Game Reviewby Dave Riley, Jan 17th 2013
DmC Devil May Cry
Xbox 360, PS3
Ninja Theory's (creators of Enslaved and Heavenly Sword) reboot of the Devil May Cry series.
What a hailstorm of rage and scrutiny that's followed this game over the past year. Nothing was sacred: not combat, not aesthetic, not even its main character's hairstyle. And when the frothing internet backlash received its own frothing internet backlash things truly reached a fever pitch, until everyone was defending or attacking the game basically sight unseen. The ultimate argument, behind the apoplexy and the personal attacks, seemed to be "this could not possibly feel like a Devil May Cry game."
So now that it's finally been released, does it?
Well... yeah. Or close enough to round up to it.
DmC has what you expect from a Devil May Cry. It has acrobatic combos, mid-air sword slashes, and guns that shoot exploding needles. It has demons. Dante's brother Vergil still swipes around with a katana (not often) and can still summon spectral swords (even more infrequently). It has a demon named Mundus pulling the strings. It has a lady-sidekick for Dante to fall in love with. This time she doesn't look like his mother.
Combat is fast enough, and hectic enough, to pass grade. Which is a relief, when considered against the ho-hum character action of Ninja Theory's previous games. Though it is overwhelmingly easy, there are reasons to look forward to the fighting: combos are satisfying and basically limitless, as Dante has three weapons and a firearm on call at all times and can hot-swap between the rest with the d-pad. None of these have the breadth and depth of previous games' arsenals, but swapping around between them provides enough variety to fake it.
Though if you're feeling lazy most foes can be cheesed with heavy axe swings.
Truthfully, just about any tactic will work, as Dante's weapons are incredibly powerful and his enemies are incredibly shiftless. The demon army is, for the most part, kind of stupid and kind of slow. They tend to make up for their intelligence deficit with sheer numbers, so fighting feels frantic even if it isn't very tough. It is also not very exacting with regards to its rating system. Provided you don't get (repeatedly) hit by enemies, S and SS and SSS ranks rain from the sky like candy, and SSes will show up on the mission results screen with some frequency even when rank-dropping consumables, like healing items, are used.
There are color-coded opponents who are vulnerable only to specific weapons. These insert some limited strategy into the hack and slash, but by the end of the game the frequency of their appearance ramps up such that the rules shift from "do whatever you want!" to "do whatever you want (with these two weapons)!" This makes last few levels a bit a slog, because we're forced to kick-start our brains and remember concepts like "crowd control" exist when the game has made us comfortable racking up giant combos and enjoying the cavalcade of currency and concept art unlocks bursting out of every encounter.
And things like crowd control are probably what we want out of a Devil May Cry. But it comes so late here that we've become used to cake-walking each boss, and we've begun to enjoy mindlessly shooting enemies to bits with our shotgun nunchuck, and we haven't been bothering much with anything that takes more effort than breaking an Angel-energy imbued shield with our Angel-energy imbued scythe.
But, disappointing for the naysayers though it may be, DmC is more than passable. At points it's very good. And it would be great if this were a world where there was no Devil May Cry, or Bayonetta, or Ninja Gaiden. And it is great, when compared to the doze-fest battles of Heavenly Sword or Enslaved. Dante is overpowered and his enemies are pathetic, but sometimes it's nice to feel like you have the upper hand. Lord knows he moves fast enough, and his weapons (gauntlets, and swords, and big-giant axes) are shiny enough, that it never gets boring, even if it is a pushover.
Would that the same could be said for the platforming. Most of the game is spent in Limbo, The Space Between worlds, whose primary characteristics are the ethereal shadows of humans going about their daily routine and scores of jagged, floating platforms, both of which seem inspired by, or corollary to, the in-between realms of Bayonetta. Dante has a Demon whip and an Angel whip, like he has Demon weapons and Angel weapons, used for pulling things to him and pulling him to things. In combat they function like DMC4's Devil Bringer, lassoing Dante up to a mid-air harpy or yanking a charging enemy onto its ass, but their employment during platforming bits (nearly every moment you are not directly fighting something you are platforming) result in this dreadful paint-by-numbers approach to jumping and climbing. Everything needing to be Demon whipped is red and everything needings to be Angel whipped is blue, and every jump is spaced out just right to make so you feel like you're not going to make it.
But of course you always do.
These are similar to complaints levied against the excellent 2008 Prince of Persia, but DmC does not have Prince of Persia's exhilarating sense of motion and rapid command inputs. Running and jumping here is molasses slow and ludicrously generous, never anything more than a time-waster between fights. The whip-jumping platforming is interspersed by the industry-standard "run forward in a straight line and jump over the occasional hole" segments that seem to exist in every action game purely for the purpose of filling time, as they are never difficult nor are they ever fulfilling. Here, the "twist" is the demonically possessed environment repeatedly trolls the player by extending the hall another fifty feet every time the exit is in reach, as if a demonic hellscape has a sense of humor relatively on par with a carnival funhouse.
Probably the most asinine criticism of DmC's trailers, and announcements, and demos, and preview events, was that this new Dante, with his black hair and scowly appearance was "too goth" or "too emo" or "too whiny." As if these were terms that were ever used, in all our four decades of gaming, to describe a main character in an action videogame, and as such were terms of which we should rightfully be afraid. These complaints are mystifying, as if the problems with a reimagined main character begin and end with what color jacket he wears.
This Dante is Dante, as far as Dantes go, and he bears enough similarities to the precocious and cock-sure teen of Devil May Cry 3 that he'll do in a pinch. He is a "bad-boy" like his past incarnations, but to the extreme, and it's satisfying to see a disaffected, surly, lithe-thing of a character when we're used to only bulky meatheads or starry-eyed teens in our leading roles. These parts of him are different enough to be worthy of attention, if only attention-worthy because they are rare in the context of videogames and not any other sort of media.
But jeez does he have no idea how to swear.
This Dante has a handful of interesting characteristics, nearly all of which are neatly overwritten by his generic "bad-ittude." He has a pithy line for each new enemy type and they're all awful because they're all played completely straight. He is a pretty generic adolescent power fantasy who receives a teeny-tiny object lesson on personal responsibility towards the end, but that's about it. The bulk of his time, and his antagonists' time, is spent shouting F-off, and F-you, and F-this.
Devil May Cry's characters and characterization are not inviolate (DMC2 proved that without question). However, for all the teen angst and self-assured mercenaries and swords-through-chests of the original series, the reasons we like Devil May Cry, and the reasons we like Dante, are not entirely the reasons DmC seems to think we do. It thinks we want a supremely confident asshole of a main character who flips the bird to his enemies. But we liked the old Dante because he was dumb, and kind of silly, and his worst bit of verbal sparring involved the words "flock off, feather-face."
DmC feels very vulgar, and frequently a little gross, for no purpose other than someone somewhere got the idea that "cool" and "profane" were synonymous and they haven't been able to shake it. The issue isn't puritanical, it's to do with a pervasive sense the writing isn't swearing because it wants to, it's swearing because the game wants, desperately, for its player to think it is edgy, as if there is anything edgy about cursing in the 21st century. It's not offensive, just forced, just too... obvious. There's barely anyone, even the good guys, who refers to a female character without calling her a bitch or a whore. That's the actual problem: there ain't no subtlety.
And haven't we outgrown that? Is this what people think we want? Because the first Devil May Cry ended with Dante shooting a tentacled stone statue to death before making a daring escape in a biplane. It was foolish, but it was sincere in its foolishness. It certainly didn't have the temerity to crib a substantial portion of its plot from They Live, with "OBEY" painted in big block letters across the demon dimension. Ninja Theory avoids its proclivity towards scenery chewing antagonists, for the most part, but there's still plenty of gross-out art design that induces eye-rolls and head-shakes. This makes it hard to take seriously the decent writing (tension between Dante and Vergil, Dante's quasi-romantic relationship with Kat) amid the chaff of acid-vomiting bosses, and threats of fists shoved up asses, and jokes about fat people.
Maybe neither side of the argument "wins," because DmC isn't good enough to stifle its outraged detractors, nor is it anywhere near bad enough to prove the teeth-gnashing and breast-beating was worth the effort. It's decent. It is above average. It has some strong parts, and some not so strong parts. It's probably worth investing a weekend in if you're the sort of person who likes games where you get a sword and use it to kill a whole bunch of unambiguously evil bad-guys, and if you think a witch who spray-paints her spells is a neat idea, and if you can stand its inexplicable compulsion to force swear words out of its characters' mouths. In that respect, DmC achieves its goals. In its most crucial elements -- the ones where your homing shuriken strips away a witch's invulnerability bubble as you dodge her erupting ice stalagmites while pummeling a chainsaw guy with your molten fists -- it is successful enough to call it good.
But the other parts we loved about Devil May Cry? Dante's cocky-cute stupidity? The running about and exploring and looking for secrets? All of that is gone, or made irrelevant by sheer lack of desire. Nearly every mission has doors locked by power-ups Dante has yet to acquire, placed there for replay value with the expectation you'll be coming back again and again. But is it worth the bother? These levels were okay enough to pass through once, and their enemies were certainly fun enough to kill the first time around, but it's hard to think of a pressing reason to go back for more.
Overall : B-
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : C+
Gameplay : B
Presentation : C
+ Fast-paced combat, some interesting environment design in "virtual" areas,
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