Whilst they may only have a small number of titles under their belt, up until now Ninja Theory have always relied on creating their own game worlds, with both Heavenly Sword and Enslaved landing the team a certain degree of critical success, even if not perhaps finding their ways into enough homes. This could well all be about to change though, with Capcom carefully handing over the reigns of one of their most beloved franchises; Devil May Cry.
Game: DmC Devil May Cry
Developer: Ninja Theory
Those familiar with the story of the original games may be a little surprised to see the approach that’s been taken in this particular re-imagining of the tale. Dante is still very much the star of the show, as the spawn of an unlikely romance between angel and demon. The world however, despite resemblances to our own, paints a different picture – one of demons ruling behind the scenes via the unlikely weapons of debt, politics, the media, CCTV, and even mind-controlling soft drink brands. It’s not long before Dante is identified as a threat to this dystopia, and is coerced into joining up with a terrorist organisation which just happens to be run by his long lost brother, Vergil. He aside, the prime coercer is Kat, a witch who acts as the liaison between the real world and ‘Limbo’ – an alternate version of the world that is more transparently demonic, and one that Dante is frequently pulled into to be set upon by the minions of Mundus, the demon head honcho.
Avoiding the slightly more fantastical approach of its predecessors, it’s commendable that the writers have provided a fairly fresh take on the story, and especially in the creation of a demon-run world that is still in some ways indistinguishable from our own. Yet there is a disappointing underbelly to this, in that some of the game, and Dante in particular, is doused in overly-macho drivel. Before you’ve even had a chance to learn how to play the game, your character has already exhibited his fondness for strip clubs, drinking, and casual group sex – and whilst I’m sure this was intended to come off as a gritty portrayal of “anti-hero”, instead it veers head-first into “unsympathetic tool” and is frankly just embarrassing Thankfully these moments aren’t too frequent, and there’s even some hints of positive development, but it’s a shame that such titillation is taken so lightly when there are some truly commendable plot points beyond this.
In nearly every aspect, you could label DmC as a fast-moving game. It’s rare that you’ll stay in any one place for too long, and even if you do, it’s likely that the action will be intense enough that taking stock of what’s around you will be fairly low on the agenda. Yet if you do, a lot of these environments are designed well enough to stand up to such scrutiny, whilst still being striking enough to catch you on first glance. There are some that suffer from a blander palette than others, but there’s a few stand-out stages in particular that will stick with players after the credits roll. The game’s take on platforming makes level design more interesting too, with Limbo’s environmental challenges meaning nearly every surface imaginable can and will be twisted and pulled apart at a moment’s notice. Whilst it could be jarring, the control around this behind the scenes is clearly very rigid, and actually gives a pleasantly chaotic edge to many of the stages. There’s other neat visual effects you’ll find in Limbo too, such as the demon collective talking to you through incandescent text that plasters itself to walls.
From a performance standpoint, stepping down from 60fps – as seen in previous DMC games, and their spiritual successor Bayonetta – was certainly a concern for many die-hard Dante fans. Whilst it’s obviously not as smooth as some of these games, and certainly worse for it, the game does at least do a good job of holding its quoted 30fps figure solidly, even amidst the more hectic sequences. Those in for the long haul may also take some pleasure from some neat UI features too, such as a rolling score breakdown and a grade meter that fills and empties dynamically.
There’s a very distinct, very ‘now’ sound to this game, and this is due in no small part to the two licensed heavyweights making up the contents of the soundtrack – the Dutch drum and bass outfit Noisia, and Norweigan ‘aggrotech’ band Combichrist. Whilst the latter slot in nicely alongside scenes of countless enemies and furious maiming, Noisia’s numbers are typically paired with slightly more calculated scenes of action. Both are certainly privy to matters of personal taste, but there’s a strong case for labelling both as a fitting match for the game as a whole. Those of delicate musical sensibilities may want to drop the volume when the ‘wubs’ or ‘cookie monster vocals’ kick off, but no such action was taken in our homes. Whilst being another area of radical departure from the series’ past, voice acting is consistent and appropriate for these new characterisations; Dante as coarse and cocky, Vergil smug and smart, and so on. It’s
Crucially, DmC’s gameplay does stand up to its legacy, even if it doesn’t surpass it. Before long the combat system opens up; your basic attack, launch, and shot attacks being quickly complimented by the ‘Angel’ and ‘Demon’ modifiers, and not long thereafter complimented again by more weapons fitting under each of these categories, then tasking you with switching between them with the d-pad. Whilst some enemies respond to just the one type of weapon, typically ‘Angel’ and ‘Demon’ neatly fit the categorisation of ‘quick and light’ versus ‘slow and heavy’. Whilst there’s still a raft of unlockable abilities for each to dip into, from here the game is very much in your hands; whilst it’s certainly possible to flounder your way through the duration, the real task is in learning how to effectively and efficiently cycle through your entire arsenal as frequently as possible, creating huge combos and racking up style bonuses whilst also keeping the baying mobs back. There’s plenty of satisfaction to be had from a methodical dismantling of an enemy wave, but the truly skilful won’t find these skills truly measured until weighing their skills up against the tougher, unlockable difficulty levels.
When you’re not fighting for your life, DmC seems to acknowledge that it’s just killing time before you’re next sprung upon. Secret areas are rarely too elaborate, and generally there’s very little to break the spell of linearity. Aside from your fighting mettle, mechanically you’ll only find it’s your basic platforming and traversal ability that’s put to the test – and sometimes for a touch too long. At fixed points your angel and demon modifiers allow you to either pull an object to you or yourself to it, and whilst these break things up a little bit they’re never really thoughtful enough to celebrate – these are little more than QTEs with a slicker implementation that the norm. Fans of boss battles will likely find the showing to be a little weak too – a few are visually impressive but don’t quite do enough, and a few ideas amongst these are re-used more than could be advised.
The main game is comprised of 20 missions, the majority of which hold a series of secrets in the form of ‘Lost Souls’ to assault for currency, along with a variety of keys for a variety of doors – each holding back a secret room which awards some kind of power-up if you meet the challenge thrown at you. Just as the game won’t take long for a basic completion, this initial fetch quest isn’t too grand a task either – and there’s no hiding that the real grind is getting comfortable enough with the battle system to survive the frankly overwhelming array of difficulty modes that begin to unlock after the game’s conclusion. These range from challenging, through curious, all the way to downright masochistic, and will certainly not be for everyone’s gaming palate.
As part of such a hallowed series, and despite the fears of some, DmC hasn’t got any one aspect particularly wrong, but it’s very much a new entry point for the series as opposed to a refinement of the formula. The plot, Dante, and the soundtrack have all been given the ultra-modern treatment, and yet the gameplay – whilst arguably better than expected – still lags behind the rest. With the off-the-wall charm gone in favour of a more gritty, po-faced sneer, it’s not going to win over everyone with the new approach either. It’s a great opportunity for some to try out something they might have missed before, but it’s unlikely that it’ll be the definitive entry that any series veteran looks back on fondly.