When Ninja Theory, a British development house renown for its unique sense of style, was first tasked by Capcom to reboot and rejuvenate Devil May Cry, it was “The Father of Mega Man” himself, Keiji Inafune, who posed the question that would ultimately shape DmC into the game it is today. What would Dante and his universe look like if imagined as a contemporary film?
The grand result of this thought experiment permeates throughout every inch of DmC with obsessive flair. From the imaginative art design that morphs the world into the twisted, decrepit otherworld mockery of our reality to the clever, full momentum narrative that barely allows its viewers a breath, Ninja Theory has taken complete ownership of Devil May Cry, offering up an entirely new, almost unrecognizable take on gaming’s beloved devil hunter.
And it’s fucking incredible.
The ingredients used for this reset are familiar enough to series regulars – Dante, his brother Vergil, hordes of brutal demons, etc. – but the way they’re mixed together makes for an entirely different dish. Every facet of society is controlled by demons, with the media we dote over and the products we devour secretly numbing us to humanity’s enslavement. Ignorant to his heretic legacy of both angelic and demonic blood, Dante is a hot headed, desolate youth hounded by unseen demons hidden behind the illusion of our world. A far cry from hero status, Dante burns up his time and frustrations by mostly drinking, fucking, and fighting.
A semblance of purpose is begrudgingly introduced into Dante’s life when the story’s emotional pull, Kat, is sent by her organization of anti-demon activists – branded terrorists by the media – to retrieve him. DmC takes a huge detour from the franchise’s mythos as Dante’s twin brother, Vergil, is introduced as an ally who reveals that the two are actually Nephillim, offspring of an unlikely love pairing between the powerful demon, Sparda, and an angel, Eva. Having banished their father and viciously murdered their mother, Dante and Vergil set sights on felling the demon king Mundus by sabotaging his empire from the ground up.
While painfully short – just as is the game’s runtime – the story woven here hits all the right notes. The realistic approach elevates Dante from caricature to character, and the relationship formed between him, Kat, and Vergil absorbed me from start to finish. It’s genuinely engaging to watch Dante slowly shirk his apathetic, detached demeanor the more he invests himself in Kat and her belief in Vergil’s crusade. And Vergil…If you’re versed in Devil May Cry lore, it almost hurts to see the Sons of Sparda grow closer throughout the game knowing that their ideologies will come at violent odds. Ninja Theory’s strong arm was always story and it’s satisfying to see them flex it here.
The Poetry of Combat
But the real star of DmC isn’t the edgier, foul-mouthed Dante. It’s the reactionary, precision combat. The mechanics on display here are truly fluid and a complete joy to master; every move you accomplish a visual spectacle. The basic setup of your sword Rebellion and dual pistols may seem simple enough at the offset, but as your arsenal expands and you earn upgrades, your offensive options become more intricate and beg for experimentation especially in the pursuit of that coveted SSS score.
Eventually, you’ll have access to three different guns and five melee weapons in total, all available at a moment’s notice in combat. After some practice (and a healthy dose of having your ass handed right back to you), pulling off combos, launches, aerials, and juggles while constantly switching armaments is a synch, and made nearly effortless thanks to a control scheme that favors staggered timing with one attack button instead of overloading the face buttons. The controller even vibrates during a pause in your attack to let you know you’re on track with a desired combo, which is a downright pleasant design choice.
Easy controls never seem to equate to easy fights, though. True to form, DmC revolves around some of the hardest, most blistering hack n’ slash action this side of Bayonetta. Certain enemies are only vulnerable to either your angel or demon weapons (your biggest hint will be their eerie color coding of blue or red), which isn’t too demanding…up until the game starts throwing mixed assortments of the two at you, punishing button-mashing and rewarding tactical attacks. If you fail to adjust and meet your end mid-battle, besides the life reviving yellow orbs, checkpoints are pretty forgiving, thrusting you into the start of the same fight instead of shoving you backwards through a level.
DmC is not a perfect ballet of carnage, however. While standard fights with groups of enemies always feel fun and even, boss encounters are a weak point. Instead of allowing you to mix it up with custom combos for a higher and higher score, bosses’ rigid attack patterns force you to follow a just as stiff routine to avoid having your health knocked off the bar. Attack openings are always too short for you to really build up something stylish, and a heavy reliance on the pushing and pulling mechanics found in platforming interrupt the flow of combat more than I would’ve liked. Still, based on the sheer imagination put into the grotesque giants you come across (like a poison secreting succubus at the bottom of a soda factory or a massive, demonic infant still grossly attached to its mother), boss fights end up being highlights unto themselves regardless.
One of the cooler aspects of Ninja Theory’s reboot is Limbo, the living, breathing otherworld demons can suck Dante in to at a moment’s notice. Once in Limbo, the city street you were once standing on can crack, churn, and pull apart. Entire chunks of asphalt can give away to a bottomless abyss just to stop Dante in his tracks. Limbo is the perfect excuse the developers needed to create one of the most memorable, vibrantly designed, beautifully surreal environments in recent memory.
And not just content with Limbo serving as a pulsing, moving background, the game is injected with a solid dose of platforming, allowing you to jump around this demonic playground. The demon powers extend here to provide you a means to pull chunks of concrete out of the wall to create floating bridges, likely followed up with obstacles you have to pull yourself up to using your angelic whip. For the most part, platforming sections are a linear quest from A to B that adequately break up the action, but diverging pathways and hidden alcoves reward exploration with collectible keys that unlock secret doorways scattered throughout levels. Besides ratcheting up the difficulty (because you’re masochistic) in subsequent playthroughs, scouring levels for collectibles adds a mile of replayability.
Your visits to hell are accentuated by the only genre of music that the devil would play: industrial. Despite some thick and cheesy lyrics, Combichrist’s contribution to the score more often gels perfectly with the neon hellscapes and raw battles Dante gets himself into. I don’t think the intro to the game would work half as well without the band’s grumbling synths and buzzing guitars. [However, PS3 faithful, I will note that the game graciously gifts us with a custom soundtrack option – in case that decides purchases for you as much as it does for me.]
Same Town, Different Faces
I must lament the exclusion of the Bloody Palace mode, the famed endurance trial where you face down ascending levels of enemies, from on-disc. The mode is promised later on as a free update, but until then, the story campaign is the only place brawlers get to sharpen their teeth. A multitude of difficulties, however, replete with varying waves of enemies with cruelly increased A.I., provides enough hacking and slashing for those looking to test their mettle (be warned; from Dante Must Die and on, it’s going to hurt bad).
Devil Never Cry
Across film and now gaming, originality has conceded ground to the sure-fire profitability and brand recognition that comes along with the dreaded reboot. Resetting the mythology and changing the tone of an established franchiseis a dicey proposition, one that most series don’t survive unscathed. But in DmC, it works, and it works well. And no one can say Ninja Theory owes anything to blind luck.
From concept to execution, Ninja Theory has accomplished in reworking Devil May Cry where it needed it most while retaining, and successfully improving, the addictive combat at the center of the games’ popularity. DmC is a legitimately cool, astonishingly fun new direction for Dante held together by the gravity of its own smartly written narrative and has quickly become my favorite entry in the franchise. As a fan from the very start of the series, I seriously cannot wait to see where this new Dante goes next.
- Stellar visual presentation underlined by finely detailed graphics
- Intricate, responsive combat system that allows for custom combos
- Top notch storyline carried by an above average cast
- Finicky camera that can bug out at the most inopportune moments
- Auto lock-on disagrees with your priority targets resulting in an unwarranted smack to your face
- Depressingly short – and no extra modes to sate your need for an encore