Back when it was announced that Capcom were handing over the reins of the Devil May Cry
series to Ninja Theory, a lot of fans of the series got extremely upset, extremely quickly. In a microwave-generation where IQ seems to be directly related to the length of time it takes to form an opinion, the forums erupted with some very vitriolic and venomous voices. To be fair, fans and fanboys alike had a lot to be concerned about. As the subsequent announcements for the new DmC: Devil May Cry
title were made, the changes kept coming; Dante’s makeover, a new engine with a reduced frame-rate, a more accessible combat system, a new back-story, a westernisation of a Japanese franchise, new environments which would change dynamically, and all set in a parallel world next to our own reality. Concerns seemed to be truly justified. It was a bold decision with a bold vision but could this also be as equally boldly executed by the UK-based development studio?
For those who are unfamiliar, the DmC
series centers around a hero, and sometimes borderline anti-hero, named Dante. Born of unusual parentage, from a demon father, and in this retelling of his origins, an Angelic mother instead of a human mother, Dante is in fact, Nephilim; a supernatural being who is endowed with the powers and abilities inherited from his lineage.
The storyline chosen for the reboot is a little less convoluted than previous instalments although as equally fantastical and in parts, as equally over the top. A demon king called Mundus is suppressing the human world, Limbo City, through the control of a number of institutions such as finance markets and banks, media outlets and TV, and even soft drink businesses, pushing a canned soda called Virility, which is considered a lobotomy in a can. The only thing standing between him and his plan for ultimate demonic domination is the unwitting hero of the series, Dante.
This is where the story begins with Mundus deciding that attack is the best form of defence and going after our protagonist, who at that very same time is busy getting drunk in a strip bar and taking pole dancers back to his trailer for a night of drunken and lecherous debauchery. We can only assume that the XY chromosomes are a little more dominant than those of his mother as his behaviour is far from angelic.
So far so good, but here we meet the more convoluted part of the story which can get a little confusing. Alongside the real world is a parallel world known as Limbo which is fully under demonic influences. Although unknown at the time, Dante can traverse both worlds, and finds himself unwittingly thrust into Limbo by Mundus’s first attack. Fortunately, our hero is guided by a human medium, Kat, who appears a greyish ghost of her real world self. Kat can see into the world of Limbo but not interact with it, which also applies in reverse, whilst Dante is in Limbo he can’t interact with the real world. This is a restriction which has serious implications later in the game.
Kat guides Dante through the first levels of Limbo and then, in another plot twist, leads him to his long lost brother, Vergil who is the leader of the rebels fighting against the oppression in the real world. After visiting what is left of the family mansion, and through a series of artistic flashbacks, Vergil reveals that Mundus was responsible for the death of their mother, the eternal imprisonment of their father, and was the reason the two brothers were separated during their youth. What began as strictly business, saving the human race from a demon king, and making the world a better place, now becomes very personal. During the game, the confusion is generally avoided as the two worlds are easily discernible; the real world being grey, drab, dull, and colourless, and the world of Limbo being rich, colourful, deadly, and hellbent on destroying Dante by any means necessary.
The story is gradually elaborated on over the course of the first few missions which double up as family history and genealogy 101 and your first steps in weapons training. During these levels you are taught the difference between angelic and demon weapons, and given a crash course in traversal techniques using the abilities of demon pull and angel lift. In previous games, you might have been able to button-mash through the easier settings of the game using one particular weapon set, but this is no longer the case. It’s absolutely essential to use both sets of abilities and weapons and this brings a strange balance to the combat, a sort of Yin and Yang of mixed brutality and savage grace.
Angelic weapons tend to be light and fast but not too powerful, only inflicting damage through the rapidity of their blows. These are ideally used for juggling enemies or keeping them at a distance using ranged attacks. The demonic counterparts however, trade speed and agility for power and strength. These weapons such as Eryx are capable of inflicting massive amounts of damage in a single blow.
Switching between the two types of weaponry is simply done using the triggers, and it needs to be that intuitive as battles will demand that you switch rapidly and seamlessly between the two. In some of the battles you are pitched against enemies that are only vulnerable to one type of weaponry. Pound away with the wrong sort, and you’ll be there till hell freezes over. To make things even more difficult some enemies aren’t even visible when you have the wrong weapons selected, and in one notable battle you face one of each sort of enemy, a ghost rage and a blood rage. Each breed of rage is only vulnerable to one weapon type and only appears when that weapon is selected. As they are mutually exclusive, one appears and the other becomes invisible as you switch between angelic and demonic weapons. This is even interwoven into how the environment reacts. During an arena battle in taking place in hells own disco, the disco tiles in floor you are standing on change between demonic and angelic inflicting damage if you step on a tile with the wrong weapon set selected.
Although necessary, these early levels feel a little contrived and restrained even though you already a number of weapons and abilities at your disposal. The 3D platforming level used as an obstacle course leaves you wondering if swapping to the Unreal engine was really necessary. Initially I was left pining for the old Japanese aesthetics from the previous games, and feeling a little underwhelmed with the new engine and what it was bringing to the game. In fact these early missions whilst still containing a couple of early boss battles should be seen more as an extended tutorial which take up the first 5 missions of the game. It's worth noting too that parts of this extended tutorial were used to make the demo, so if you walked away from the demo feeling "meh" then it’s perfectly understandable, you hadn’t been let out of school yet.
It's only after these levels that Ninja Theory seem to stop holding your hand, take the training wheels off and really let you loose on the world, or maybe let the world loose on you. Either way, it's here that the games really seems to pick up the pace.
The learning curve steadily increases with subsequent levels and although we were warned that this would increase sharply from mission 10 onwards, it never felt like there were any severe difficulty spikes or jumps. Other than mistimed jumps during the platforming, the only place where lives were spent were the boss battles as you tried to establish the attack patterns used by the devilish foes.
As always boss fights are compulsory element to any Devil May Cry
title, and DmC is not lacking here. The boss fights are as good as any that have gone before, and are a lot more memorable given the some of the hideous foes that you have to face. Even in the early missions there is a huge bloated succubus that manages to spew foul-mouthed obscenities at you, at the same time as vomiting poisonous bile over you. Grotesque as that demon may appear, there is still worse to come later in the game, with some particular imagery that you are not likely to forget for a while. Freud might want to rework his Oedipus theory after that particular confrontation.
Unfortunately, despite these brilliantly imagined bosses, the fights still suffer the same problems as in previous titles. Each fight simply requires working out the attack patterns of the bosses, establishing the best counters, and then whittling down their health bars until they switch to their next phase of attack. Simply rinse and repeat a few times and you're done. Somehow a boss battle doesn't feel as satisfying as the group combat you encounter throughout the various levels of the game as you don´t really have the opportunity to build the same level of combos. In essence, you just repeat a set pattern of attacks to get through, and sadly this actually begins to feel like a bit of chore. With the epic looking demons being faced, you can´t help feeling it could have been more, but that should not diminish the feeling of scale when you’re facing off against the various gargantuan hellspawn.
The new look Dante has lost the classic white haired emo appearance and now looks like he should be part of a boyband or on an MTV reality show, or perhaps both. During one particular scene in the early part of the game, a white wig lands on Dante’s head, with a cheeky nod to how the fans reacted to the change in appearance, Dante mutters “Never in a million years” and swiftly removes the hair piece. If you’ve played the previous games and invested hundreds of hours of play, then it’s understandable how the change can come over as a little bit of a shock. However, once the proverbial hits the fan and you are thrust into a battle with a dozen denizens of hell around you, then the colour of Dante’s hair tends to be the least of your worries.
Browsing some of the concept art which can be unlocked during the course of the game, you realise that there were worse ideas for Dante’s appearance and fans really dodged a bullet. To be honest, playing through the game, the character’s appearance becomes less jarring and much more familiar, although if you are struggling to accept it even after a full playthrough, you can select a white-haired version which is then unlocked after the first completion of the game.
For the fans, it’s not only the characters appearance that can be a little jarring at first. The initial introduction to the new Dante makes him out to be a drunken womanising loser, otherwise known as a bit of a jerk. As the storyline unfolds you can feel a certain amount of sympathy for him conceding that there might have been mitigating circumstances considering his parentage, demon fathers, angel mothers, can have an effect on a kid. However, as the game progresses, the character grows and develops. By the end of the twenty missions, he’s grown into an assured confident character showing a degree of maturity and selflessness that is missing from certain other characters in the game. At the end, he’s a likeable character, and all the better for it.
What will please the fans is that Dante’s initial arsenal consists of the familiar Rebellion sword, and the pistols Ebony and Ivory, which are retrieved from a dangling purple bra belonging to one of the strippers from the opening scene, and the familiar attack patterns and combinations make a welcome return. Newer weapons are then gradually introduced throughout the game starting with the Arbiter (demon axe) and Osiris (angelic scythe). However, don’t expect the arsenal to be complete until relatively late in the game when you are given the all-new Kablooey from Vergil, a gun which fires explosive darts at the enemy which can then be remotely detonated.
Each weapon comes with a different set of abilities all of which can be purchased from the menu at the start of each mission or from divinity statues found within the levels themselves. A nice addition is that you can ‘try before you buy’ as a training mode can be entered which takes the player off to an Animus style training area where you can batter, bludgeon, and inflict all sorts of delightful damage on a single defenceless stygian demon. Whilst this can be both fun and useful to do, it does mean that the game has to load the training mode and then reload the level when finished, and the load times are not insignificant. Although not long enough for you to start thinking about getting a cup of coffee – you won’t be thinking of soda anymore after visiting the Virility factory – they are long enough to start drumming your fingers waiting for the level to start.
The training does give you the opportunity to practice using the weapons and abilities which proves essential as the core of any hack and slash title is the combat and the multitude of the skilled combinations that could be used to slice, dice, and shoot enemies. The real skill in DmC
titles was always chaining attacks together and racking up style points for the most elaborate and skilled combat. This style system is still present, and although some might say that chaining attacks together to get high-ranking combos is slightly easier than before, the amount of options available to the player through the increased arsenal still more than makes up for this. The sheer combination of normal, angelic, and demon weapon types, the ranged and melee weapons, and the angel lift and demonic pull abilities, the player is able to choreograph a ballet of such exquisite carnage that would make any judge on “So You Think You Can Dance” weep with joy at the sheer artistry.
The mission structure and gameplay fits around the ongoing story where Vergil and Dante, with the help of Kat, try to bring Mundus and his empire to its knees by gradually taking out each one of its key elements. Throughout the levels you will meet the standard monster closets and traps where the exits will be barred until you have dealt with any enemies that have been spawned around you. Even when large numbers of various enemies appear, the player is never made to feel overwhelmed, and clever use of Dante’s increased arsenal can often make short work of any groups.
Hidden throughout the levels are secret doors which replace the secret missions from the previous title. They provide the same level of distraction and similar rewards. However, a slight twist is that you need to find the right type of key to open the door. Happily, once a door has been opened it can be accessed again through the main game menu allowing the player to revisit any of those secret missions at any time. Unfortunately, starting a secret mission results in the same loading times as the other elements in the game. Other favourite collectibles make a welcome return, including orbs, health crosses, and devil trigger stars, and these are found scattered through the levels. As hinted at, the Devil Trigger is back too along with the its demonic power giving Dante yet more opportunities to string devastating combos together.
A lot was made of the decision to change to Unreal technology as the choice of engine. Fans were worried when it was announced that the frame rate would be reduced to 30FPS to allow for environmental changes and there was concern that the combat would not be as fluid. However, as you progress through the various levels and regions that the game has to offer, you realise that the environments are actually one of the shining achievements of the game. Admittedly, the idea of pull, push and boost, to manipulate and traverse the environments seems like a gimmick and in the early levels doesn’t seem to add much to the game. It feels a little too like Arkham City
and I’ve been there before. Suffice to say that 3D platforming has never seemed to work as it is too easy to misjudge or mistime a jump and fail in the attempt. Unfortunately, this still seems to be the case here. The platforming seemed to be a cheap way of losing health points rapidly, especially if you weren’t entirely sure which direction you should be going next. Towards the end of the game however, it feels so much more fluid and natural that you stop thinking about it, and just accept it as part of the gameplay.
The use of verticality in the level design can also mean that you can occasionally spend time wandering around a level looking for the next part of the route, only to find that you have missed a ring hidden above you. However, the routes through each level tend to be intuitive, if not a little linear, which is important as there is no mini-map to help you, and player tends to be moving forward all the time instead of having to retrace their steps and backtrack which has been seen in previous titles.
It’s the artistry of the levels that stands out and really shines throughout the game. It’s the instances where you are progressing through the level watching the environment warp and change, seeing the dark ichor, and ghostly images of the other world and its inhabitants materialising around you. There is a real sense of foreboding and a sense that this world is out to get you. At any moment, a wall might charge towards you, or try and crush you, or the floor might drop and crumble away suddenly under you. There are visual cues when billboards display death threats, and when giant letters appear in front of you saying “Stop” or ¨Trapped¨ it still has the power to stop you dead in your tracks knowing there is trouble ahead.
There is also a wonderful diversity in the environments, with Limbo, the real world, and in one instance, a chalkboard schematic world. It’s all been very skilfully done, and you feel like you are in a living organic world, even if it is out to kill you in any way it can. Initially I questioned the use of Unreal, and I missed the Japanese feel, but by the end of the game, I was convinced that Ninja Theory had made the right decision.
Completing the first playthrough of the game will unlock the first of a number of new difficulty levels in which will eventually test even the most seasoned of DmC
players. The first playthrough can be completed in around 10 hours on normal difficulty, and multiple playthroughs are necessary if you want to retrieve all the collectibles as some are not reachable due to weapon availability in the initial pass. According to Ninja Theory, if you want to see everything that the game has to offer then you should be looking at 75+ hours of gametime.Achievements
For the achievement hunters, the game features a combination of story related achievements, collection achievements, and skill-related achievements, and it’s clear that multiple playthroughs or mission re-visits will be needed. However, I managed over half the achievements on my first playthrough netting 340 GS.Summary
Ultimately there are two questions that need to be answered; is this a good game, and is this a good DmC
game? The latter question can really only be answered by that elite group of hardcore fans who have invested hundreds of hours with the franchise and will no doubt discuss, debate, flame, and troll on their favourite Internet forums. Personally I’m sitting out on that particular discussion and only time and sales figures will tell what these fans really think of the game. Being objective however, and treating the title as a standalone game in its right, it is easy to see that Ninja Theory have created a masterpiece in the genre and it is really that good. Simply put, this could quite possibly be the best game in its class on the current platform. DmC
has captured all the elements of gameplay that made the franchise what it is, and yet they have also managed to bring something new and fresh to the genre, they’ve added their own little bit of magic and boy does it work. Whilst the title is not perfect, it is good. Really good. Really really damn good! Move over Bayonetta
, there’s a new kid in town!
The reviewer spent around 25 hours with the game, completing one full playthrough on Normal, completing a number of the secret missions, and revisiting a few of the games campaign missions. The game was provided by the publisher with no DLC or Pre-Order codes being used. Weapon of choice for the campaign was a Razer Onza TE controller.