Game Review: DmC Devil May Cry
Release: January 15, 2013
Developer: Ninja Theory
Available Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: M
This is Ninja Theory flexing its muscles. Heavenly Sword was the warm-up, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West the performance, and now DmC Devil May Cry is them showing off, coming back for an encore. DmC is a culmination from their past endeavors, sure, but it is also a highlight of what Ninja Theory is capable of when they go completely off the rails. Their stellar storytelling, voice acting, and animation is still all there, but now they’ve seemly tapped into a well that springs eternal with fantastic gameplay.
DmC is, of course, the reboot of the Devil May Cry series traditionally developed by Capcom. Now moved to the hands of Ninja Theory, it retains most of its roots as a hack and slash title based largely around a very, very loose interpretation of Judeo Christian heaven and hell as well as a style-driven combo meter. There are cherubs and demons and succubi and you will flit about between the real world and limbo. That much hasn’t really changed.
What has changed, however, is Dante, which you’re surely familiar with by now. He’s not Nero and he’s not Old Dante; this is a completely new person to get reacquainted with. You’ll additionally meet new people to the series and new interpretations of old standards, but you’re still playing as Dante trying to figure out bits and pieces of his past and how to extract revenge/plan a preemptive strike on those hunting him. In this case, though, he (and you, by association) is trying to suss out his lineage and how to sort out the oppressively dark and controlling demonic forces of the world.
The story, actually, is one of the strong points of the game. While the past entries into the series have been somewhat lacking (personally, anyways; some people managed to develop impressively strong ties to Dante), DmC is intricate and rather fascinating. Admittedly, extrapolated religious context is usually interesting anyways, but even with the concession that this is an action game, the narrative of a lost past with a goal for the future that has been long dormant is a compelling one. You will have to be in a mindset, however, that DmC is completely bonkers (it is, after all, about angels versus demons plus soda), but within the realm of crazy, Ninja Theory handles it with aplomb.
More than that, the characters are fully fleshed out and equally delectable. Separating them out from the plot, the cast remains intriguing. Dante is still a brash and cocky fellow who has trouble with not rubbing people the wrong way and keeping his head out of trouble. However, in a twist from previous Devil May Cry games, he has well within his grasp the concept of compassion and often comes across as a badass with a heart. He’s fearless and powerful but also lost and so unknowing. He’s confident without being overbearing and manages to be austere in a way that opens itself up to flashy tendencies. Your buddies and your enemies similarly manage to have multiple dimensions that—if not tied into an arc of some sort—at least are addressed. All of that is bundled up nicely with a big ol’ Ninja Theory bow of fantastic animation and voice acting to the point where little asides and furtive glances tell so much in a game that has no business in being so narratively compelling.
The highlight of DmC, however, is the combat. Without a doubt, this is the best Ninja Theory has ever done gameplay-wise with a game, and might be my favorite Devil May Cry mechanics. It basically revolves around a single melee button and a single firearms button, but you tie into that timing-based combos, accessible juggling, and retrieval/traversal whip usage and you are dealing with a rather robust fighting system. But then there are the controller triggers. Left trigger is for angel weapons and the right is for devil weapons, both of which correlate respectively to fast area-of-effect attacks and slow, powerful strikes. They operate like shift keys on a keyboard; hold down one and it instantly opens up an entirely new schema of offensive prowess, a dichotomy that you are forced to explore through enemies that can only be damaged by certain weapons or attacks.
The style meter is still in effect in DmC and continues to be a great motivator for mixing up your fighting style, which is facilitated by the fact that switching weapons takes nothing more than the pull of a trigger or the tap of the D-pad. The higher your rank, the more you are rewarded and thus able to buy more items and unlock more abilities and weapon techniques. If you manage to do decently in a mission, it’s not uncommon to get at least one or two skill points (which can thankfully be reassigned at will). Straight-up, DmC is easier than past Devil May Cry games, but it still takes quite a bit of skill to get SSS or even SS. More so than past titles, it requires greater movement and evasion since a single hit will take your combo meter down two or three ranks. Yes, you can easily button mash your way through this game, but there is such great motivation at every turn to play into its mechanics that it would probably take more effort to be mindless about the fighting than to mix it up.
It’s so strange, then, that DmC features so much platforming. Limbo, at its core, is a jumbled up remix of the real world to where walls and floors are suddenly floating platforms and stout walls, so you have to angel/devil whip and jump your way through a lot of sticky situations. Most of it is fun, but Dante’s jump is so god damn twitchy. The quick, sharp movements that make combat frenetic makes jumping around Limbo an exercise in frustration and guesswork. I rarely completed jumps with anything resembling confidence as the distance Dante covers is never comfortably commensurate to the rising and falling animations.
And despite what I said before about the fantastic story and characters, those two parts are also some of the most disappointing parts of the game. There are a few things that aren’t explored nearly as much as you would hope, and the promising if ridiculous setup of global sedation through demon soda goes nowhere near the realm of meaningful. It still ultimately ends up in a satisfying place, but you definitely feel the potential being squandered at the start of the third act.
A lot of people playing this game said that they were surprised at how much they liked it. They shouldn’t be. DmC comes from a great developer that specializes in story and characters and a series that wrote the book on fast, stylish combo-based combat. The fact that Ninja Theory managed to take all their subtlety from Enslaved and flip it completely around to make something so over-the-top as DmC is awe-inspiring. It may take a bit for you to warm up to the game and understand where it’s coming from (it took me up until Dante and an ancient 60-foot tall demon slug having a “FUCK YOU!” shouting match for me to totally lock into what it was offering), but once you get it, it’s very much worth it. From the combat to the characters to the spectacle, DmC Devil May Cry is a big pool of crazy you should definitely dive into.
+ Story and characters are fantastically engrossing
+ Combat forces you to fully explore the wide expanse of offensive and defensive options
+ Ninja Theory keeps the streak alive with stellar motion capture, animation, and voice acting
- The platforming bits never feel all that reassuring (though the grappling parts are fun)
- Some elements of the premise and the cast aren’t as fleshed out or fully realized as you’d hope
Final Score: 9 out of 10