(Capcom for Xbox 360)
By Mike Delano
It’s been said that you don’t always have to give people what they want, so long as you can give them something new instead that they didn’t even know they wanted.
When this reboot of the Devil May Cry series was announced a couple years back, long-time fans burst into rage at the thought that not only was the development being shifted from Japan to a Western developer, but also that iconic hero Dante was going to get a makeover. This response was shortsighted because although the last entry, 2008’s Devil May Cry 4, was good, it wasn’t great, and it also seemed to further push the series out of the minds of the average gamer and into the realm of niche. So something drastic was probably going to need to happen to this series in order to keep it out of mothballs and ensure that there was even a new game developed for skeptics to complain about.
That being said, there was no guarantee that the reimagining that is DmC: Devil May Cry was going to work. Developed by the talented British studio Ninja Theory, these guys had definitely proven with 2010’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West that they could craft an interesting (and surprisingly emotional) narrative, but they definitely had not proven that they had the chops to take the reigns of some of the tightest gameplay and most complex action combat in all of gaming.
Good news: They delivered on both fronts. Truth be told, the story isn’t anything terribly memorable: Aimless half-demon/half-angel punk Dante gets roped into the righteous crusade of the terrorist organization led by his twin brother Vergil. There are some memorable moments between the two brothers, and many more between Dante and Kat, the girl with the “save me” doe eyes and big heart. But what really stands out is the presentation. The game has an incredible surreal look that mashes up the level design in all sorts of cool and unexpected ways when Dante is pulled into limbo, a bizarro version of reality. These sections feel like the true realization of the style that 2011’s disappointing El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron was going for.
That dud only had its art direction going for it, but the DMC franchise has always offered superlative gameplay first and foremost — everything else is just a bonus. The fast-paced, varied and deep combat of the franchise was a revolution when it debuted more than a decade ago and has been consistently refined through sequels. It’s so perfect that it’s been lovingly borrowed and tweaked into the basis for several other excellent series (Ninja Gaiden (2004 version), God of War).
And despite early worries from fans, that sterling combat is in fine shape in DmC. Switching tactics on the fly to deal with ground and air threats, shielded enemies, projectiles and environmental hazards continues to be an incredible rush. It even comes complete with all of the crazy S and SSS ranks that are awarded to players who keep their combo chains unbroken and who use a wide enough variety of moves to dizzy any onlookers who might catch an eyeful of the action.
Given the overall push by Ninja Theory to give the series a new look and maybe shift the focus from its score attack roots to its new more serious story and tone, it almost seems out of place to have the big combo counters flashing on the screen, but looking at the big picture, the developer really isn’t shying away from the hardcore aspects of the franchise. On the contrary, they seem to fully embrace the hardcore: Dante’s move list is just as gloriously bloated as superfans would want, the exhausting combat-only Bloody Palace mode will return, and there are an inordinate amount of difficulty levels to cater to the (ever vocal) group of masochists who simply must have the option of a challenge that will break their very will to live.
DmC: Devil May Cry doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of the action masterpiece that is Devil May Cry 3, but it’s refreshing in that it aims for success on its own terms. Rather than following the lead of many of the action games of this generation, each trying to be bigger, more outrageous and more over-the-top than the last, DmC stays true to its goal of being something a little different: An action game with characters you might actually care about and a story you might actually become invested in. Since it manages to do those things while still maintaining the legendary gameplay of the franchise, I’d call that a (sss)ucess.