Ah, Devil May Cry, how you’re beloved and despised across videogaming. While you’ve brought a rollercoaster ride of quality for every decent game you’ve produced, you now bring out a sub-par title to be ignored. You’ve managed to accomplish putting the best and worst aspects of your series in a single title—returning to the best platforming and fighting we’ve seen since the third game, while at the same time completely jumping the rails and alienating your fandom.
Now, to make this clear, DmC: Devil May Cry is extremely divided in terms of just how good a game it can be. It’s as if there were two distinct groups working on it. One consisting of talented developers working hard on the level design, art direction, mechanics, and actual gameplay; determined to make it as good as possible. The other a swarm of gibbering howler monkeys unleashed into a room full of typewriters and crayons to deal with the story, dialogue, cut scenes, personalities, and character designs.
No, unfortunately it really is that big a dip in quality when the plot takes over from the gameplay.
The story behind this one is a total reboot of the franchise. Not a bad idea considering how convoluted things were getting and with one or two interesting new details. Taking a note from Devil May Cry 3, Dante is less the experienced devil hunter and more a teenage brat who gets into bar-fights continuously and swears like he’s the star of a blaxploitation flick. Getting the attention of the demon emperor Mundus and just how in over his head he is, Dante must fight his way through the dreary Limbo City with the help of some old aquantances. He matures and develops through his experiences as the story progresses towards its end.
At its core this sounds fine. It’s effectively a rehash of bits from the first and third games, but what the hell. The plot has always been paper-thin anyway and, let’s face it, at best it was usually just something for Dante to riff on. Problems start to occur when you’re presented with character roles, personalities, and factions—none of which are cheesily entertaining or interesting so much as they are writers screaming “Yo dawg we’re edgy! LOOK AT OUR SOCIAL COMMENTARY!”
Rather than being a badass demon lord with any religious overtones, Mundus is more of a business executive, standing about in a tower and looking human for nearly all of the game. His plan? Use corrupt soda to enslave the human race and take over the world with national debt. Who opposes him? A group of hackers, spies, and activists led by Vergil (yes he’s back and a hero again) labelled terrorists by the government and have a Guy Fawkes mask as a major icon of their leadership. Gee I wonder who they’re supposed to be. Now as unrelentingly dumb and trite as it sounds, this might have been entertaining were it not for the character of Dante and the dialogue.
Barring the occasional one-liner, the closest Dante gets to riffing on things around him is unleashing cluster-F-bombs at everything he sees and having the enemies respond in kind. Nothing smart, nothing inventively fun in that Arnie sort of way, just swearing a lot. Add to this what would have been tongue-in-cheek humour in previous games being presented as serious drama, and you have one very unlikable protagonist. One who isn’t so much the white haired Deadpool as he is a wannabe demon killer who looks like a heroin-addicted punk with a bad haircut. Oh, and that’s not the worst of the new characterisations. Some reach truly disgusting levels. At one point Vergil snipes a pregnant woman in the stomach. He then executes her while she’s screaming in pain and her hands are covered in the blood of her unborn child. The most tasteless part? Not only is it contextualised as being a taunt at her partner, but it’s only brought up again as crude psychotic bragging, with no one confronting Vergil on the act.
Normally, the story being sub-par wouldn’t be a problem with a hack-and-slash title like this, but it’s so smugly pretentious, so vile at times, it robs almost all fun from the game. It’s that special of bloated tumorous growth of hack writing you’d find in things like Metroid: Other M, which can turn a halfway decent title into something bad bordering upon unplayable. Thankfully, if you can skip enough cut-scenes and deafen yourself enough to stop hearing the characters talking, actually playing DmC can be a fairly decent experience.
While the combo ranking system has been nerfed to the point where a newcomer to the genre can reach an S rank in his sleep, there’s no denying stabbing people is very good. Offering some of the smoothest gameplay seen in the series and with a surprisingly unobstructed free camera allows you more freedom and direction than before.
Rolling between the claws of a demonic hound/lion-thing, hurling it skywards, and keeping it aloft with a storm of bullets is as fun as ever, and it’s only enhanced by the weapon sets. Between the swords, scythes, and pistols you’d usually find, there are weapons sets like burning fists and bladed disks of light. All of which feel satisfyingly brutal and the ability to easily switch between them mid-combo creates entirely new ways to depopulate hell. Switching of weapons stems from the different modes Dante is in (triggers) which stem from his heritage. One for demons, one for normal and as an added bonus, there are new abilities stemming from his mother; an angel trigger. Yes, she’s an angel in the reboot. Thankfully, however, the triggers aren’t simply restricted to what weapons you are using. There is still the classic “super mode” available, the traditional devil trigger, and it’s as great as ever, turning your already OP half-demon character into an unstoppable god of war.
The combat aspects are only enhanced by the environments and the game’s selected art style for corrupted areas of the otherworld. While the character designs might have been one of the biggest points of controversy, the semi-cell-shaded look it takes on to give directions, replicate words, or where the real world bleeds over are brilliantly surreal in their designs. Even more so are the fragmented sandstorms of corrupted matter and puzzle-piece design of many limbo levels which look like abstract art gone wrong. The latter especially helps to add an entirely new dimension to eviscerating foes and vastly improves upon one of the series’ big weaknesses: platforming.
The sections, many which look like Rapture if it had been painted by a drunken Salvador Dali—spatially distorted and warped beyond almost all recognition—serve primarily to leap around in. There are sections where you’re expected to hurl yourself from road fragment to splintered building to airborne debris in the blink of your eye via gliding skills and demonic whip. Unlike the frustratingly problematic jumping puzzles, Nero had to navigate as in the last game, time has visibly been spent making these a true addition to the title rather than level lengthening wastes of time. On occasion they can even manage to stand out more than the combat systems in their integrated cut-scenes and rapid pace. A notably fantastic example of this is where you have to protect the car your allies are driving in by punching, dragging, and smashing cargo crates out of their way. It’s just unfortunate that particular bit of fantastic gameplay is directly following Virgil’s forced abortion via .375 high explosive round.
Even with these fantastic elements, however, I can’t recommend DmC: Devil May Cry. I really wish I could because there is very good gameplay here. However the bad story smothers it so continuously, veering into bad taste and crude social commentary so frequently, it’s just not fun to play. If you’re really desperate to see what it’s like and have no complaints about any previous games, then it might be worth a rental. Otherwise just go back and play one of the previous games, or better yet, Beyonetta.