Devil May Cry defined twitch-based action combat when it was released back in 2001. Devil May Cry told the story of a modern-day demon hunter named Dante, on a mission to defeat the demon king Mundus. By combining swordplay with gunfire and special demon abilities, Dante could slap around enemies near-infinitely, giving players a level of creative control over their combos that truly set the game apart. Devil May Cry was also incredibly responsive, allowing Dante to break off his assault with a dodge or jump to get out harm’s way. The result was a fast and exciting action game that demanded good reflexes as well as enemy pattern recognition. Add a creatively difficult hard mode, and you have a memorable action title that is well worth replaying.
DmC: Devil May Cry is a reboot of the Devil May Cry franchise, and serves as a retelling of Dante’s origin story. Dante’s been given a new face, outfit and personality, as has his demon adversaries and the very city he lives in. He is no longer the buffoonish silver-haired hunter with a heart of gold: DmC‘s Dante is a foul-mouthed, smart-ass brat with a troubled past. While the game is framed loosely around the origins of Dante and his parents Sparda and Eva as established in earlier titles, Ninja Theory has gone to great lengths to make DmC their own story, injecting the narrative with social commentary and rewriting much of the history to tell an alternate tale.
DmC‘s story, sadly, is rather straightforward and predictable once all the world elements are introduced. In essence, demonkind has overtaken the human world, led by the demon king named Mundus. As a result, demons control every echelon of society, manipulating humanity into becoming obese, ignorant and obedient drones through the use of subliminal messages, poisoned food, biased media and the promise of wealth and prosperity (A.K.A jobs), in what is very blatantly meant to be a social statement about the state of affairs in the ad-filled, corporate sponsored world of today. Humanity lives blissfuly unaware of their demon overlords and happily eat, work, and screw themselves to death. Think They Live and The Matrix, as DmC presents more or less the same scenario, but with demons instead of aliens or robots.
In the midst of all this corruption, a demon named Sparda defected and ran off with an angel named Eva, and sired two children – Dante and Vergil. Mundus took offense to Sparda’s betrayal and saw his children as a threat, and so attempted to wipe them out. Dante and Vergil escape with their lives, but Mundus pursues them still, fearing their power. This sets the stage for the events in DmC.
The dialogue in DmC runs the gamut from uninspired and silly to outright childish, depending on the scene. Unlike DMC 3 and 4, which took the hammy dialogue of the original game and made it so deliberately over-the-top and silly that the story played out like a B-movie satire, DmC takes itself much to seriously for its own good. The perversion of capitalism and dystopian societies are not at all new concepts, but beyond the supernatural twist, Ninja Theory does nothing to make these themes interesting or relevant to the story – they’re merely a backdrop. So we get scenes where Mundus is threatening the President of the United States with shame and scandal – because Mundus has all the evil monies and he can do that – presented in dead earnest.
DmC’s story, sadly, is rather straightforward and predictable once all the elements of the world are introduced.
Once the backstory for DmC is established (which is explained within the first three chapters), the story does nothing of interest with the themes it introduces, aside from a handful of quirky remarks made by characters during select missions. As one can imagine, this is utterly bizarre considering how heavy handedly these elements are introduced during the first few missions of the game. The story only serves to throw players into one bizarre environment after the next. Some of these areas are visually impressive, while others are generic and forgettable. But after a few hours of platforming in these over-saturated, postmodernist stages, they all tend to bleed together into one overwhelming, optically-traumatic blur.
But anyone familiar with the Devil May Cry franchise knows that the story and setting are merely backdrops anyway. The true heart of the series is its gameplay. In this respect, DmC: Devil May Cry does its best to emulate the frantic, free-form combat from past titles, but does nothing to expand or innovate it. What Ninja Theory has done is simply streamline the combat mechanics established in earlier games. Some of these changes are easy enough to get accustomed to and affect the combat positively, making Dante and his arsenal of special attacks more accessible and easier to perform. Unfortunately others changes affect the combat negatively by creating unresponsiveness or outright inaccuracy, which makes fighting feel clunky and sluggish at times.
Dante has a primary attack button, which allows him to use his bread-and-butter combos on enemies on the ground or in the air. A secondary attack button allows him to use his ground and aerial special attacks, like the “Hightime” uppercut and “Helm-splitter” smash attack, respectively. In addition, double-tapping the analog stick towards an enemy in conjunction with his primary attack button allows him to use an additional special attack, such as his classic “Stinger” thrust.
Projectile weapons serve as Dante’s long-range attack, allowing him to spray enemies from a distance with gunfire. Holding down the shoot button will allow Dante to charge up a more powerful shot, and pressing the jump and shoot buttons at the same time will allow him to perform an acrobatic special attack with his firearm.
Dante can attack with a demonic and angelic weapon at any time by holding down the trigger buttons in conjunction with his melee attack buttons. This switching serves a double-purpose – in addition to expanding Dante’s offensive move list, the two weapon types expand his maneuverability in different ways. Angelic weapons allows Dante to pull himself towards enemies and certain platforms, as well as air-dash to quickly traverse small gaps. Demonic weapons allows Dante to pull enemies towards him or knock them off-balance, or to pull platforms and objects around. These weapons also affect Dante’s dodge ability: dodging with an Angel weapon allows Dante to dash a great distance, while dodging with a demon weapon strengthens him temporarily, allowing for a powerful counterattack.
While this change to the combat serves the game very well, I have noticed that there is a subtle delay in between certain attacks while switching between weapon types. This is particularly noticeable with projectile attacks and grapples, as they all utilize the same shoot button. Dante will either not perform the attack, or he will initiate an attack with the last weapon he had equipped. During more methodical play, this delay isn’t particularly noticeable, but it can result in some unresponsive commands during frantic play.
The most subtle change DmC makes to the series’ tried and true formula also happens to be the most profound, as it affects the combat negatively overall. Quite simply, the lack of a targeting/lock-on button hurts the game. Melee and projectile attacks as well as grapples can all be guided to a degree with the analog stick, but aiming attacks in this way isn’t precise. This is especially true for projectiles and grapples. Enemy encounters with clusters of aerial enemies can be a nightmarish ordeal, as Dante has no accurate way to aim at the enemy you want. If there is an aerial enemy directly above a grounded enemy, you have no way of knowing which one Dante will shoot at or attempt to grab.
End-game encounters boil down to clusters of enemies with these pseudo-invulnerable demons thrown in to stifle creative combat – you are forced to fight with restrictions when these demons pop up in combat.
For example, Frosts demons in the original game were vulnerable to Ifrit’s fiery punches and kicks, but players could defeat them with the electric Alastor or the non-elemental Sparda swords just as well if they choose to. This is not the case in DmC: Devil May Cry.
In DmC, some of the more advanced enemies are vulnerable to specific weapon types, and only those types, being literally color-coded to the weapon. Blue demon? Use an angelic weapon. Red demon? Use a demonic weapon. No exceptions. This makes later enemy encounters tougher in a frustrating and arbitrary sort of way. End-game encounters boil down to clusters of enemies with these pseudo-invulnerable demons thrown in to stifle creative combat – you are forced to fight with restrictions when these demons pop up in combat. This is especially true in the higher difficulties, where such enemies appear earlier and more frequently in the game. Had Ninja Theory designed demons to take bonus damage from weapons they’re weak to, rather than make them invulnerable to everything but those weapons, this wouldn’t have been an issue. As it is now, striking such demons with the wrong weapon type will force Dante into an absurdly long recoil animation that leaves him completely vulnerable to any incoming attacks.
Another issue with the combat is how ineffectual Dante’s standard projectile weapons – Ebony and Ivory – are. This also brings to light the glaring issue with DmC‘s combat ranking system. In past Devil May Cry titles, successive and aggressive melee attacks on enemies would boost Dante’s combat rank. The higher the rank, the better his rewards upon a successful kill. Hesitating for too long in between attacks or taking damage from enemies would drop his rank, encouraging players to be both aggressive and skillfully defensive. Gunplay complimented this ranking system as it allowed players to keep their rank from decreasing while still dealing damage to enemies from afar.
DmC does away with this by designing a ranking system that only drops when Dante takes a hit. Combat pace goes out the window as a result, as you no longer need to play aggressively to increase your rank: so long as you don’t get hit, and your rank will never go down. As a result, gunplay is all but useless, since it does almost no damage to enemies on its own, and you never need to keep pressure on enemies from afar, since Dante can easily and more effectively stroll up and slash an enemy in the face without suffering whatsoever from a rank drop. This is a shame, since Ninja Theory actually designed a much more accessible combat ranking system; one that gives players a clear and concise point score for every action they take in battle.
It may sound like I’m being overly hard with DmC – I’m not. Yes, the story is lacking, but Ninja Theory and Capcom over-emphasized the story elements pre-release, and DmC doesn’t live up to the hype in that respect. Still, I find the new Dante endearing when he isn’t trying so hard to sound like an edgy tool. I like the fact that there are hidden keys and bonuses to collect within most levels, and that the levels themselves present branching paths for players to find and explore. And I am surprised by how solid the action is. No, it’s not on-par with DMC 3 and 4 in my opinion, but there is a lot of fun to be had with the combat, especially when replaying earlier missions, where there aren’t obnoxious enemies to hinder your creativity. I can comfortably say that while DmC is a below average Devil May Cry game, it is an engaging, above average action game.