To a wrestling fan like me, Capcom frequently seem like the gaming equivalent of WWE boss Vince McMahon, a figure that is often demonstrably out of touch with their audience but still lives by the credo of ‘the people want what I tell them to want’. It’s meant that to the vocal minority of internet fans, Capcom have attained the same legendary corporate heel status as the promoter, foisting on disc DLC on the consumer, silently writing Mega Man out of history, and, the nerd rage goes, ripping a cult favourite in Devil May Cry away from its in-house Japanese creators and giving it to Ninja Theory. One look at the youthful, short-haired, eminently punchable head of the Dante the Cambridge studio had designed confirmed things. DMC was ruined, everything people liked about it stripped out and replaced with something mass market, casual, accessible. Accessible! To think!

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Such anger is misplaced, misguided and ungrounded. First of all, this is not a project entirely Ninja Theory’s own, but a collaboration, Capcom’s Motohide Eshiro joining NT’s Alex Jones in producing, and with a healthy number of staff used to working with silver fox Dante having a strong hand in proceedings. This should in theory be a dream team, then; in their prior games, Ninja Theory have developed a reputation for some jaw dropping visual design, strong plot and well-rounded characters married to combat and gameplay that is at best decent. The inconsistent Devil May Cry series under Capcom’s hands meanwhile, has featured intricate, fast flowing and giddily enjoyable combat, but with story and setting that’s distinctly overshadowed by the action.

Certainly Ninja Theory does well in showing off what their reboot does for the franchise as far as art direction is concerned. DMC sees Dante flitting between the mortal world, where most of the story development takes place, and Limbo, a place where the real world’s real evil is revealed, and where you’ll be doing all the fighting. In Limbo, colours attain an oversaturated, bleach washed tone and conventional physics are done away with, allowing for buildings to uproot themselves and spiral into the air as platforms for later use, perspectives shift and the innocent and regular take a turn for the grotesque and foreboding. An early stint to a cathedral town that sees walls closing in on Dante and an escape through the church made harder with corridors that stretch and twist at the will of an unseen demon shows the contrast between the original games’ already serviceable Gothic direction and the reboot’s spectacle, and things only escalate visually, with a Rez style stage in a dubstep thumping nightclub a highlight.

Levels aren’t just well put together visually, but are expansive and remarkably well designed. Platforming, assisted by new grappling hook mechanics, is a simple joy, but you’ll find yourself continually espying secrets out the corner of your eye. Finish a level and you’ll normally be stunned with the low completion percentage awarded, as collectibles are missed, tucked around corners. More inviting meanwhile are the secret keys that grant access to extra skill challenges dotted around the levels. These navigation and combat based distractions are often hidden behind barriers that can’t be broken without weapons unlocked later on, encouraging a new game plus experience at the higher difficulty levels that lie beyond. It’s rare for a linear mission based game to take this kind of Zelda style design choice, and it’s exceedingly welcome.

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Combat is accessible enough for newcomers, but even the most ardent fans will have plenty of complexity waiting for them.

Ah, of course, claim the doubters, there would be all manner of hidden secrets in place and plenty going on visually. It’s all there to disguise the fact that the combat has all been cludged, simplified, had the punishing edge of classic DMC removed. Surely? To me, Devil May Cry was never about punishment, not about treating mistakes harshly, but about rewarding skill with graceful balletic combos; a system that’s easy to learn and difficult to master. That is precisely what the reboot provides. You are given a bewildering arsenal of weapons and moves at your disposal, and enemies that are designed to encourage you to make best use of these tools. Dante’s traditional sword and guns are of course present and upgradeable, but you’ll also find separate weapons representing the angelic and demonic side of his DNA which are helpful with the arts of crowd control and powerful assaults respectively, and add a mild Ikaruga-esque tinge to battles where enemies are only susceptible to one type of attack. You also have the aforementioned grappling hook, which with angel and demon modifiers pull enemies to you or you to them. Soon, you’re launching an enemy in the air and using your angelic projectiles to juggle them before launching yourself over to the other corner of the room and delivering a few quick sword thrusts, then back to the first beast for a demonic uppercut to send them spiralling skywards again, joining the hell spawn mid-air and then crashing to the ground with your death from above move. All the while an Unreal style announcer is yelling your grade moving from ‘BRUTAL!’ through to ‘SADISTIC!’. It’s intense, wholly absorbing, and can be just as technical as fanboys want it to be; it’s only through flawlessly stringing together combos that the best moves are unlocked through purchaseable upgrades. Higher difficulty levels unlocked post completion not only ensure experienced players are kept on their toes but add an inconceivable level of challenge; the hardest setting daring you to play through the game with one hit proving fatal.

If the art style and character design might put some people off this DMC, it should be noted then that the most important part of proceedings, what earns the ‘stylish action’ badge on the front of the box, is almost perfect. Oddly it’s the final few minutes of the game that show any flaws the combat engine may have, its final two encounters being disappointingly cheaply won, and the latter of which having wildly out of control camera issues in an open setting that the game manages to avoid almost entirely for the first eleven hours; after an initial few minutes with the game feeling stunned there was no lock-on system, I managed to find myself not missing it at all, only for a crashing reminder right at the end, almost as if the project had run out of steam.

There’s more to complain about in the story and script here. It’s a real disappointment that one of the bigger attractions of this new DMC going in was the writing and character development Ninja Theory are capable of. While some brilliance is on display here, however, the story lacks consistency. After Enslaved showed how well-directed and produced Ninja Theory’s live performance capture is, it’s no surprise to see some incredibly subtle performances on display here; often one understated glance from Dante to his brother Vergil will say an awful lot. Vergil himself, meanwhile is an incredibly well written character. Fans of the series will know he isn’t entirely to be trusted, but he’s a likable figure, and the brotherly love smashed by conflicting personal ideals between Dante and Vergil is an extremely strong subplot that works well with NT’s decision to keep much of the exposition grounded in a familiar reality.

The Raptor News stage and its boss are a peak for gameplay and trough for script. Minor inconsistencies aside, DMC is a joy.

The Raptor News stage and its boss are a peak for gameplay and trough for script. Minor inconsistencies aside, DMC is a joy.

But, but, but. While treating you with a fine human drama with one writer’s pen, it seems to be insulting your intelligence with another. Foul mouthed demon spawn bosses make sense in context, but Dante spitting curse words feels petulant and child like. Projected text on walls, something that seems clich√© by now, is there to smack you over the head with its ‘down with the man’ leitmotif; if you didn’t think that the concept of demons controlling the populace with soft drinks and 24 hour news was a bit on the nose already, bright bold text reading ‘LIES’ and ‘CORRUPTION’ should remove all doubt. It too often feels more like middle class teenage rebellion than anything more mature and considered; a feeling exemplified when one boss taunts you by quoting Trent Reznor lyrics. That the game most frequently talks down to the audience when Dante is in Limbo is perhaps intentional; a desire to show the vulgar underworld beneath our normal civilised one, but it just seemed grating to me.

Of course Devil May Cry was never about story, as much as DMC improves on Capcom’s lore. It’s about loud, graceful, brash, flowing, brutal, technical combat. It’s something that’s granted to the player in spades, and sends Dante into next month’s inevitable comparative scrap with Platinum’s Metal Gear Rising Revengeance armed with one of the best games of its genre.

GODZILLA SCORE:

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3 Poops: Exceptional¬†There will unfortunately be those beholden to Shinji Mikami’s Dante that will never give DMC the time of day, but they are missing out on a title that not only does the series’ legacy proud, but builds on it with a remarkably well-rounded, rewarding and downright enjoyable experience.

360 version reviewed. Devil May Cry is also available on PS3 and, from January 25th, PC. 

The Japanese version of this game has full English language support. For a list of language support information for games of all formats, visit our forums.

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)