Bringing relevancy back to an inconsistent franchise
When it comes to rebooting a beloved franchise it’s probably best to go all out, balls to the wall. The Internet’s furore may cast doubt over any such tactic, but in the case of Ninja Theory’s reimagining of Devil May Cry it’s a chance to breathe new and exciting life into an inconsistent franchise. A Western take on an inherently Japanese genre, but one that injects its own ludicrous style to proceedings, maintaining only the broadest character traits as it shakes the foundation of Dante’s demonic landscape. It’s a tribute to Hideki Kamiya’s original vision – a companion piece – but one that forges its own unique identity, crafting a game that can stand on its own two feet without the need to be propped up by nostalgia. And it’s all the better for it.
The series’ tale of angels and demons remains intact, though Ninja Theory have sprinkled in their own storytelling prowess to this tired concept. Its gothic motif remains but in moderation, fused with more contemporary themes as the demon king Mundus enslaves the docile populace through debt, right-wing media manipulation, subliminal messaging and spiking soft drinks. It’s all very They Liveand completely ludicrous, but DmC never treats it as anything but, revelling in its own absurdity with relative panache; its faux FOX News anchored by a clear parody of Bill O’Reilly who even says “we’re doing it live” during the game’s most memorable boss fight. It’s clear it never takes itself too seriously, foregoing subtlety for a satirical swipe at our commercialised culture.
But when it needs to DmC is also capable of occasional poignancy and effective drama. Apart from a few too many iffy one-liners the writing is generally strong – albeit crass - and Ninja Theory’s penchant for capturing excellent performances helps sell even its most incongruous moments. It’s hard not to laugh at these ancient demonic entities’ using English curse words to berate Dante, but subtle facial animations and eye movements do just as much to invest you in this world and its more dramatic moments as its dialogue and accomplished voice acting.
Which, of course, brings us to Dante. Many fans were disappointed (read: outraged) with his redesign, but away from his punk rock looks and black hair he’s actually surprisingly developed. He maintains his cockiness and quick wit, and although he may seem completely insufferable at the game’s offset he thankfully develops into someone somewhat relatable by the game’s conclusion. He’s a different Dante for sure, but one that’s more fleshed out and interesting to be around.
Though, it could be argued that the reason you come to DmC is for Dante’s style over any substance. Fortunately he has that in abundance too.
Off the bat it’s worth noting that this is more accessible than those that have come before. The gateway for entry is gaping wide, allowing those competent enough to achieve the fabled triple-S rank with relative ease if they’re varied enough. But a lack of excruciating difficulty doesn’t dilute the joy DmC’s combat rewards you with time and time again. It’s fast paced and diverse, offering a multitude of various moves and combos to be chained together across multiple weapons. You begin with a sword and Dante’s signature Ebony & Ivory pistols, but before long you’re utilizing angel and demon weapons to turn up the style and unleash devastating combinations of high-flying and stylistic attacks.
Those angel and demon weapons take the form of light and heavy attack categories. Dante’s angel weapons are quick and rangy, perfect for dealing with crowds, while their demon counterparts are slower but pack more punch, able to deal out high damage on singular enemies. It’s easy to incorporate both of these attack categories into one combo along with the basic sword attacks, quickly switching between even more melee weapons and firearms to produce the most varied combos possible.
In true franchise fashion you’ll launch enemies into the air, holding them in place with your pistols or jumping up to their elevation to juggle their disfigured composition with a ferocious melee combo. It’s fast, intuitive and consistently exciting; the pumping Noisia/Combichrist infused soundtrack providing a cacophony of sound for the ostentatious ballet of combat. The power of the PC version, unbounded from the shackles of console hardware, is able to breeze through the game at 60fps and up, maintaining the speed and smoothness with which the series is known.
You’ll glean instant satisfaction from the ease with which these outlandish attacks can be performed; the constant score tally on the side of the screen incentivising you to keep varied and perform as cleanly as possible - one single hit and your score will drop down a few pegs. It keeps you on your toes too, introducing colour-coded enemies that can only be harmed by either your angel or demon weapons, often introducing both types at the same time, forcing you to refine your tactics and keeping things varied.
And this rings true when you’re not fighting too. DmC takes place between two planes of existence: the real world and its demonic mirror limbo. The bulk of the storytelling is grounded in reality while you’ll spend your time playing the game trapped in the antagonistic limbo. Here, the entire landscape shifts and moves around you, toying with your expectations. City streets and fairgrounds twist and skewer before your very eyes, deconstructing into something much more inventive – a surprising showcase for visual splendour and resplendent presentation. It constantly surprises, taking the action in some unexpected directions with phenomenal art and level design that alter your perspective. The world feels alive; a malevolent force that’s constantly trying to kill you as the walls dynamically close in around you and the floor breaks apart to reveal various platforms.
It’s here that Dante’s angel and demon powers take the shape of a handy grappling hook, allowing you to navigate through the environment by either pulling Dante towards objects or vice versa. The platforming is clearly telegraphed but it provides a diverse break from the combat, and the ever shifting landscape is certainly ripe for moments of awe.
And that same grappling hook can be utilised in combat, pulling enemies off balance or quickly shortening the distance between you and them, once again showing a fantastic cohesion to the controls that offers a small glimpse into the polish that seeps into all of DmC’s moving parts. It doesn’t attempt too many new things but its production values are through the roof, and it’s the first time you can say a Ninja Theory game has truly nailed its gameplay. It may not be for hardcore fans of the series who are attuned to a particular playstyle, but for everyone else DmC: Devil May Cry is a highly accomplished character action game with a lot to love. It’s a different type of game than its predecessors but one that’s wholly successful at what it does, bringing relevancy back to the Devil May Cry name. Long may it continue.