Developer: Ninja Theory / Publisher: Capcom / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Sexual Content, Drug Reference]
As risky propositions go, a revered Japanese-developed franchise like Devil May Cry at a Western studio sounds like a pretty tough sell. Unlike previous Westernizations like Front Mission, Castlevania, and Silent Hill, Devil May Cry‘s main protagonist is also part of the series’ identity, which adds greater weight to fan expectations.
DmC‘s story and timeline might be separate from the previous installments, but the family tree is mostly unchanged. Dante is the main protagonist while Virgil is his brother, albeit a much friendlier one than past games may have suggested. Sparda and Eva are still Dante’s parents although mom is now angel, not human.
Contemporary themes of corporate brainwashing, information management, and bank manipulation make up much of DmC‘s premise and unsurprisingly, series antagonist Mundus is pulling the strings. Dante is introduced as the clichéd apathetic young adult male partying it up in his boardwalk trailer. He’s not likable at first, but it doesn’t take long for Virgil to give Dante a sense of purpose, namely defeating Mundus.
This might be a reboot, though if you followed the franchise since its inception, you should be ready to take on DmC at its hardest available setting on your first play through. Along with Dante’s classic Rebellion blade and his Ebony and Ivory guns, his other weapons are just as accessible, toggled through the trigger buttons and the D-pad, an enhanced carryover from the control scheme of Devil May Cry 4. Ninja Theory did not bring over the various selectable combat styles introduced in Devil May Cry 3. This ends up making DmC all the more user friendly to newcomers while the higher difficulties and the expansive skill trees provide more than enough challenges to keep the veterans engaged.
The moves beyond the straightforward attacks are some of the best parts of DmC‘s combat. Holding one of the trigger buttons offers access to a multipurpose whip that can either pull Dante to an enemy or an enemy to Dante. It’s especially helpful in disarming shielded enemies. Being able to troubleshoot, spot weaknesses, and gain confidence against the greater foes are some of the most rewarding parts of DmC.
Of course, knowing as many moves as possible and committing them to muscle memory is recommended, but DmC is quite forgiving in making triple-S ranks attainable for even for those who can only juggle a handful of moves. Changing up attacks is one of the requirements in ranking well, but what’s more important is not getting hit.
The skill tree might be expansive, but Ninja Theory doesn’t overextend itself with features like the wall running acrobatics from Devil May Cry 2. That said, DmC is not short of engaging platforming challenges to complement the game’s combat. The whip that disarms demons is also the same weapon that can pull you toward otherwise unreachable platforms or pull platforms toward you. It’s stimulating stuff, especially when you’re flying over a chasm and you’re trying to pull a slab of floating pavement toward you so you could actually land on something.
For all of DmC‘s dexterous demands and challenges, it’s surprising how the game’s upgrade system is unusually flexible. I can’t recall the last game that allowed you to toggle new moves on and off, but you have that option in DmC. You’re essentially able to unlearn moves if you were interested in trying out other ones, with no penalty. This kind of low-risk experimentation allows you to find moves that are right for you and get those S, SS, and SSS ranks early in the game.
Dante’s new character design goes hand-in-hand with the superb execution of the detailed art direction. When I first learned of the alternate “limbo” setting in DmC, I feared it would be that gimmicky kind of design where you would have to go through each area once in a different dimension and then again in the regular world, thereby cheaply extending the playthrough.
Thankfully, that was not the case; the game as a whole is a mix of familiar urbanity and otherworldlyness. Moreover, the dreamlike areas aren’t bloated with overly fantastical set pieces and instead showcase a refined level design sensibility. The most impressive areas could easily be mistaken for locales in Bayonetta. No, DmC does not have the high degree of polish, gloss, and frame rate of Bayonetta, but Ninja Theory did design some of the most imaginative and grittiest levels you’ll likely see this year.
DmC‘s music doesn’t limit itself to a specific genre. It relies on ambient and new age compositions in the otherworldly areas while generic metal is heard during the more intense combat sections. It’s not exactly memorable stuff, though the guitar driven intensity of the first in-game track does help set the tone. More impressive is the sound effects that add a great deal to the intense combat. The finishing blow of any fight ends in a brief slow motion close up, complete with a demon wail to punctuate the moment. The dialogue owes a lot to Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later, Enslaved) and Ninja Theory’s writing team, and the voice acting is a noticeable improvement over the past Devil May Crys. Dante’s initial apathy is very convincing and he’s very well complemented by the confidence of Virgil.
As another Japanese property handled by a Western studio, DmC: Devil May Cry easily belongs in the positive end of the spectrum, somewhere between Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and the Metroid Prime trilogy. The familiarity of the controls in combat help in welcoming DmC‘s distinctive art direction and new look for Dante. The attention paid to the script and narrative manages to make these intermissions worth watching, and not because of over-the-top gunplay or sword work; that’s for you to control in-game. Whether you’re new to the franchise or a long time fan with reservations, Ninja Theory’s DmC is worth the attention as much as the original game was over ten years ago.