[UPDATE: Please check out our full DmC review!]
Nearly two years after its initial reveal during the 2010 Tokyo Game Show, general audiences were finally allowed to play DmC: Devil May Cry at E3 2012. An exclusive demo was also available to select press during the event, revealing a much later stage in the game. Following E3, Capcom made a stop at New York City to demo a few of its titles to press, including DmC. As a fan of the series, I made it my business to play as much of the demo as possible during both events. The following are my impressions of the (hands-off) press-exclusive demo of the “Devil’s Dalliance” nightclub mission, and my hands-on impressions of both the “Under Watch” and “Secret Ingredient” missions.
With my hands-on experience, allow me to elaborate on DmC‘s controls first, since control is a critical element in all Devil May Cry titles.
As mentioned in an earlier article, Capcom streamlined many of the mechanics players have become familiar with since DMC3 and 4. Dante has a primary attack button (Y/Triangle), which makes up the bulk of his fighting options. Briefly pausing during the second strike in his basic combo (this applies to all weapons) allows Dante to extend the combo, much like in previous games. Dante’s weapon will flash during the input window, which makes extending his basic combo very easy. These rules apply in the air as well – pausing during the second strike in Dante’s Aerial Rave combo will allow him to use Nero’s “Roulette Spin” juggler.
There is no lock-on button in DmC, so combat utilizes a secondary attack button for special moves like the High Time juggle and Helm-splitter aerial. Double-tapping movement inputs along with the primary attack command allows for “charging” attacks, like Dante’s Stinger/Million Stab. While the lack of a lock-on seems like a radical change to the gameplay, its absence didn’t really impact combat during the demo missions. The reason for this (so far) is because the demo enemies are essentially brain-dead, and the only powerful opponent (the boss demon Poison) fought alone, making targeting unnecessary. I’d also like to point out that Bayonetta (Devil May Cry‘s bombastic spiritual successor) makes minimal use of the lock-on-button, and that players can execute virtually every attack in that game without targeting enemies at all. I don’t believe that the lack of a lock-on button will be an issue in DmC.
Dante’s primary defense in DmC, much like in earlier titles, is his evasive ability. DmC gives Dante a dedicated dodge button (left/right bumpers) which allows him to roll out of sticky situations. DmC also gives Dante an aerial dodge, allowing him to flip over incoming attacks. The invincibility of the ground dodge is extremely generous (you are invulnerable throughout the entire animation). Dante’s aerial dodge has a shorter animation, and grants him a bit less invincibility as a result, but is still a useful ability.
Dante also has access to a parry. However, unlike the “Just Guard” ability from DMC3 and 4, the parry in DmC utilizes Dante’s own attack to trigger the block. Previous Devil May Cry titles utilized this “weapon parry” ability in limited scenarios, but DmC embraces this mechanic to compensate for the absence of the Royal Guard defensive style from earlier titles. Dante can parry most attacks (from regular and boss enemies) by timing his attack to collide with an incoming attack. This will force the attacking enemy to recoil, allowing Dante to follow-up without fear of retaliation. The timing for the parry is quite tight, and I only executed the parry twice during my hands-on; once by accident against a basic enemy demon, and once against the boss’ sweeping attack.
Devil trigger, the demonic power that Dante taps into to release his demon form, is retooled to function as a super-powered Quicksilver/Witch-Time ability in DmC. Upon entering devil trigger, Dante will assume the white-haired, red-cloaked form fans of the series are familiar with, and all of his attacks will power-up. During encounters with common enemies, devil trigger will hurl all opponents into the air and slow-down time, allowing Dante to pick them apart at his leisure. Bosses are unaffected by this time-warping effect, however unique grapple points will appear on boss enemies instead.
Finally, Dante’s weapon and style abilities are condensed into the weapon category. As Dante fights through Limbo City, he will come across various angel and demon-aligned weaponry. The angel-scythe Osiris and demon-halberd Arbiter are two such weapons, and the demo allows players to utilize these weapons in addition to Dante’s Rebellion (sword). Ninja Theory promises that there will be various Angel and Demon arms, which Dante will be able to switch to on-the-fly via the D-Pad. New firearms will also become available as the story progresses, and can also be switched-to via the D-Pad.
By holding down the left trigger, players can use Osiris and its many abilities. On the melee front, the weapon uses sweeps and light strikes, and is more combo-oriented than either Rebellion or Arbiter, allowing players to string lots of blows in rapid succession. Osiris is an ideal aerial weapon as a result, since players can juggle enemies for a very long time with it alone. The weapon will also power-up with successive hits, making it particularly good when dealing with crowds. Projectile attacks with Osiris result in the “Angel Lift” grapple, pulling Dante towards the nearest enemy. Double-tapping the projectile button with Osiris results in a powerful uppercut, which launches enemies into the air. Dodging with Osiris will extend Dante’s standard roll with a teleport-dash. Osiris also allows Dante to dash while mid-air by pressing the jump button.
Holding down the right trigger allows Dante to use the Arbiter. Arbiter is a heavy-hitting weapon that can easily smack-around and control enemies. The individual blows are relatively slow, but its attacks can smash-through shields, knock down enemies, or launch them onto the air with ease. Its power makes Arbiter ideal for finishing-off stronger enemies quickly. Projectile attacks with Arbiter result in the “Demon Pull” grapple, pulling enemies toward Dante. In the case of heavier or shielded enemies, demon pull will wrench them off-balance, creating an attack opening for Dante. Double-tapping the projectile button with Arbiter results in a stupidly powerful follow-up kick, which knocks the enemy across the room. Dodging with Arbiter results in an odd slow-motion dodge roll. Dante’s weapon will power-up if the dodge is successful, allowing players to launch a stronger counter-attack.
Jump cancel/enemy step is a key element to many of the advanced combo strings in DMC3 and 4. The technique allows players to cancel the recovery of any aerial attack, allowing them to combo attacks that generally can’t be strung together back-to-back due to lengthy recovery. This technique has been preserved in DmC, though I admit that the timing escaped me quite a bit during my hands-on. Because combat in DmC is a bit “floaty,” in that it’s very easy (effortless, really) to stay in the air for extended periods of time, Jump-Canceling isn’t all that useful. The only attack that is worth jump-canceling in the demo is Dante’s helm-splitter, but since there are so many other aerial attack options available to him, players can simply use those and not bother with the mechanic at all. Then again, my gameplay experience was limited to what I played during the demos, so who knows? Maybe it’s more useful when Dante’s full arsenal is available to him.
Now, that we’ve touched on the combat and controls, let’s go into my impressions of the “Devil’s Dalliance” mission. Dante sucker-punches his way into a demon-run nightclub in his search for comrade Kat, who has gone missing. The nightclub is run by the demoness Lilith, who uses her powers to force Dante through a gauntlet of demon and trap-riddled battles. Lilith is closely tied to the demon overlord Mundus, and is more than eager to kill Dante and present his scrawny little corpse to her master. She is depicted as a blonde, middle-aged, trophy-wife-looking woman, and no amount of (obvious) plastic surgery can hide the wrinkles around the corners of her eyes.
After pulling Dante into limbo and forcing him into a few fights, Lilith summons two new enemy types into the club floor to fight – a heavy bruiser-type enemy, and a larger and more aggressive angel-type enemy. The bruiser is slow and heavy, and it attacks as predictably as you would expect from such an enemy. If you’ve fought one heavy-type enemy in an action game, you’ve fought them all, I suppose. You can bait it into bum-rushing the wall, allowing Dante to attack the stunned enemy, or use demon pull to yank it off its feet. The new angel enemy will try to impale Dante with its retractable spear, or dive-bomb him whenever Dante is in range. The demo player made short work of both enemies.
With Lilith taunting in the background, Dante is forced into a series of platforming and fighting sections that play-out like a demonic game show. Each “round” pits Dante in a techno arena, with neon tiled floors and pulsing walls. These arenas will force different conditions on the ensuing battle. One challenge has the floor color shift between red and blue periodically, forcing Dante to use his demonic or angelic weapons whenever he stands in the respective color. Another will force him to clear the arena of enemies within a certain amount of time. In between arenas, Dante travels over abstract environments and platforms (a bit reminiscent of El Shaddai‘s trippy stages), all the while fighting colored variations of the basic enemies we’ve already seen. The color alterations force players to use the weapon of that color (again, red = demon and blue = angel) to take-down the foe.
Eventually, Dante is ambushed by a pair of new enemies – the first organic-looking demon type revealed (aside from boss Poison). Called Rage, the demons resemble a dog/porcupine hybrid, and have basic lunge and swipe attacks. They summon demonic shards to shoot at Dante from long-range, making them a bit more versatile and threatening than the basic sword-fodder enemies. Killing one Rage will put the other in an enraged state (hence the name) making them more aggressive and resistant to staggering. The demo player slipped-up quite a bit fighting the enraged demon, which gives me some hope in respect to the enemy variety in DmC. Defeating the demon pair brought the demo to a close.
I admit that I enjoyed the odd “Devil’s Got Talent” game-show spoof that the level was designed around. I also like how much smoother the gameplay looked during this demo run then my own hands-on playthroughs with the earlier levels (which look choppy by comparison, as a result of the frame-rate). The new enemy types show promise, though the Rage demons are the only enemies revealed thus far that seem at all competent. Hopefully, Ninja Theory has more enemies like them to reveal in the future.
Now, onto my own hands-on with the “Under Watch” and “Secret Ingredient” missions, which I actually played myself.
Since you can see the cutscenes for yourself on Youtube or any video-sharing site, I’ll spare you the details and skip right to the heart of the matter – the general gameplay. While I outlined the combat mechanics above, the “Under Watch” and “Secret Ingredient” missions are meant to represent all of the elements of Ninja Theory’s DmC – its combat, platforming, aesthetic and themes.
DmC emphasizes platforming and environmental traversal much more than its predecessors did. Dante’s grapple and air dash are used deliberately and constantly for travel as well as combat, giving the world and gameplay a more seamless and unified feel, which I like. The “chase” sequences give the city a lot of personality, which is a big step up from the cool but relatively static environments of previous games. Tameem Antoniades of Ninja Theory mentioned that missions will feature items and optional branches, giving curious players some extra content to chew through, though exact details on what these paths lead to or what the items are, have not been revealed. The “Under Watch” mission did not have either, though I admit that I didn’t look hard.
Under Watch plays like your standard Devil May Cry mission: you get from point A to point B, killing any enemy that gets in your way. The cityscape will box you into arenas and force you to fight the demons it throws at you, and will contort and tear itself apart to create platforming segments to break-up the combat. This gives the game an energetic pace, since you’re always doing something, be it fighting, scaling platforms, or running from a warping and violent environment.
If Under Watch is DmC’s definitive mission, Secret Ingredient is the game’s definitive boss battle. Players face off against the larva/slug demon Poison, who happens to be the “secret ingredient” in DmC’s popular “Virility” energy drink. Shades of Futurama, methinks. After some… colorful dialogue, Dante and Poison dive into battle.
What makes the Poison battle stand out from other enemy encounters in the demo is how fleshed-out it is. All of Dante’s abilities can be used to great effect in the battle, and all have a practical purpose. Parrying Poison’s swipes forces her to recoil, leaving her vulnerable to a unique Buster-like grapple with Dante’s demon pull ability. The lengthy aerial combos of Osiris makes hitting her head (her critical weak-point) easier. The heavy blows of Arbiter deal ridiculous damage to the boss when she’s knocked onto the ground. During devil trigger mode, a unique grapple-point appears on her head, allowing players to use the angel pull ability to reach her head from anywhere on the stage. This, on top of the dodging and platforming required for the boss, make for a very well-rounded and genuinely fun battle. It is my sincere hope that some mid/end-game enemies have the same level of complexity that the boss does, because slapping-around the combo-fodder enemies in the demo loses its appeal after a while.
The gameplay, from what has been revealed so far, does not require the higher frame rate that its predecessors had, simply because there are very few mechanics that require super-precise visual cues like those games did. Weapon-parrying is an exception, but the impression I got from the demo was that this mechanic is being treated more as perk or bonus ability, and not one that is vital for success. However, the lowered frame-rate is definitely noticeable during combat, and makes fighting look choppy. Unfortunately, outside of smoothing out the attack and movement animations as much as humanly possible, I’m afraid that DmC simply won’t look as fluid as previous games.
As far as story details go, the DmC backstory is heavily inspired by the John Carpenter film They Live. In that film, the wealthy elite of our world were conspiring with a race of aliens, where the aliens acquired valuable resources, and in exchange used their own technology to manipulate the media and advertising to present subliminal totalitarian and consumerist messages. These subliminal messages manipulated the human masses into spending and conforming without question to their alien and wealthy elite overlords. Switch out the wealthy elite and aliens with demons, and you have DmC’s Limbo City, in a nutshell.
The actual plot scenarios are still unknown, but we can make some educated guesses given what we’ve seen in the trailers so far. Demons, led by the overlord Mundus (the demon king from previous Devil May Cry titles), influence every social echelon in Limbo City. They corrupt and manipulate the human masses with subliminal messages, biased media, poisoned food and drink, etc. Their power extends into the city itself, with the infrastructure literally warping around Dante and releasing demon drones to impede his progress. A group of rebels, aware of the demon influence in the city, have united to form an organization called “The Order,” and attempt to loosen the demon grip within the city. Dante works with The Order to take down the demon threat. I happen to love the plot of They Live, and I feel that a Devil May Cry title influenced by that film can present some very interesting story scenarios. No, DmC isn’t re-inventing the wheel as far as storytelling goes – we’ve had popular literature address totalitarian and dystopian themes for nearly a century. But it should be interesting to see how Ninja Theory uses the theme to develop the plot and setting.
With that said, the fact that Ninja Theory opted not to include Dante’s classic taunt mechanic in order to maintain continuity between gameplay and cutscenes is ridiculous, bordering on pretentious. If the story has become so critical to Devil May Cry that it affects gameplay decisions, I’m afraid that there are serious issues with the team’s priorities. Disabling taunting during conflicting story chapters would have been an arbitrary, but welcome option over not including them at all.
Another issue I have with the storytelling is the iffy dialogue. Dante has always been a cheesy ham, trash-talking demons without batting an eye. While Dante retains some of his classic hamminess in DmC, some of his exchanges also sound forced, or outright bad. Dante gleefully introducing himself to Poison as “Dante the demon-killer,” is particularly gag-inducing. The excess profanity cheapens the dialogue as well. The occasional F-bomb or swear can enrich a conversation (yes, I’m a riot during Holiday dinners), but when a game tries to take itself as seriously as DmC is, the excess profanity feels forced and childish. The “Fuck You” back-and-forth between Dante and Poison is utterly stupid – I half expected Dante to exclaim “Fuck you times infinity!,” after the third rally. Yes, Dante’s a young punk. We get it Ninja Theory. But tone down the swearing, please – only kids and immature types are impressed by this “riveting” dialogue.
DmC is scheduled for a January, 2013 release.