DmC: Devil May Cry marks a fresh start for the long-running franchise, abandoning the previous canon in favor of a grim and gritty tone. It’s a fast and savage action experience with a few memorable characters who fill out an unexpectedly heartfelt narrative.
In this version, Dante is a troubled youth splitting his time between incarcerations, binge-drinking, and hacking his way through a parallel demon dimension called Limbo. The game is developed by Ninja Theory, a studio that has proven its ability to deliver an emotional narrative with its 2010 release Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Fans who have played both games may find some interesting comparisons between their respective heroic ensembles.
The overall plot is underlined and annotated with social commentary. Against Dante are a set of all-powerful corporations governed by Mundus, the demon king. Mundus controls the world through a staggering allocation of debt, and with the armies of Limbo at his disposal, readily crushes his opposition. Dante falls in with The Order, a group of freedom fighters whose focus is on unseating the demons and giving control back to humanity.
The overarching events of DmC aren’t anything to write home about. The social commentary is reduced to a demonic CEO gazing over an urban landscape with a menacing expression, while the represented counter-cultural spews insults at demonic minions before slicing them to bits. It’s a cookie-cutter message, one without any weight behind it, that often distracts from the plot element that the game pulls off quite well: the characters.
In DmC’s opening sequence Dante is introduced to Kat, an oft-frightened psychic with the ability to see into the demon world. She spends much of the game assisting him there, but she cannot enter at his side. This leaves her exposed in the human world as she moves to help Dante in his efforts. She is a character the player might feel a strong urge to protect, a virtue which fosters within Dante throughout the story, but her safety is often out of your hands. And you can bet this is a device the writers have seen fit to exploit to sometimes agonizing affect.
Ninja Theory has re-imagined the faces and the story, but the series’ signature gameplay remains intact. Chaining together combos is the key to victory in most combat scenarios, a task that can be as simple or as complex as is desired. Performance is measured in letter grades that increase more slowly the more times you repeat any set of moves, and decrease when Dante takes damage. Dodging and interrupting enemy attacks is key to the experience, keeping the action fluid and providing damage bonuses when triggered with the right timing.
Holding down the different triggers enters Dante into either angel or demon mode, and he acquires weapons throughout the game that correspond. Some enemies can be harmed only by these, forcing you to use some degree of variation in your play style. Encountering multiple enemies with different properties exacerbates the scenario. You might have to pummel a pair of hellhounds with a pair of demonic gloves while keeping the witch in the opposite side of the arena immobilized with an angelic shuriken. On the normal difficulty these situations never become too much to handle and are a welcome change of pace when they spring up throughout the game.
Fortunately, it’s all seamless. There’s no complicated inventory to manage. When you do receive multiple weapons of the same type they can be swapped out with a single button press that doesn’t interrupt the action. The action is consistently tight and responsive. Some of the combos are a little difficult to pull off, but you can learn and unlearn them at will and practice before heading out into the field. My only complaint is that Dante adds to his collection frequently right up until the story’s climax, resulting tutorials spanning the entire game. Often, it felt as if I had barely gotten comfortable with my new equipment before being introduced to something new, which is frustrating.
Outside of combat, DmC is pretty linear. Off the beaten path there are a host of hidden keys to collect, doors to unlock, and enslaved souls to set free, but most of this time is spent running down a corridor for a while before encountering a platforming segment. Dante’s whip has its uses in combat, but is most important for transversing levels. He hooks himself to multicolored rings, either pulling himself to a platform or pulling a platform to him. These mechanics grow more complicated throughout the first half of the game; Dante can pull himself to a ring, immediately pull a platform to him, and boost forward to cover the distance. These button combinations are increasingly complex, and quickly switching between them in a single sequence is awkward at times.
Most of DmC takes place within Limbo, the demon realm with lies in parallel with the human world. This is a twisted realm that is constantly reshaped by the forces trying to keep Dante from completing his quest. Limbo is what highlights the engine’s visual prowess as the hero is pulled from normalcy and into its depths. Vehicles are crushed, buildings split apart, and short hallways are made impossibly long by the will of Dante’s demonic adversaries. The yellow hue that seems to touch every surface in Limbo wears on the senses, but in all the setting creates a nice effect. It does a great job representing the chaos that The Order tries its best to eliminate.
DmC: Devil May Cry is not a necessary reboot, but it is a very good one. It carries enough familiar names and easy references to hopefully satiate its previous audience. At the same time, it equips itself with characters worth caring for engaged in a struggle that draws you in, while showcasing fast and frantic confrontations. It’s a dark, thrilling, and fun experience from start to finish, with only a few small drawbacks here and there. The commentary on society’s ills won’t make the impact that Ninja Theory might have been hoping for, but they have created a real and worthy installment in the Devil May Cry franchise, and that carries enough weight by itself.