DmC was a game that garnered a lot of attention before its release simply because of its premise: rather than a sequel within the well established action franchise, developer Ninja Theory (new to the Devil May Cry series) opted for a reboot-prequel of sorts. And along with this idea, they sought fit to change a lot of the aesthetics and atmosphere of the game and give it their own personal spin. By far the most notable (and most often questioned) change in this regard is the one DmC’s protagonist Dante’s been put through: no longer the 30-something white-haired Demon slayer with the red coat, but rather a rebel youth with black hair and a decidedly different look. Heresy, so the fans declared.
That reaction may be understandable, but letting it stand in your way of enjoying DmC is ill advised.
DmC may change the visual feel of Devil May Cry in the eyes of the fans, but it stays true to the basic concept of the franchise is many others, including the vital one: gameplay. For all that has changed, fighting demons still feels like it felt in the earlier Devil May Cry games, and that means it is as exhilarating now as it was some decade ago. Let’s refrain from comparing it to what came before and judge the game for what it is by itself.
Ninja Theory’s spin on the world the game takes place in is actually rather original and visualized beautifully. The art direction and level design are actually quite impressive and diverse, whilst maintaining a recognizable and cohesive feel at the same time. Levels almost never get stale – partially because they are often too short for that – and each new environment brings new visual experiences to the table that are a joy to behold, ranging from dark and twisted theme parks to lava filled catacombs to industrial floating prisons. Don’t expect lush meadows or glimpses of nature however; DmC is set in a decidedly urban and industrial world that sometimes draws eerie parallels to our own modern day society and becomes even more enjoyable because of it. Combine this visual onslaught with excellent sound direction, both in the case of the game’s more than fitting soundtrack (as composed by Noisia and Combichrist) and in the game’s more than decent voice acting, and it may be clear that Ninja Theory’s made good on delivering high production values worthy of a triple A title. It won’t be in this department that DmC falls short. The only conceivable critique in this department is in regards to the game’s story; it isn’t particularly strong or interesting. The characters are serviceable but hardly memorable (Dante excluded), and the story may sometimes hint at deeper layers but ultimately fails to live up to that potential. However, it is unlikely to bother anyone playing the game; you do not play DmC because you want to experience a well-told and engaging storyline. Much more can’t be said about that.
The most important aspect for games of this genre – the hack-and-slash action genre is probably the best way to name it – is and always will be the gameplay. Everything leans on whether fighting your way through armies of demons is actually enjoyable. And fortunately, DmC may provide one of the best experiences in this regard as of recent times. Combat is fluid, quickly becomes intuitive and offers surprising amounts of variation both in the options the player has in combat as well as they abilities given to different enemies and the subsequent threat they present. Moves hit hard and fast, and above all just look great. They are a pleasure to perform upon the hapless victims and despite the fact that you are using them over and over for the majority of the game, they don’t get stale. The game’s difficulty scales just well enough to keep you on your toes until the end and the game’s length is such that combat remains a delight throughout. These bouts with demonic forces are interspersed with platforming elements that make use of the game’s grappling mechanics. These platform sections are a fun change of pace and won’t take you out of your groove (they don’t last long enough for that) but still are ultimately inferior to the battle scenario’s; finishing one fight will usually have you longing for the next one. The ‘quiet’ inbetween serves mainly as a moment to catch your breath and prepare for the next bout, that will most likely be around the corner.
In essence, this ongoing routine makes DmC extremely repetitive, a quality that could ruin a game if not adressed properly. Ninja Theory managed to balance this perfectly by dividing the game in short, action packed missions that provide just enough variation to prevent the game from growing stale. Of course, there is also the fact that there are many combat maneuvers Dante can unlock that keep adding variety and style to your fights and finding out new ways to combine techniques and weapons to more efficiently or stylishly – or both – defeat your foes never gets old.
DmC is somewhat strange in the sense that the game probably becomes more fun after you have completed it for the first time. While playing through each of the games 20 missions the first time through is certainly an entertaining experience, DmC is the kind of game where the craving for more afterwards may end up even stronger than it was beforehand. After completion, you are so familiar with the options, yet you realize there is so much more to be done and unlocked; upgrade all of Dante’s combat moves, find all the collectibles hidden throughout, beat your personal high scores for each mission, unlock and tackle the higher difficulties – all of it feels rewarding and this grants the game enormous replayability. Coursing through all the mission on the game’s medium difficulty takes about 8 hours tops, but you can easily find yourself spending at least quadruple the amount of time afterwards enjoying all the other challenges the game has to offer. Fully completing the game takes anywhere between 20-30 hours depending on your difficulty going through it and your personal dedication to it.
The Devil May Cry series is notorious for its relatively high difficulty; DmC has its own way to tackle this. Initially, there are three rather standard settings basically boiling down to easy, normal and hard. On the normal setting, the game isn’t really that difficult, and even the hard setting doesn’t require any superhuman skill. After completing the game for the first time, you unlock an additional difficulty setting called ‘Son of Sparda’, that is actually a more appropriate hard mode. Clearing this mode without proper preparation (upgrades, weapons, orbs, etc.) is definitely hard, but fortunately starting the game on Son of Sparda allows you to carry over every upgrade and item you already collected (new game +). And then, after Son of Sparda has been conquered… There are three more difficulties. The final one, for which in order to unlock it one must have beat all the previous ones, is called Hell or Hell mode and is similar to the hardest regular mode (Dante Must Die, one step up from Son of Sparda) with the added rule that Dante always dies in ONE HIT. This is ridiculous but a sweet challenge for those who are into this kind of thing. It is not impossible, but requires dedication.
All in all DmC is a solid action game experience that comes highly recommended for fans of the genre or those looking for a game that is as accessible as you want it to be. It’s not perfect – it’s a tad short unless you want to delve into the game’s added challenges post-game, the story is negligible and there may not be that much true innovation to be found here – but well worth checking out. But this review simply cannot end without some final words regarding the game’s faithfulness to the Devil May Cry series. To all nay-sayers: get over your reluctance to try the game and give it its fair chance. You’ll find a lot to love, simply because the gameplay is really fluid and solid, and the overall experience is just highly enjoyable. Those who fear the game massacres Devil May Cry’s established universe may be hard to please, but what we get is a beautifully visualized and atmospheric setting that may not be quite the same as before, but is worth exploring regardless. And despite Dante’s updated persona, he’s still a bad-ass. Miss it at your own peril.
80% out of 100%
DmC: Devil May Cry is available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (version tested: Xbox 360).