A reboot is a difficult thing to do correctly. For every "Star Trek 2009," there are countless failed attempts. DmC: Devil May Cry, a pretty drastic reboot by Enslaved developer Ninja Theory, takes a different approach to the iconic character. Gone are his trademark silver hair and red coat, and also gone are the anime-inspired tropes and stylizations. While some of Dante's trademarks return before the end of the game, it's a reboot through and through, for all the good and bad that implies. Long-time fans may have a hard time grasping the new Dante, but they should also know that only one thing really matters: the gameplay. Ninja Theory put forth an admirable effort, though it may not please long-time die-hards.
DmC takes place in the future, when the world is secretly controlled by the Demon King Mundus. Under the guise of a wealthy businessman, he has corrupted humanity. He sells a brain-rotting energy drink and controls the masses through fear and propaganda. The only group that stands against him is "The Order." Led by Vergil, the son of demon warrior Sparda and an Angel named Eva, The Order hopes to overthrow Mundus and free humanity. To do this, they need the help of Vergil's long-lost brother, Dante. The brothers have to get over their (many) issues before Mundus tracks down and kills them. They're aided by Kat, a witch who uses graffiti instead of spell circles. The three are humanity's only hope — at least when Dante can stop being selfish long enough to help out.
Much like the other games in the series, DmC's story is weak. There are some strong brotherly moments between Dante and Vergil, but the rest of the game is characterized by an oddly childish atmosphere. If the older Devil May Cry games were akin to a 10-year-old making up a story, DmC is a 13-year-old who just discovered sex and cursing and finds both hilarious. There's a lot of sex and violence, and it all comes across as bizarrely childish for a product made by adults. DmC features heavy-handed commentary on Fox News, soda and failed social policies — along with plenty of F-bombs and a ridiculous sex scene. This stands in weird contrast to other scenes in which the characters act like reasonable human beings or Dante spends five minutes making increasingly awful puns as he crushes a boss. There are a few times when the story gets in the way of the gameplay, such as the few scenes with long and unskippable "walking" sequences.
If you've played any modern action game, a lot will feel familiar about DmC. It doesn't stray too far from its roots and features basic controls. The hardest thing for a Devil May Cry vet to get used to is the addition of a dodge button — two dodge buttons, to be precise. The manual lock-on from previous games is also absent, although that's only an issue in rare fights.
The most distinctive mechanic in the game is the weapon system. As a departure from previous games, Dante has four weapons equipped at once — an Angel-class weapon, a Demon-class weapon, a firearm and his trademark Rebellion sword — and you can switch between these at any time. By default, Dante attacks with the Rebellion; holding a button transform the Rebellion into either an angel or demon weapon, and letting go switches it back. Firearms are only available when you're not using an angel or demon weapon, as they're otherwise replaced by a grappling hook.
The selection of weapons in DmC is pretty cool, though it doesn't quite hold a candle to the standouts in Devil May Cry 3. The two angel weapons are the scythe and the chakrams. The scythe is a quick slashing weapon that gains power the longer you build up your combos, and it's ideal for air attacks. The chakrams attack in a huge area and can drag enemies closer to keep combos going. The demon weapons are the ax and fists. The ax is probably the most straightforward weapon in that it's big, it's heavy, and it does ridiculous damage. The fists, which mimic the Gauntlet weapons from previous Devil May Cry games, are faster and weaker, but they can be charged up for additional damage. You also have a grappling hook, not unlike Nero's Devil Bringer from DMC4, with two modes. Angel mode drags you to your target, while Demon mode drags the target to you. Between the two, you have some pretty impressive battlefield control.
The tri-weapon mechanic is a neat idea and mostly works well. Performing lengthy combos involving all five of your melee weapons is a relatively simple task. When combined with the ease of grappling, it's easy to dart from enemy to enemy and slaughter entire rooms. There's a slight lag between switching weapons, and that can get annoying, but it's not enough to ruin the system. A few times, I'd hit an enemy with Rebellion when I intended to use one of my other weapons.
There are a few larger flaws that prevent DmC from being great. The biggest one is the poor weapon balance. The standout is the Arbiter ax, the first weapon you get after Dante's trademark Rebellion. The Arbiter ax does so much damage in a single attack that there's little reason to use any other weapon unless the game forces you. It's slow but not slow enough to be a trade-off. In comparison, the angel weapons feel weak. You have two heavy demon weapons and two light angel weapons, when a more natural balance would have been a light and heavy of each. There are also two dodges, an angel and demon version, which activate if you press dodge while in a special weapon mode. The angel one extends your dodge while the demon one gives you a temporary damage boost. Again, the demon iteration is more powerful. If you're good at dodging in the nick of time, you'll rule the roost. If you fail to execute the demon dodge, there's no penalty, so you have nothing to lose — and no reason to use the angel dodge.
Dante's trademark pistols, Ebony and Ivory, see little use in DmC. Thanks to the grappling mechanics and arena size, you'll never need to shoot enemies from a distance, aside from the Harpy enemies whose wings can be "shot off." This is such a problem that the game features Demon Shard enemies, who are nothing more than stationary objects for you to shoot, as if to remind you that the pistols are there. They ruin the pace of several areas and feel like they were added to give the pistols something to do. Late in the game, you'll gain access to two more guns: the shotgun and the "Kablooie", a demonically modified Taser that turns into a sticky explosive launcher.
Most welcome is the return of the Proud Soul system from DMC4, although it's been simplified. Dubbed "Upgrade," the system lets you spend points to unlock new attacks or weapon upgrades. None of the upgrades are permanent, so you can sell them back at any time to regain the spent points, which can be spent on another weapon. Everything costs 1 upgrade point, and this never changes. You earn new upgrade points by killing a number of enemies or finishing stages with a high ranking. Red Orbs also return, but again like DMC4, they're only used to purchase consumable items and health bar upgrades.
Your final ability is a little disappointing. In previous Devil May Cry games, Dante (or Nero or Vergil) would get a "Devil Trigger" super mode at some point. Devil Trigger temporarily increased your speed and damage and added passive health regeneration and new moves and attacks. It built up when you dealt damage or taunted the enemy and could be swapped on and off. DmC's Devil Trigger is more akin to a Smart Bomb or a "screen-clearer" like you'd see in an old-school brawler. When you activate it, enemies are thrown into the air and forced to hang there, vulnerable to combos, and Dante gains a massive damage boost and some passive health regeneration.
The Devil Trigger works fine and has a distinctive visual, but it's a noticeable step back from the more versatile and interesting one found in previous games. The meter builds incredibly slowly, and you'll only fill it once or twice during a stage. It doesn't last very long when active, even with a full meter. You're discouraged from using it as anything but a "save me" button or during boss battles. I forgot it existed for stages at a time because there was no reason to use it. Unlike the old Devil Trigger, which you could use in regular fights, this iteration is not satisfyingly integrated into combat.
One of the most frustratingly and fundamentally flawed aspects of DmC is the Style system, which is effectively your scoring mechanic. Almost every combat action contributes to it, and every failure detracts from it. Depending on your abilities, you go from rank D to rank SSS in a fight. DmC keeps the style system but alters several fundamental properties that prevent it from working in the same fashion. Now, the Style ranking only drops if you take damage. In previous games, it dropped over time or upon taking damage. This discourages the exact thing that the other games encouraged: aggression. There's little reason to take risks or stay close to the enemy when it's easier to raise your ranking by playing defensively and spamming attacks from afar.
This problem is exacerbated by the change to the scoring mechanic. In previous games, you were encouraged to vary your moves. Here, damage seems to be the primary factor. With a single attack, the Arbiter ax can raise you from a D ranking to an S or higher. There is a slight penalty to your score for not varying your moves, but not enough to demand it. I regularly achieved an SSS ranking by using one or two moves. When you combine this with the fact that aggression is discouraged, the game becomes a lot more passive. You're not prevented from being aggressive, but there is really no reason to go for long combos. They're possible, but they leave you vulnerable, and they're less effective at earning points.
Most of the flaws in DmC are annoying but minor frustrations or the occasional mechanic that is slightly inferior to its counterpart a previous game. However, the highlight of a Devil May Cry game — the boss fights — are DmC's weakest element. They are slow, simple, pattern-based bosses who can be trivialized by a few moves. I effortlessly beat a late-game boss, for example, by spamming the Rebellion's Drive move. Not only did this tear through the boss like a hot knife through butter, but it also earned me the coveted SSS rank. Most of the bosses are large and not very nimble, and none of the fights are on par with previous Devil May Cry bosses (excluding DMC2, of course).
The regular enemies are a tad better, but until the unlockable Son of Sparda mode, they aren't aggressive enough to stand out. Players expecting a difficulty level akin to previous Devil May Cry games may be disappointed. The Dante Must Die mode is about as tough as the hard mode from a previous game. However, this makes the title easier to pick up and play for those who reached the roadblock that was Cerberus in DMC3 and didn't continue. Enemies are rather middle-of-the-road, as they're not as good as the better baddies in the franchise, but they're not as terrible as the most annoying foes in the series, either. The standout is a pair of ninja-like enemies who teleport, block your attacks and are a lot more active than their peers.
I've focused on the combat, but DmC has a good amount of platforming, though the bulk of platforming is semi-automated. Grappling points either glow blue or red, and you use the correct color hook and move on. There are some areas where you have to make long-range leaps using your double-jump or air dash. The platforming isn't as guided an experience as Enslaved, but when compared to some of the annoying platforming areas in previous Devil May Cry games, it's a blessing.
There's a good amount of content in the game, although it is relatively short. Each level has hidden collectables to find, including "lost souls" who drop red orbs, and keys to unlock hidden missions are scattered throughout the levels. Hidden Missions are optional challenges that yield special items to increase your health and Devil Trigger bars. Challenges include beating enemies within a time limit or using certain weapons. Earlier Devil May Cry titles let you find the missions, but in this game, you need to find keys and then locate the missions. It's extra padding that feels pointless.
As expected from Ninja Theory, DmC's visuals are pretty top-notch. The environments are distinctive and interesting, and rarely does it feel boring. One stage has you diving into a Fox — excuse me — "Raptor" news broadcast, so you walk around in Faux Glenn Beck's mind while the news ticker at the bottom of the screen insults you. Another has you invading an enemy fortress that sketches itself, complete with hand-drawn arrows showing you where to go. The Limbo concept is drastically underused. Aside from one level (seen in the demo) where the city oppressively attacks you, the world of Limbo is depressingly unthreatening. The voice acting is good, although Dante's actor sometimes has trouble remembering which emotion he is trying to express. The music is an acquired taste. If Combichrist's aggrotech music stylings don't work for you, nothing is going to change that. If they do, then you'll enjoy it. It's a different genre from the earlier Devil May Cry games, but it falls into the same category of "love or hate."
DmC: Devil May Cry is a hard game to judge. On its own, without any preconceptions based on the franchise, it's a serviceable if unexceptional action title. It's a good way to waste an afternoon or an ideal rental. It is, however, a poor Devil May Cry game. If you're new to the franchise or found the difficulty level of the previous games too intimidating, this is a fine place to start. The story stands alone, the gameplay is easy to pick up, and the flaws are less noticeable if you're new to the series. For hardcore Devil May Cry fans, though, this title is at least a big step up from Devil May Cry 2. However, the low difficulty and simplistic Style system may turn off die-hard fans.
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