A solid action game with a troubled story
This is more or less from a forum post I made outlining my personal impressions of the game as a whole. Please be aware that I travel pretty far into spoiler territory, so fair warning.
Having finished it last night, I think I can finally convey my total thoughts on the game. I found the action to be completely passable with no real frustrations apart from the targeting. When the combat worked, I thought it worked really well. But when it didn't, especially in later levels where you're hit with the weapon or location specific enemies, I thought it fell apart. To me, not being able to quickly and accurately prioritize targets resulted in deaths that just felt undeserved. It felt like the game wasn't allowing me to do what it expected me to do. Of course, other people's experiences will probably vary. Those are just my thoughts.
If it were just the combat though, I hardly think I'd have a problem at all. The writing though, at least through my eyes, is the game's most troubling aspect. Normally something I'd pay no attention to, the writing both from the developers and critics has been acclaimed as some of the best in the series, and I'm still struggling to see how that is. I'm more than aware that the writing in the past games was nothing short of secondary. It, by all metrics, is cheesy, ambiguous, and mainly just an excuse to throw the character into a situation to fight some demons. But the difference is that it never pretended to be anything different. Ninja Theory was chosen to tell a story, the game was marketed on its story, and game publications praised the story, so I was actually looking forward to it.
What I experienced though was something completely different. The writing seems to mistake trauma for compelling character traits, touching on the topics of sexual abuse, torture, and self-mutilation. It provides the characters with all manner of emotional baggage but does nothing with it. Kat was abused she says, but never goes any further with it ever. Her character developed the strength to cope with that ordeal off camera and before she met Dante. Superman Vergil was the one who swooped in and gave fragile Kat the strength she needed to recover and re-focus herself, but we're not even shown that either. We're not shown anything, we're merely told. I'm of the mind that such topics should not be present in any form of media unless the writing is prepared to adequately explore and deal with the implications of such an ordeal. In the end I wondered why such a thing was even brought up.
I also take issue with Dante's development or lack thereof. Many people see his transformation from sweary loner, to team player as a substantial leap of character but I have to disagree with that. It's character progression to be sure, but Dante as a character never seems to actually learn and grow. His attachment to Kat exists because he tells us it does, not because we're shown how they grow together as a pair of characters. Same with his brother. His trust and (brief) reliance on Vergil occurs because we're told they're brothers and that's what they should do. Vergil reveals his final hand at the end, not because there was anything in the writing that led up to it, but because he just does. Granted that will more than likely be detailed in the DLC, but when you need to hide better writing behind 7 dollars, isn't that something of a problem? Vergil's abilities are also something of a writing issue to me as they'd never once before the final two missions even been hinted at. They were never seen, mentioned, or otherwise utilized in any strategic way that one might expect from his character. So he can slice holes in dimensions for travel? Why only use that as an escape method? Why not use that in conjunction with Dante to move him around quickly and quietly? The hole he opens clearly doesn't enter into Limbo as he demonstrates the ability after it and the Earthrealm (ha) had already merged. Also this is really nit-picky, but NT basically adapted his DMC3 move-set to the letter, but to my eyes it came off as looking poor. Why make those the elements you keep the same between the two characters? In personality he and his DMC3 counterpart are absolutely nothing alike, but in move-sets they're nearly identical. It's an odd move, and I'd of preferred it if NT had taken more liberties with his abilities.
In all though, with regards to the story, it came across as wanting to say too much all at once, so it ended up saying nothing at all. If NT wanted to focus on the core three characters and their emotional developments as they worked together to overthrow Mundus with Dante taking center-stage, I think they should have focused on that. It would have provided a much more compelling characterization of the core three characters, somewhat in the way DMC3 did (with Lady representing Dante's human side, and Vergil being his demon side) but much better. But as it stands, to me, this is as story that tells more than shows, and attempts to mask that flaw behind trauma and social commentary. I think partially this flaw is brought out all the more when combined with the sense of realism that the game conveys. Though trivial, a game's aesthetics can do much to add or detract from the narrative. Yes these characters look like they could possibly exist in real life, but what does that add really? All it does for me is make their questionable characterization stand out all the more.
Story aside, I truly thought the art direction in this game was superb, with the chalk board effects leading up to Mundus being a standout moment. That seriously made me praise the game out loud when I saw it. I also think that the music fits the game perfectly, and thought it's nothing I'd ever listen to on my own, within the context of the game there were some times I got pumped. I'm also a serious fan of the collectibles in the game, and thought that some of the hiding spots were rather devious and fun. And though I mentioned it before, I'll say it again, when the combat does work, it really does work. It's fast, it's fun, and can be very satisfying. And the two stand-out enemies have to be the Drakavaks and Dreamrunner. Those enemies were serious fun for me.
And finally I have one final nit-pick that's neither here nor there, but I wanted to mention. I wish there was a way to disable the completion rank to make it not factor into your overall rank. Once you 100% a level, you forever have a SSS rank buffer to pad out your score. Maybe this changes on the higher difficulty levels, but for me the end ranks always seemed cheapened somehow because I found some keys and doors. That has nothing to do with my combat or completion time, so why rank it?
So what's all this mean? Well basically, for me, I think that this is an extremely solid action game with a very troubled story. I recognize and respect that this DmC is entirely its own entity, and am expressing my opinions based on that. It's not perfect, but it will most assuredly improve and I certainly wish all the new fans well in that regard. For me though, I played it and gave it an even chance, but I'm getting off here. It was a fun ride while it lasted, but the direction the new DmC is going is not where I want to go. I'd still give this a solid 3/5 though. It's not perfect, but there is good to be found.
And though it goes without saying, all that crap is seriously just my opinion.