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DmC: Devil May Cry

DmC box art.png

Trivia:

-Dante underwent a second redesign in the three years since DmC‘s initial debut, in a move said by Ninja Theory to be “inspired by Christopher Nolan’s film The Dark Knight” and its realistic characters

-The game is powered by Unreal Engine 3, rather than Capcom’s MT Framework engine, which was used in Devil May Cry 4

There was a point during the campaign, when our precious hero-turned-trailer trash Dante engaged in a shouting match with the furthest thing from a succubus, where I realized just how juvenile and trashy the game makes itself out to be.  Its characters and visuals initially give the impression that we’ll be praising this game in the seediest of bars.

However, I find that my ultimate verdict follows the trend of Final Fantasy XIII: my positive feelings about the game exponentially increase as events proceed, and I begin to soften my harsh opinion as DmC shows its true nature and – dare I say it – intelligence.  There’s certain criticisms to be made, and it really isn’t the Second Coming of its series, but DmC: Devil May Cry makes an argument for its very existance that can’t be ignored.

First off, one must understand the concept… and no, you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy it (in fact, it’s probably best that you aren’t a fan; continuity and the old ways of Devil May Cry are this game’s playthings).  This is, for all intents and purposes, a reboot: certain characters and themes are retained, but the way they play out is quite different.

The set-up, for instance, is more grounded in reality (if the Internet has anything to say about it).  Long-time protagonist Dante returns as a young recluse living a life of booze and cheap sex, in a world ruled by media and corporations.  However, when a perky yet similarly reclusive lady named Kat warns him of an impending demon attack, Dante is dragged into a larger conflict between the forces of humanity and hell, coincidentally reuniting him with his long-lost brother Vergil.

This conflict is made more interesting by a new twist on Dante’s origin: he’s a Nephilim, son of a demon father and an angel mother.  This grants him powers from both sides of the family, and puts him in the unique position of being able to slay Mundus, the reigning Demon King.  With the guidance of Vergil and the Order, Dante ventures on a quest to free humanity, and find purpose in his life.

What really helps the story is the social commentary.  Two mini-arcs are dedicated to pointing out how twisted and manipulative a capitalistic society can be, taking Dante into the depths of a news network and a soda production plant.

The only thing is, characters are sometimes on-the-nose about these parallels, stating what is obvious to the player or restating exposition that was made clear only scenes before.  Additionally, they can also be very crude and occasionally tasteless, but let’s chalk that up to a somewhat juvenile script with some funny quips.

It’s also prone to the “ends after its peak” syndrome, but that’s a fair price to pay for characters like Dante, Kat and Vergil who become increasingly more likeable, complex and sympathetic as the story progresses.  Let’s put it this way – the more we learn, the more “ah, that’s actually sweet” moments we experience.

But enough about the surprisingly solid story – there’s action to be had.  Yes, despite what the most rabid of fanboys think, the series’ core values have not been forgotten.  Slicing up hordes upon hordes of various demons and racking up as many points as possible to try and attain the “SSS” post-level rating is still key to the experience, but there’s been some tiding up of the system in place – some of it good, some of it not so much.

For instance, there’s a greater variety of weapons than ever before.  Series mainstays Rebellion, Ebony and Ivory (respectively, Dante’s sword and twin pistols) return in full force, though the legendary pistols seem to lack any real damage capabilities.  On top of that, Dante also gains access to six other weapons – two alternate pistols, two demon weapons and two angelic weapons.  Personally, I enjoyed the Purgatory pistol for its sheer force, the Aquilla blades for their ranged attacks and ability to clear crowds effectively, and the Eryx fists because, well… it’s fun to say “Dante SMASH!”

With that said, not all weapons feel useful or even necessary, given that the Arbiter, Rebellion and Osiris are more than capable of slicing up foes.  Even the respectable upgrade system, which uses experienced gained from killing demons to unlock new moves, feels a little lacking as it doesn’t allow deep customization of the weapons themselves

The whole angel-or-demon-weapons conundrum really comes into play when facing the game’s various, though initially repetitive, enemies.  The increasing range of foes with shields and special resistances to everything but one type of weaponry forces a more strategic approach by the player than expected for an action game.  Dante has to be able to easily swap weapons over the course of battle, from the fast-paced angel weapons to the heavier juggernauts that are the demon weapons.

Luckily, the controls for both Dante’s movement and combat abilities are sleek and refined.  All it takes is a tap or prolonged press of either trigger and Dante swaps to one of the two weapons types, using the associated attacks so long as the trigger is held.  Even without the triggers, the default weapon Rebellion prove to be a worthy force in most combat situations, balancing damage capability and strike speed quite well.

When discussing the controls, there’s not much here to criticize, save perhaps for the lack of a lock-on mechanic.  When a game features common use of ranged weapons – Dante’s pistols – it would be expected that he be able to focus on specific enemies, particularly when flying enemies are introduced, but the feature was noticeably absent.

And of course, we can’t forget about Devil Trigger.  As the game progresses, Dante gains the ability to freeze time, launch his enemies in their air, gain a major bonus on the level score, and also briefly resembles his classic self.  Again, though, the lock-on mechanic would have been appreciated for these moments.

It’s also worthy of note that DmC is not wholly combat-oriented.  Taking pages from the action-adventure playbook, Dante’s latest outing features occasional detours through platforming-oriented areas, and even entire levels.  These sections of the game certainly add some variety to proceedings, and give certain combat abilities like the Angel Lift and air dashes secondary uses, but jumping/dashing from platform to platform feels a little uneasy and restrictive for my liking.  It could have used a little more precision – or better yet, be included in a proper platformer – and it all feels a bit like padding for a noticeably short campaign.

That’s the other thing: the campaign lasts about 10 hours on the lowest difficulty setting, which is the only setting initially available.  Completing the game on Human, Demon Hunter or Nephilim – the three tiers of “Easy” – unlocks Son of Sparda, which ups the AI competence and numbers significantly.  If you manage to beat that, there’s also the stressful Dante Must Die, the absolutely brutal one-hit-death-for-everyone Heaven or Hell and the complete horrid one-hit-and-Dante-dies Hell and Hell modes.

These modes, as well as the prospect of unlocking costumes and discovering all of the hidden little collectibles in each level, do provide an essence of replayability for those interested, but it’s a hard sell for first-time players.  Setting aside the fact that the story is linear and easily digested, there’s only one mode set aside for bonus missions, there aren’t any mini-games or significant gameplay additions to add  further variety, and the game’s boss battles – an important factor of other Devil May Cry games’ success, if I gather correctly – were lacking in numbers, and were choreographed so as to be quite easy.  Even the final two boss battles come down to watching for visual cues and using specific attacks.

Not to mention there’s hints of repetition throughout the combat.  As stated above, the enemies are slow to add new breeds into their mix.  You’ll often find yourself fighting Lesser Stygians and Pathos – the initial footsoldiers and flying enemies, respectively – for large portions of the game, and new types of foes come and go at far too modest a pace.

At the very least, the game can claim some of the best level design this side of Dishonored.  Decrepit streets and hallways give way to demonic scenes of reality-bending physics, where patches of ground and chunks of buildings are guaranteed to come loose.  Despite their flaws, both the combat and platforming segments benefit from the use of dynamic terrain, and the story also thrives from an increase in gameplay set-pieces near the end.

Visually, the game is astounding, with textures that look gritty and believable yet distinctly unnatural thanks to the clever art design.  While I can’t say I’m over the moon about Dante’s appearance, I concede the fact that Capcom did very well at designing each character model and animating them with great ease.

Sound is a tricky thing to get right here, but Capcom also managed this with ease.  Heavy rock punctuates some of the heavier action sequences, thanks to work by Combichrist, which creates a tense atmosphere of split-second reactions and fast-paced gameplay.  It also doesn’t hurt that the voice actors are really quite dedicated to their roles, elevating the iffy quality of the script ten-fold.

All in all, DmC feels like a clear statement by Capcom that the series can handle many changes they see fit to make.  It manages to tell an increasingly deep story with real-world implications, while still retaining much of the action and score-based traits of its predecessors.  That being said, it’s got clear flaws which prevent it from being “instant classic” material like the best of its series, so let’s label it a respectable experiment and call it a day.

Score: 7/10

Recommendation: Try It

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