Review: DmC: Devil May Cry

DmC-DevilMayCry

Sheryl Crow is always singing that a change will do us good. But just try telling that to the fanbase of Capcom’s venerable Devil May Cry series, who greeted the news that their beloved franchise—and more critically, their white-coiffed hero, Dante—would be getting a reboot and extreme makeover with the fury of a thousand fanboy banshees.

Perhaps a chill pill is in order—maybe even a bottle’s worth. While Ninja Theory’s modern take on Dante’s demon-hunting adventures has a few issues that hold it back, it’s hardly the franchise apocalypse the hardcore have predicted. Quite the contrary: DmC: Devil May Cry is a first-rate action game that breaks new ground for the series in several interesting ways.

The first big difference you’ll notice is, of course, the look of our hero. He’s gone from stately gothic remove to modern teen chic, and now he looks like he just walked off the set of The Vampire Diaries, all spiked and buff.

He kinda acts that way, too. When we first meet him, Dante’s a spoiled and disaffected narcissist, boozing, sexing and killing time, not demons. When he suddenly becomes the target of a pack of murderous demon hunters, he learns his true history: He and his brother Vergil (an ally, not an enemy this time) are the only offspring of an illicit union between their demon dad and angelic mom. That puts them in the unique (and dangerous) position of being able to kill Mundus, the scuzzy demon kingpin.

In a clever and deft political touch, Mundus rules over a decaying urban landscape, controlling the dispirited human masses through a mind-numbing sweet soda, propaganda delivered through Raptor, a Fox News-like TV station, and AIG-worthy debt manipulation. Dante may not look like a 99 percenter, but this demon is definitely on the side of the angels in this particular battle. Even if he generally looks down his classical nose at them.

The series’ legendary extreme difficulty is also gone. The new DMC isn’t what you’d call a cakewalk, but even on the game’s tougher difficulty levels, it’s nowhere near as punishing as Devil May Cry 3. That’s likely to be met with another snort of disgust from the hardcore fans, who wore their triple-S level rankings like bloody badges of honor. To a degree, they have a point—it’s rare that any level or enemy will prevent you from completing the 10-12 hour main campaign. On the other hand, I’m not exactly sad to see the absence of enemies who can fire and wound you from positions off-screen. That always seemed patently unfair.

Happily, the weapons-swapping and combo-chain systems are very much alive and intact, and couldn’t be more fun to execute. Dante quickly gets access to a wide range of demonic and angelic beatsticks, each type mapped to one of the triggers, so you can switch between them quickly and easily. As ever, it’s hugely satisfying to mow down a bunch of minor enemies with a twirl of your angelic scythe, toss and juggle another with your trusty revolvers, Ebony and Ivory, and still be able to bash a minor boss with you Arbiter ax. Each combat encounter becomes a button and flipper ballet, as you zip between moves and demon/angel weapons, trying to survive and string enough creative combos to jack your level bonuses and score a good grade.

But the adrenaline-charged combat system’s not what carries the day here—it’s the level design. In DMC’s gritty universe, our reality exists just a hair’s breadth away from Limbo, an in-between world in which Mundus and his demon armies can harm and kill Dante. He’s constantly being sucked or sneaking into this world, where the walls and floors shiver and stretch, re-form and vanish, interfering with his progress, while oily and tendrilled black patches reach out and shadows from our world flicker like images on a damaged TV. In perhaps the coolest design touch, the levels spell out their commands to the demon armies in enormous white capital letters that show up on the walls and floors: STOP HIM. KILL HIM. FUCK YOU DANTE. Hey, look, there’s that gritty edge again.

For everything Ninja Theory gets right here—and it’s a sizable list–the angry fans do have some live ammunition to aim. DMC’s levels have a tight and beautiful design…and some frustrating framerate issues that crop up in stuttered cutscenes and when the action on screen gets especially hectic. Meanwhile most of the game’s stabs at contempo edginess are puerile, feeling both forced and painfully awkward. The rampant profanity, in particular, seems woefully out of place. When the height of verbal repartee between Dante and a cockroach-like succubus boss is reduced to the two of them trading a string of eff-yous, it’s clear the script-writers have some maturity issues to resolve.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ (Literally) living level design seals the impression that the world, not just the demons, is out to kill you
+ Adrenaline action sequences with deft weapon-swapping
+ Sky-high production values

Cons:
– Framerate issues
– Attempts to add gritty edge fall ridiculously flat

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available for PS3 and coming soon to PC
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Ninja Theory
Release Date: 1/15/2013
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.