In what could easily be called Devil May Cry 5, Dante, Virgil, Mundus and the whole crew are back for Ninja Theory’s reboot of the Capcom classic tongue-in-cheek hack-and-slash in Devil May Cry (also known now as DMC); is Ninja Theory able to pull off a miracle and pull in all the people who hated the new look of Dante AND manage to make the everyman give a flying pile of dog feces about the Devil May Cry series again?
Once Upon a Time, Angels and Demons, Blah, Blah…
The storyline of DMC isn’t exactly anything to write home about, and in fact never really was. However, in the hands of some master storytellers like Ninja Theory, who’s previous title Enslaved: Odyssey to the West set the standard for character interaction in a video game, suddenly, everything gets a hell of a lot more interesting. The original Devil May Cry felt like it had been developed for a Western audience by Japan, where as in with Ninja Theory’s DMC, the game doesn’t feel like it’s been run through a Google translator a few too many times. The storyline is simple: angels and devils have been fighting for millions of years. The demons have Earth under their control through use of both the media, government institutions, even spiking popular drink with a drug that dopes the population into an easily-led fog. Dante is introduced as an orphan with a troubled past, being thrown out of foster homes and orphanages his whole life after the death of his mother and father. However, soon Dante is introduced to his real calling after a run in with a “terrorist” organization called “The Order” run by an individual named Virgil, who tells Dante he’s the fabled son of a demon general and an angel: the Nephilim. The Nephilim are the only beings with the power to break the demon’s hold on Earth, and Dante begins his quest for vengeance and freedom with Virgil and the Order.
Conversations are paced properly, dialogue feels realistic and genuine, emotions are conveyed in a way where you don’t seem like you’re watching a bad anime. Ninja Theory does an amazing job washing away the bad taste most people had in their mouths from the original asshat Dante. In all honesty, I never made it past the second original Devil May Cry, just for a lack of caring about the storyline. However, Dante goes quickly from spoiled brat to semi-likable freedom fighter alongside Virgil and spirit medium Kat. There are a few truly great moments between Kat and Dante, which might feel strangely similar to Monkey and Trip from Ninja Theory’s Enslaved, where there’s an odd sexual tension/older-brother-younger-sister vibe between the two revolutionaries. Again, motion capturing live actors’ performances and well written dialogue does wonders for what could have been a real throw away storyline.
Too Many Weapons or Just Enough?
While storyline is Ninja Theory’s strong point, many critics bashed on Enslaved for it’s lack of deep melee combat. However, the combat development team for Ninja Theory must have taken night classes from God of War and Bayonetta University during the creation of the Devil May Cry combat mechanics. There are 20 stages within Devil May Cry, and you’re getting new weapons and toys to play with until about level 18. While this makes for difficult decisions on what to upgrade as you always seem to be getting new gear, every weapon you get in the game has a specific purpose and feels powerful without having a single upgrade in any of them. You end up with three types of firearms, two “Angelic” weapons, two “Demonic” weapons and your standby sword, called the “Hacker”. While you can switch between all three types of weapons using the directional pad, the weapons are initiated through the triggers, meaning that it is ridiculously simple to rack up absurd leaderboard-destroying combos just by using the triggers the “Y” button (default attack) and “X” button (firearms). By the time Devil May Cry was over, I was getting to the point where I could start a combo with an angel weapon, pull myself to another target, put my shotgun in their face, hit them a few times with the basic Hacker, then switch over to the devil weapon, knock the target into the air, and start beating on them in mid air. I’m no fighting game guy or someone that can string together 50-100 hit combos, but the combo system is simple enough for the average gamer to feel like a superb bad ass, flinging Dante around the screen and decimating his enemies with the broad variety of weapons. Even God of War and its various combinations, I was never moving around the stage as quickly as Dante does with his push/pull mechanics. The system caters to masters and newbies alike: the move lists and weapon upgrades are for folks who can conduct entire battles in mid air and perform 100 hit combos, while the beginner will still be able to make some real magic happen by just mashing the basic buttons and triggers (see also: me).
The big take away from the combat mechanics of the game? I had the same feeling when I was playing Batman: Arkham Asylum: I could not WAIT to get to the next fight so I could do better than I did the last time. In my head, I could see, “Okay, this time, I’m going to start with a demon weapon, maybe charge up my angel weapon and launch it…” Despite there not being a lot of enemy types within Devil May Cry, simply acting as minor “palette swaps” of one another, it does allow you to mentally prepare yourself when you see the room layout for a fight.
I’m going to call it right now, and I know it’s early in 2013, but the Bob Bargas boss fight at the Raptor News Network as well as the entire Lilith “dance club” level? Some pretty brilliant level and boss fight design, likely some of the better well likely see in 2013. I don’t want to spoil them, but it gets easy to make repetitive kill arenas where you just hack on a bunch of minions and progress to the next room. These two sections are not them. As a matter of fact, Ninja Theory makes some pretty amazing level design happen within Devil May Cry through the storyline device of “Limbo”, where the demons live. Where we see everything one way in the real world, the demon limbo world perverts and distorts everything to odd new dimensions and strange upside down, MC Escher style levels: a simple warehouse in the real world may be a blown out abstract painting of blacks and reds with scalable boxes scattered all over the place. It could have been a very simple “grey out” of the color palette, forcing you to run through already trod levels, but the fact each level in Devil May Cry is designed twice in great detail…pretty impressive.
Stay On Target!
One of the problems with Devil May Cry is the fact that the camera is a little tricky at times. I say a little because there’s no target lock on at all, which can be somewhat painful when you’re getting targeted by ranged attackers at a distance from off screen or are about to be charged by a metallic juggernaut you can’t see. There were times when I had to specifically get creative with my attack combos so I could put myself next to a creature I was trying to target, as some of Dante’s attacks will simply seek out the closest target. This is a minor quibble as I was able to get past it, but I could see the pros really getting grumpy as the difficulty ratchets up considerably during the seven (yes, I said seven) difficulty levels for Devil May Cry.
Replayability? Damn Skippy.
As I just stated, Devil May Cry has seven difficulty levels, of which, three are unlocked at the start, with a fourth opening up after a single playthrough, and the final three opening up with beating the fourth difficulty. The game is fairly simple; having played through the game in the hardest starting unlocked difficulty, only boss flights every really gave me any trouble, and that was a matter of learning the pattern and exploiting that weakness. However, sadism starts after your second playthrough, where you have the ability to be one-hit-killed by enemies with no continues. Sounds like a hoot. That being said, there are rooms and powerups you will be unable to get your first time through, and only being powered up with all the weapons at the start will allow you to get all of them. There are collectibles scattered all over hither and yon, as well as challenge rooms which give you bonuses for completing them should you have the right key available to unlock them. Devil May Cry is close to ten hours long from start to finish, but folks who really want their money’s worth are going to be able to really stretch out their gaming dollars fighting among one another’s high scores on each level’s leaderboard and attempting the impossible “Hell” difficulty levels.
Heaven or Hell?
Well, Ninja Theory made me do something I never would have expected: they made me actually give a damn about Dante and the Devil May Cry series. Capcom’s strategic decision to release Devil May Cry during the empty month of January ensured that a whole mess of people are being equally surprised by Devil May Cry who could have cared less before. As I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I should take a crack at trying to do a video series through the “Hell” difficulty levels or a guide where all the lost souls and other collectibles are at just to have an excuse to jump back in and play more of it. For me, where time is at a premium, this is some pretty high praise. I strongly recommend you give Devil May Cry a shot if you love combat arena style games like Ninja Gaiden, God of War or Bayonetta, because you’re in for a treat.