DmC: Devil May Cry has every reason to be a failure. Whether its the seeming mismatch between property and developer, or angst over changes to the core franchise, the entire world seems to be against talented developers Ninja Theory and their entry into the Devil May Cry catalog.
It’s a wonder then that DmC is anything but a disaster. In fact, it’s probably the best game in the series as well as the best non-fighting game Capcom has published this generation.
What makes it so good? First and foremost, it’s a gorgeous game. DmC pushes the Unreal Engine to its limits in ways few games can, and it manages a steady 30 fps framerate throughout, with no discernible fluctuation. It’s colorful and well-lit, and the visual presentation is augmented by interesting visual filters that give the world a scratchy, dirty look. There’s little in the well-realized demon world of DmC that could be categorized as being “pristine” or “pretty.” It’s a world where people scratch and scrounge for every advantage, and the game’s varied environments reflect that. The few exceptions to this rule stand out as highlights of the game, including an amazing sequence in a nightclub.
The world Dante inhabits in this version of Devil May Cry is one akin to Silent Hill. There’s a normal world where humans reside, subjugated via energy drinks and television news. There is also Limbo, a (sometimes slightly but usually extremely) off-kilter version of the real world which demons inhabit. Dante, the main character of DmC, is able to switch between these worlds at various moments, and Ninja Theory flexes its creative muscles whenever Dante explores Limbo. Whether it’s an upside-down version of subway tunnels, or a twisted take on a drink-bottling plant, replete with the words “obese” and “obey” written on storage containers, DmC‘s environments are a sight to behold. The game never lingers too long in one place over its 8-hour campaign, and the variety keeps everything feeling briskly paced. DmC is an easy game to simply lose time in, and part of that is due to the visual design.
Sound design has long been a strength of Ninja Theory’s, and DmC is no exception. The voice acting is great across the board, especially the various demons. Directional audio is put to good use, with the audio being the primary signifier of enemy attacks and the location of collectibles. An astute player will be able to track the location of enemies and hidden objects simply by following the noise emanating from them.
The backdrop to all of the action is a soundtrack which is a hybrid of dubstep and metal. It will definitely turn some gamers off, but it fits the action and themes of the game well.
The primary reason why Ninja Theory was such an interesting choice for DmC was that their specialty up until this point had been in creating believable, sympathetic characters. The words “believable” and “sympathetic” have never been used to describe anything in the Devil May Cry universe. It’s an odd match, to be sure, but Ninja Theory rides the line effectively for the most part. Dante is crass, throughout, but the opening cinematic give an impression that is a disservice to the character Ninja Theory has created here. He’s not as interesting or conflicted as Monkey or Nariko, the protagonists in the last two Ninja Theory games, but Dante has a definite character arc that eventually leaves him pretty well-rounded. The story told is genuinely clever in places, especially portraying television news and energy drinks as the primary control methods of the demons. It’s overt in places (the news anchor is a little too “on the nose”) but for the most part it’s effective satire. The demons are appropriately nasty, although their portrayal was less humorous than similar characters in Shadows of the Damned (which is a complaint that can be levied at the game as a whole). The side characters are mostly flat or vessels for plot development, which is disappointing. In past Ninja Theory games, every character felt like a living being, but in DmC, the other members of Dante’s group seem only to be there to facilitate his development as a character.
Ninja Theory isn’t exactly known for stellar gameplay, so it’s an accomplishment that DmC plays as well as it does. The controls are tight and responsive, with the lone exception being a slight delay when switching between weapon types. Speaking of which, the weapons are broken down into three general types: “Angel,” “Demon,” and Dante’s trademark pistols and sword. There are additional firearms introduced in the later stages of the game, as well. Switching between these weapons simple, with the Left Trigger controlling the “Angel” weapons (which are bluish in color) and the Right Trigger controlling the “Demon” weapons (which are of a reddish hue). The combos are simple and don’t require much in the way of complicated sequences, but the main way to get high scores is to constantly switch between the different weapon types and the variations of each one (using the d-pad). Combat then plays out in a rapid-fire, multi-weapon death dance in which Dante is constantly switching between weapons to attack different enemies. The game also does a good job of forcing players to switch, as certain enemies are immune to attacks from certain weapon types, or certain environments might have areas that are harmful to players unless they are in a specific state (either “Angel” or “Demon”). The game creates interesting combat scenarios using variations on these enemy and environmental types, and players will eventually find themselves rapidly switching back and forth not as a matter of style, but survival.
Hidden in the depths of DmC‘s code lies a remarkably competent platformer, as well. Again, Ninja Theory plays with the “Angel” and “Demon” states by using each state’s grappling hook ability (pulling Dante to an enemy or object, or pulling the object or enemy towards Dante, respectively) in combination with various jumping puzzles to test players’ command of the controls and precision with them. For the most part, the controls perform admirably in these sections, with the slight delay in choosing between states being the only problem. Eventually it’s possible to get accustomed to the rhythm of the platforming, and at that point these sections become wonderful palate cleansers.
Collectibles are hidden throughout each of DmC‘s 20 missions, and the game employs a MetroidVania style of collecting them. It’s simple to go back to missions once the game has been completed, and players will find that previously impassible doors and walls have been rendered easily passable using Dante’s abilities gained later in the game.
DmC: Devil May Cry is a great game. It proves Ninja Theory’s capabilities as a character-action game developer and reinvents the series’ formula for a new audience. Although fans that have a narrow view of what Devil May Cry is might want to start a riot when reading certain parts of this review (30 fps is a sticking point for many, but is available on the PC version), it’s a game worth anyone’s time, fan of the series or not. For more information, check out our video companion below, which may contain minor environmental spoilers for the middle of DmC: Devil May Cry. Are you interested in playing DmC? Am I totally off-base? Comment below.
A copy of DmC: Devil May Cry for the Xbox 360 was provided to the reviewer for the purposes of this review.