may be tough to swallow for fans who have been with Dante since the beginning, but don’t let your fandom cloud your thoughts too much since DmC takes the series in some interesting directions that immediately had me wanting more.
+ Combat feels just right. Moves are spot on and it’s still possible to do insane combo strings.
+ Additional depth given to the characters and story is nice.
+ Dante is still a badass and actor Tim Phillipps delivers a new version of the character that feels perfect.
+ Art Direction is amazing as is the depiction of Limbo.
- Seeing color-coded enemies was disappointing.
- The story could’ve benefited from a bit of additional substance and old-school DMC action (motorcycle kung-fu)
- Boss battles are underwhelming, both in execution and the total number provided in the game.
- Production value discrepancies (enemy A.I. issues, graphical inconsistencies) are odd to see compared to the rest of the game.
- Certain levels run out of steam fast.
When considering the possible outcomes, the prospect of change can be truly frightening. Seeing things evolve is good and all, but sometimes the end result can stray too far from the origin, almost amounting to a leap that does more harm than good. We as gamers are occasionally put in a tough spot of sorts as we want the games we play to evolve but at the same time we want them to have the familiar element that made them so appealing to us in the first place.
Video games in particular are an interesting medium when it comes to receiving a reboot/rebranding since it can be entirely polarizing. Seeing a publisher and/or developer decide to change a longstanding formula after nearly a decade of excellence can sometimes be pulled off with utter success, though it can also fail miserably and come across as a blatant slap in the face to the audience who helped nourish the property with their hard earned cash and attention.
Of course when it comes to franchise reboots the one that has been debated about almost endlessly for the past two years has been DmC: Devil May Cry. First coming across as a game that should’ve never happened in the first place, DmC seemed as if it would be the last hurrah for the series that sadly would go out with a mere whimper rather with a bang. However, I’ll be the first to admit that it may be time for a massive plate of crow to be served as the end product offered in DmC is rather entertaining despite a few noticeable flaws during the demonic action extravangza that’s offered.
Unlike other properties that go through a reboot of some kind yet still manage to maintain elements that are wholly familiar, such as Batman having a black suit & cowl, DmC totally sheds the major, at least aesthetically speaking, components that gamers have been accustomed to seeing for the past decade. The essence of the old Devil May Cry is buried deep within the new world Ninja Theory has created, but surprisingly the parts that are fresh or have been given an additional coat of paint weren’t things that made me groan incessantly and simply want to pop in DMC3 into my PlayStation 2 to relive the glory days.
Jumping into DmC was an experience that I had to keep an open mind to since so many things were changed. Besides having to get past the hump of Dante looking different, I had to get a grasp of the world Ninja Theory has built around to enhance, and in some cases drive, the action at the center of the story. I still regard Ninja Theory as being a bit underrated in the art/world building department, but the skills of the studio are apparent in DmC, in a good way mind you and not one reminiscent of the ending in Enslaved, since this is the first Devil May Cry game to feel totally fleshed out in a sense.
Vergil explains to Dante their family heritage in this cutscene.
Story has never been a huge component of Devil May Cry since the first game had such a small supporting cast that it felt like a SNES game, and the second game was downright abysmal. It wasn’t until DMC3 in which we received a story that was serviceable, but far from being Shakespearean in it’s writing, and DmC builds upon that. Perhaps a bit too blatant in it’s narrative strands that pertain to demons controlling humanity, DmC may not have an amazing story but the one thing it does excel at is building up the characters, specifically that of Dante.
All together Dante may be still have the same trash talking and ladies man qualities we’ve come to know him by, but this time out he comes across as more of a person, one of a slightly flawed and tragic background, as opposed to a near unstoppable deity that enjoys a good slice of pizza when he‘s not slaying giant demons. The supporting cast, such as Vergil, receive the same attention during the narrative which at it’s core is a traditional Devil May Cry tale of trying to stop the big baddie that is Mundus.
As I mentioned before, the story in DmC isn’t totally perfect since there are some expected tropes that run rampant such as Mundus and his demonic posse enslaving humanity through the media, energy drinks, and other such things. On the surface it may seem like a nice attempt at doing light social commentary, much in the same way as the classic John Carpenter movie “They Live”, but it’s missing the immediate subtly and finesse to make it engaging or anything other than simply another video game story, which just so happens to feature demons and angelic strippers.
Overall, the thematic changes made in DmC do make for a better game since things simply feel more alive. A small level of grounding may be present as there aren’t any ladies wearing mini-skirts as they wield rocket launchers, but seeing Dante interact in an actual city filled with people instead of merely walking around a massive castle devoid of life does make for a richer experience. There were certainly times in which I yearned for the old era since the cutscenes in DmC aren’t filled with memorable action that I wanted to see again as soon as it ended as was the case with DMC3. Instead it’s almost the opposite of before as all the cool stuff happens during actual gameplay compared to exclusively appearing in non-interactive cutscenes.
I think a lot of the negativity which surrounded around DmC was because Ninja Theory aren’t exactly in the high caliber class that Platinum Games, Sony Santa Monica, and Tomonobu Itagaki are when it comes to delivering engaging melee combat experiences. Heavenly Sword and Enslaved didn’t exactly show a fine understanding of a combat driven experience and for that a lot of people, including yours truly, harped on DmC as possibly being the end of an otherwise perfect legacy.
Considering the past projects of Ninja Theory and the small segment of DmC I was able to play last year, my hopes for the game weren’t all that high. So in some cases I had my first big shock of 2013 when I found myself with a massive smile on my face as I racked up high combos or moved around a level with a feeling of grace as I killed one demon after another. It may be hard to believe that Ninja Theory has given us an enjoyable combat experience in DmC, but they have in my humbled opinion.
The finer points of the combat in DmC may be up for debate in a sense as it isn’t so good it’s immediately on the high godly mountain that DMC3 and DMC4 currently reside on. What DmC does provide, and I hate using this word, is the same level of “swag” that allowed gamers to create massive combos as they switched between weapons all while completely demolishing an enemy, thus making for a perfect YouTube combo vid. DmC doesn’t have the same attitude defining moves as Dante doing a teleport dash before unleashing a massive stinger move, but Ninja Theory have nailed the fundamentals of the individual weapons and the feeling of combat through character movement.
Dante may not feel as smooth as he once did as the lack of 60FPS gameplay is apparent whilst playing on the consoles, but switching between weapons and tackling enemies in inventive ways or as I saw fit still had the same explosive and addicting feel as I remembered when I went through the entirety of DMC3 in nearly one night. Far from feeling as sluggish as Heavenly Sword or Enslaved, Dante’s character movement is right on the money as are his attacks. At first I did have to get accustomed to things since Ninja Theory didn’t somehow pull the exact design code from the old DMC games and merely put it in the new title. So when it came to launching enemies into the air and firing a few shots from Ebony & Ivory into them I had to get accustomed to the feeling and exactly how long such an attack would last.
A combat montage
Dante’s attacks are handled well yet the game does show a sign of weakness by having glitches during combat. Now I never encountered a scenario in which Dante would fall through the world like a horrible glitch from Assassin’s Creed, but out of nowhere I would experience moments in which certain enemies, usually just one at a time, would stop their attack routines and simply stand completely frozen. Totally random and not of my doing, these enemy glitches would stop as soon as I began attack them, thus igniting their A.I. routine once again. Odd glitches such as those and the lack of an enemy lock-on does show a small level of unrefinement in an otherwise brilliant combat package.
Switching things up a bit, DmC allowed me to draw from Dante’s newfound background as a Nephilim (half-Demon/half-Angel) with a diverse series of attacks that in some cases served a dual purpose through grabbing onto enemies or near-by things whilst platforming. The inclusion of Angelic and Demonic attacks isn’t as gimmicky as it sounds initially, despite the game being built around it more or less, since the mechanics work. There may be a different hue and name attached to Dante’s new combat abilities, but they’re just that - new combat moves to use and master while playing and as that they work wonderfully.
Drawing inspiration from the old DMC games, the Angelic/Demonic attacks have a huge amount of character to them as weapons like Osiris are able to elevate enemies as Dante spins the blade while others such as Eryx (red fists of doom) allow for a direct beat down that may not be as artistically brutal as DMC3’s Royal Guard combat style, is nonetheless still badass when pulled off the right way.
If there’s one immediate downside to building the game around Dante’s Angelic/Demonic abilities it’s that it in some cases it makes the combat a bit dull and predictable. It may sound like I’m contradicting myself based upon my earlier comments, but for some reason Ninja Theory thought it would be good to color code certain enemies - thus making it “clearer” as to which ability the player should utilize. I guess such a design trope may be required in order to appeal to a broader audience, such as those who can’t figure things out on their own, but it does result in enemies looking a bit ugly by witnessing a big fiery skeleton wielding a shield and it makes the combat immediately predictable once they appear.
The only remnant of Ninja Theory’s past exploits in doing combat design (which started in Heavenly Sword), the color-coded enemies aren’t too much of an egregious error against gaming humanity since such a thing doesn’t happen every two minutes within a stage. It is still an annoying thing to witness and the inclusion of fiery and icy foes who are susceptible to specific attacks does stifle the combo opportunities since I couldn’t immediately go crazy with my entire arsenal.
Boss battles of an epic and rather challenging nature have always been a mainstay of the Devil May Cry franchise, even in the dud that was DMC2. In DmC a different route has been taken obviously just like the rest of the game yet it isn’t immediately successful. It’s kind of hard to discuss the finer points of the boss battles in DmC without spoiling things too much as to give away their context and specific scenarios, but this is basically the first Devil May Cry game to feature nothing but major battles against demonic monsters.
Gone are the intense one on one battles against foes like Nelo Angelo, Shadow Dante, or the legendary Vergil battle from DMC3 as it’s instead just Dante against a bunch of big ass creatures; that’s is up until the very end thanks to a somewhat odd narrative swerve which comes across more as immediate fan-service rather than a logical story development.
A few intense one on one encounters are present through standard enemy battles, but DmC is missing that special something when it comes to capping things off with a boss scenario that is instantly memorable. It’s not as if Ninja Theory went through a sudden artistic dry spell as far as developing the bosses as they all have designs which are inventive, if in a slightly grotesque way when thinking of two in particular, but they’re pretty plain and to the point when it comes to actual combat.
Picking up combat patterns is easy and due to their nature, being big creatures from the depths of hell, there wasn’t a lot for me to do other than do the pre-requisite amount of hacking and slashing once they were stunned or I had an opening. Considering the scope of the bosses and how they were designed, which was excellent when it came to the battles against Mundus’ Succubus and the Bill O’Reilly inspired demonic newscaster Bob Barbas, it’s disappointing that Ninja Theory didn’t do more and specifically they didn’t strive for a greater number of bosses.
Experiencing combat that wasn’t on Ninja Gaiden 3 levels, that of a poor ninja dog, was a surprise but seeing a near constant amount of visual delight didn‘t take me aback as I fully expected it. Ninja Theory has always delivered visuals and an artistic touch that is instantly memorable and they’ve done such a thing in DmC, even if a few blemishes are more than obvious. The more modern and “toned” down design of Dante has certainly settled on me as has the fedora wearing Vergil. But besides that, DmC does provide a true level of wow moments thanks to the scope of the levels and the shifting mechanics provided in the demonic universe of Limbo which results the world morphing into something that isn’t entirely natural.
Filled with modern touches, the tone in DmC is appealing thanks to the inclusion of neo-gothic architecture - a longstanding staple of the DMC franchise. With an early stage almost serving as a throwback to the castle from DMC1, the scope of the levels in DmC certainly go in some unexpected directions which are also accompanied with different visual tones to further enhance the mood as opposed to merely having things remain static. Instead of merely going through one urban inspired stage after another, I found myself in things like a demonic disco/rave inspired club with pulsating lights and buttery beats galore, while the next minute I would be going through a stage inspired by the very depths of Hell.
Not only was it cool to see the worlds offered in DmC change in some instances, complete with crazy looking trains or upside down walking, but I could appreciate the daring sensibilities of Ninja Theory to shake things up and not remain stagnant with one particular visual approach throughout the entirety of the game. With segments of the game taking a TV news approach in their presentation or going with an almost Christopher Nolan like vibe in a massive plan being implemented all while combining narrative strands amidst an ever morphing visual style, DmC is far from being boring on the eyes.
Ninja Theory’s approach to the art design of DmC is unquestionable, but that’s not to say the game is perfect or is constantly eye catching. The age of Unreal Engine 3 is more than obvious in apparent texture loading which occurs during cutscenes and the lack of immediate emotion in the faces of characters, but that’s not all which plagues the game.
It’s obvious Ninja Theory dedicated a lot of time and attention to building up the world of DmC in order to make it stand apart, though secondary elements, such as the enigmatic city the game resides in, look shoddy - both in art execution and being a bit rough around the edges graphically. Due to not being part of the main attraction (Dante & Limbo) seeing an odd looking human SWAT team member may not be a big deal, yet such a thing creates an uneven looking experience as opposed to one that is near flawless from top to bottom.
The odds may have been stacked against it due to the fandom which resides in us, but DmC ultimately is an enjoyable action game in which an obvious amount of care and attention was poured into it - all of which clicks on nearly all cylinders. Longtime DMC fans may immediately want to compare DmC to past entries in the series, and doing such a thing may not yield instant disappointment since Ninja Theory has provided a game filled with the same combo string freedom combat and is flat-out artistically gorgeous. Outside of the story and boss battles not fully living up to their full potential, DmC is an otherwise surprise reboot that is far from being the dreadful mess we all expected it to be since it proves that sometimes change can be exceptionally good.