Monday, February 11, 2013

DmC Devil May Cry review – killing demons and thumbs

I’ve never played a Devil May Cry game before. I have no context of what Dante was like before, only murmurings from the internet of how he was either a caricature of a superpowered anime character, or a torn, conflicted man called to fight a war between angels and demons. Whether that makes Ninja Theory’s reboot appeal to me more or less doesn’t matter. What matters is how DmC plays and feels on its own, and if it plays to the strengths of Ninja Theory’s cinematic visuals, vibrant design, and developed narrative.

Despite being a nephilim, the child of a demon father and an angel mother, Dante is more human than ever before. Prerelease footage and trailers may portray him closer to his former self, but Ninja Theory, known for their humanistic characters, found a way to ground him in a world filled with demons, mind-controlling sodas, and agenda-setting news stations. In fact, it’s only during his interactions with demons does Dante take on his foul-mouthed attitude. He grows over the course of DmC as his eyes open to the bigger threat in the world, changing from a nihilistic loner keen on self-indulgence to a friend and protector of humanity. Dante isn’t the only key character developed. Kat, a medium who helps Dante travel to and from Limbo, plays a central part in the narrative, rather than kept at the sideline like most female characters.

While Dante and his redesign may be the key point of contention for long time fans, it is the combat the stands as the star. Cleverly taking advantage of every button, combat feels fast-paced and fluid. Even on PC, Devil May Cry feels right with a controller. Beyond the three normal attacks with his sword and guns, Dante gains two modifiers, angel and demon, assigned to the left and right triggers enabling to chain together light and heavy attacks. With all eight weapons, Dante can string combos together seamlessly switching from weapon to weapon, gaining more style points up to the coveted triple-S rank, which I was only able to pull off once. At the end of each mission, you’re graded on performance and rewarded with unlock points giving Dante new moves and empowering current ones.

The combat comes to a crescendo when both angel and demon enemy types attack simultaneously. It’s not out of the ordinary to switch between weapons, ping-ponging between Frost Knights and Blood Rages, using the Aquila to stun one while launching the other into the air with Arbiter, all while hellfire spreads on the ground. All this furious action left my thumbs severally sore, moreso than normally when using a gamepad instead of my preferred mouse and keyboard. It felt like trying to play a fighting game using the D-pad on a standard controller.

Devil May Cry also takes a stab at platforming using the same trigger modifiers to either pull Dante towards ledges and enemies, or pull them towards him. This comes into play prominently during many of the boss fights, which while aren’t too difficult, provide a fun challenge remixing the architecture of Limbo. It’s during these bosses when the level designs come into its own, especially during the boss of the faux-Fox news station. I haven’t seen this much variation on level design since Alice: Madness Returns. Ninja Theory’s art direction through most of Devil May Cry deviates from the normal structure of most missions, making it one of the prettiest games so far this year.

In the eyes of long-term series fans, DmC may not hit all the right notes. But taken on its own, it stands as a great spectacle action game that not only opens the series to new fans, but refines Dante to be more likable with an arc that feels earned. Like The Walking Dead for Telltale, Devil May Cry is Ninja Theory’s best game yet, and there’s enough here to make me want to see what more they can do with it.

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