If you’re not completely sick of reboots by now, here’s another one to sink your teeth into: Capcom’s DmC (Devil May Cry). The franchise is only 10 years old, but nothing’s too young for a reboot these days (see: Amazing Spider-Man). The original Devil May Cry still stands proud and tall as one of the shining gems of the PS2’s library, and I would even argue that it might be the single best game that Capcom has ever made! I’m sure Mega Man and Street Fighter fans will argue though. Bottom line is that Devil May Cry single-handedly created a whole new genre of game: the "stylized action" genre. It was the first in what would become a long line of spectacle action games that would eventually contain names like God of War, Bayonetta, Lollipop Chainsaw, Batman: Arkham Asylum (to an extent), and Heavenly Sword. That last title is of particular interest because its developer, Ninja Theory, is the developer for this new DmC game (Capcom is only publishing).
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A new Devil May Cry
So not only has the Devil May Cry franchise fallen victim to reboot-itis; it is also a victim of license-whoring.
So let’s get the reboot complaints out of the way first thing…
A new Dante
The first thing that players will likely notice is that this new Dante is not the same Dante that we’re all familiar with. He’s a young, punk kid with half-shaved black hair and a blue jacket sporting a U.K. flag on one sleeve. He still totes an oversized sword and pair of pistols, but almost every aspect of the character has changed. His cheesy one-liners have been replaced with profane retorts; his confident demeanor has been replaced with a vacant, dumb-jock, open-lipped grimace; his mother is now an angel instead of a human; and he somehow doesn’t know that he’s half-demon.
New Dante sucks.
I can’t really complain about Ninja Theory taking artistic discretion with the character of Dante. The four previous games never managed to nail down his exact personality either. But they made him kind of an unlikeable douche.
What a Brave New World that has such demons in it
Dante isn’t the only thing that’s changed either. The two returning supporting characters are also different. Virgil is an ally, and Mundus is a demonic business man.
The game’s primary plot revolves around Dante and Virgil trying to destroy the demon Mundus who has taken control of an apathetic, hyper-consumerist humanity through corporate enslavement.
The story line seems to be a mish-mash of concepts from the first three games, as if the writers were trying to create a microcosm of the Devil May Cry series:
- Dante is learning about his family history and discovering the secret of his childhood and parents while battling the demon Mundus (à la Devil May Cry).
- Evil corporate CEO ruling the world through a combination of demonic influence and simple monetary manipulation (à la Devil May Cry 2).
- Origin story introducing us to Virgil (à la Devil May Cry 3).
- Dante teaming up with an awkward pseudo-love interest (first 3 games).
- Adding a chain weapon so you can pull enemies towards you (à la Devil May Cry 4).
I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but it almost seemed like the game’s story is the kind of thing that you might get if Hollywood were trying to adapt the entire series into a single movie.
But all of that stuff is just kind of filler material. The primary plot isn’t about any of those things. Mundus could just as easily have been any demonic villain, and the primary plot of a corporate tycoon controlling the world through propaganda and mind-dulling soft drinks could just as easily have been the plot of a simple sequel or prequel within the existing continuity. Or it could have just been an entirely new IP! Heck, it could have even been turned into a game adaptation of V for Vendetta (because that’s what it is).
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Offended by the O’Reilly Factor
This "Devil May Cry" game differentiates itself from the real (and good) Devil May Cry games by taking itself far too seriously. The game is charged with in-your-face socio-political commentary, attacking corporate consumerism, popular apathy, political corruption, and takes an especially specific jab at Fox News.
Bob Barbas and Raptor News will spend the entire game slandering Dante and his allies, but you'll get your vengeance.
The "Raptor News Network" in the game is a demon-run propaganda network dedicated to keeping the gullible masses stupid and complacent. The symbolic (and literal) figurehead of this network is the anchor Bob Barbas. Barbas is immediately recognizeable as an unmistakable avatar for Bill O’Reilly. At first, I thought this was just an innocent and funny little bit of satire: Barbas is suggested to be a pawn of the demons, spewing out their rhetoric under the guise of "just doing God’s work" and using his soapbox to demonize and dehumanize his political enemies. In this form, the satire is spot-on, clever, and perfectly reasonable.
Spoilers Ahead! [Show Spoilers] [Hide Spoilers]
As you approach the halfway point, you will be informed that Barbas isn’t just a figurehead unwittingly parroting the hate speech coming from his superiors; but rather, he is a brutal and tyrannical high-ranking demon who is intentionally misguiding a dumb populace into being subservient to him and the demon Lord, Mundus. Hrm, now it’s starting to get a little personal…
MegaBearsFan does not condone shooting Bill O'Reilly!
Half-way through the game, Dante must kill Barbas in order to destroy Raptor News. There’s a wonderful little build-up to the boss in which you literally jump into a Raptor News broadcast and have to platform across its title graphics in order to confront Barbas. I thought this was brilliant! The fight with Barbas himself is also heavily-abstracted. This all works well as symbolically attacking a corrupt and despicable organization. But then when you defeat Barbas, the abstraction and symbolism comes crashing down, and we are shown a cutscene of Dante putting two bullets in Barbas’s chest while he sits behind his anchor desk.
I’m not going to complain that the game is telling players to assassinate Bill O’Reilly because I think that’s hogwash (this is satire). I don't believe that the developers are intending to tell the player that they should go out and murder Bill O'Reilly, but it does present a message that the developers seem to think that the world would be a better place without O'Reilly. This whole sequence becomes a little distasteful and hypocritical because it does exactly the same thing that O’Reilly does on his show, and which he is being satirized for doing: it dehumanizes and (literally) demonizes O’Reilly. It wouldn’t be so bad if Barbas had elements from other Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, or Sarah Palin. In that case, it would be very clear that we’re dealing with an abstraction of an evil organization. Attack the institution, not the individual.
End of Spoilers
What’s really distasteful though is how shallow the game’s narrative actually is. Sure, Devil May Cry never prided itself on its storytelling, but since DmC takes itself so seriously, I actually expected that maybe there’d be a good narrative this time. No, instead it’s all just Virgil explaining the over-the-top corporate dystopia to Dante. You learn pretty much everything important about Dante and the world within the first few levels, and then everything else just feels like fluff while you navigate between the 4 boss fights. I wasn’t expecting a story as subtle and clever as Portal, but the writers didn’t have to make every plot point feel obvious and contrived!
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Alright, so how does the game play?
Yeah yeah, I’ve spent way too long going back and forth about the validity of rebooting a decade-old franchise. So now I’ll move on to the really important question: is the game actually good?
Gameplay is worthy of the name, but difficulty isn’t
Yeah, this DmC game is pretty good. Especially early on. The first few levels successfully recapture the twitchy, thumb-blistering, wrist-cramping intensity of the first and third games. Dante’s attacks are swift and fluid. Most importantly, the game rewards you for being deliberate. Button-smashers will be able to get by on the easy and normal difficulty, but if you want to survive on the hard difficulty, you need to be patient. If you hit the attack button one too many times, you’ll have to wait for that attack to finish before you can break out and dodge. If you overcommit yourself, you won’t be able to get out of the way of enemy attacks, and you’ll take a lot of damage and a lot of deaths.
Unfortunately, the game is pretty easy. Even on the Nephilim (hard) difficulty, enemies tend to stand around and wait to be slaughtered. I cleared most of the missions without dying up until about mission 17. And even then, it was only two or three enemies that really gave me trouble after that: the Butcher and Dreamwalker. The individual enemies aren’t very challenging by themselves, but when different types of enemies are combined, they can make for some tough (and sometimes cheap) challenges.
The game world is genuinely threatening - unlike most of the monsters.
Style points are also easy to rack up. You don’t have to try too hard to vary your combos. As long as you keep combos going with your guns and Devil-bringer moves, you’ll get S ratings or better, even on harder difficulties.
Maybe they saved the real challenge for the unlockable difficulties?
Giving you options, then taking them away
There’s a wide variety of enemies, and an even wider variety of moves. DmC contains an almost-overwhelming collection of attacks spread among the various weapons. Each weapon can be upgraded to acquire new moves and upgrades to existing moves, and if you realize you don’t like a particular move, you can resell it for full value and try a different move. You have to do this at pre-determined upgrade locations or at the start of a mission though.
This variety is a bit misleading though.
You start the game with just your default sword and pistols, but between missions two and four, the game starts throwing new weapons and game concepts at you in pretty rapid succession. This doesn’t give you very much time to get a feel for any particular weapon or start to develop muscle memory for each weapon’s combos. This can make it a bit confusing when you want to start switching between weapons mid-combo.
What’s even more annoying though, is that many enemies (particularly later in the game) can only be damaged by specific weapons. So even though you have a butt-ton of attacks at your disposal, the game loves to limit your options in order to add artificial challenge to the game. And there’s no way for you to know in advance what kinds of enemies will show up in a particular level, so if you decide you didn’t like a weapon and took all your upgrade points off of it, you might run into an enemy that can only be defeated with that weapon!
The original Devil May Cry had several unlockable weapons, and each weapon had different effects on different enemies, but they all did damage. You could go through the entire game with just the default sword and pistols if you wanted to. It might take you longer to get through certain areas or enemies, but you always had the option of using whatever attacks, combos, and abilities that you wanted to against virtually any enemy. In effect, you were free to create and utilize your own style of combat with the character. DmC, on the other hand, gives you all these abilities, but then railroads you into certain tactics by making certain enemies arbitrarily impervious to three-fourths of your moveset, so you don’t really have as many options as you think.
One of the classic annoyances from the original game also returns: there’s no indication of when an enemy is going to drop green orbs. Orb containers in DmC are often hard to see, and it’s hard to tell if they store red orbs, green orbs, or purple orbs. You never know when you’re health is going to recover, so it’s hard to determine whether or not you should use a valuable Vital Star to recharge your health. God of War excelled in this area by putting orbs in color-coded, glowing boxes that you could usually see coming from half a level away, so you knew if health restores were waiting for you after a particular skirmish and could plan accordingly.
Boss battles are also disappointingly boring. Most bosses telegraph their attacks, giving you plenty of time to dodge out of the way while they leave themselves prone and open to attack for about 30 seconds, then allowing you to trigger a Quick Time Event in order to perform finishing moves. Yawn. The only boss that I had any trouble with was the Spawn of Mundus, and that was only because it had a ton of health and just took forever to kill.
You can't possibly get to this secret door your first time through the level. You'll have to replay the mission after unlocking another weapon in order to get to it.
Out of the way bonuses
DmC also disappoints in terms of bonuses and side content. Bonus missions are almost exclusively just fights with a wave of enemies with some arbitrary rule attached, such as a time limit, or restriction that enemies can only be harmed while in the air, or that you can only do damage when standing inside of shrinking green circles. There’s a few time-trial platform races to add variety, but those are even more boring. It’s not as bad as Devil May Cry 2, which was just waves of enemies, but it lacks the creativity and variety of the original Devil May Cry, which gave the player environmental puzzles, and secret missions based on specific gameplay mechanics.
Even worse, these secret missions - along with other side content - are often placed in plain sight while just out of reach until you acquire a specific weapon or ability to allow you to reach it. This worked fine in Batman: Arkham Asylum - in which secrets and collectibles acted as a tease for the various tools and abilities that you’d eventually unlock - but only because that game’s narrative took Batman back to previously-visited locations to give you a chance to acquire these collectibles.
DmC, however, never backtracks to earlier levels. If you want to go back and use your new-found weapons and abilities to collect all the treasures, you’ll have to quit out to the menu and replay the previous missions. But since there isn’t much worth unlocking, and the secret missions aren’t as fun as they could be, there isn’t much need to go back and replay the earlier levels unless you’re a compulsive completionist.
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A unique aesthetic
The greatest strength of DmC is it’s unique aesthetic. The game’s plot (and most of its level design) is based around the concept of Limbo, a parallel dimension containing a warped version of our own world in which the demons live. When you are pulled into this dimension, the world will distort and sometimes tear itself apart. Sometimes, it will even rip itself apart in real time in order to prevent or delay your progress. It all looks very surreal and stylish and provides a great sense that the environment, itself, is actively working against you. In fact, the environment is genuinely threatening and will probably kill you much more than the enemies. But don't worry, you'll just respawn right where you died without any penalty...
Ninja Theory had a lot of excellent aesthetic ideas!
Several action set-pieces are built around this mechanic, and they are usually unexpected, exciting, and fun to watch! And unlike Silent Hill Downpour, which seemed to run out of ideas less than half-way through the game, DmC saves some of its best moments for late in the game and keeps things fresh throughout. Some standout moments include twitch-based platforming, an exciting bullet-time car chase, and a riveting sequence in an elevator!
The visuals could have used a bit more polish though. Lighting and particle effects aren’t very stable, and there’s a lot of pixilated shadows, texture pop-in, and rough gradiations. Characters also take frequent trips to the uncanny valley. Faces look off, especially eyes, which always look either too dark or too bright and colorless. Movement in cutscenes is also stiff and animatronics, especially the Kat character who often comes off looking like a robot trying too hard to emulate the sexy swaying of a walking woman’s ass.
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A good effort, but pales in comparison to the original
I pretty thoroughly enjoyed DmC as an independent entity. In a vacuum, I would highly recommend it! But there was no need to make this a "Devil May Cry" game. The license only holds the game back from feeling genuinely fresh and serves to piss-off fanboys. The revised Dante is less likeable (and according to one of my female friends, less sexy), and the gameplay and design is still struggling to match the greatness of the 10-year-old original. Go ahead and rent it. It's worth a playthrough.
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