Developed by Ninja Theory as a reboot to the fantastic Devil May Cry third-person action series, DmC Devil May Cry received a lot of criticism for its radical changes to the franchise. Whilst still a similar type of game, DmC was developed using the Unreal Engine and featured a completely different Dante — the protagonist — than the previous titles. It also seemed far darker and serious than before. As a fan of Devil May Cry myself, I was sceptical. Admittedly, I approached the demo of the game at Eurogamer as such.
DmC‘s demo was split into two parts — a regular stage and a boss battle. I sampled both, initiating with the first choice. Immediately, I’m introduced to Dante’s self-centred attitude as he knocks a can out of a passer-by’s hand whilst telling him, “It’ll kill ya.” Not a great first impression. I watch as Dante is discovered by a camera and the environment shifts, the camera changing into a demonic eyeball. Gameplay begins and the stage continues to change, it all looks very nifty. It doesn’t take long for demons to spawn, and for the fighting to commence. Unfamiliar with how this new Dante feels, I take him for a spin.
Attacking the demons in front of me, I discover both that Dante’s animations feel a little stiff and that the game lacks hard-lock — the ability to hold down a button to target a specific enemy. Instead DmC opts to rely on soft-lock — targeting the enemies nearest to Dante automatically. Consequently, abilities such as dodging and launching enemies into the air, which relied on hard-lock previously, have now been assigned their own button. Regardless, techniques like Dante’s Stinger (which sees him dashing forward to pierce his enemies, requiring the use of both a direction and attack button) still exist, but are more random and frustrating to use.
Despite addressing the lack of hard-lock with the new dodge and launch buttons, I can’t help but feel that the controls are counter-intuitive and more clunky. Previously, one button handled every physical attack — and it achieved brilliant results. Having to use another button may seem minor, but it’s a step back from just how well controlled Devil May Cry was before.
The franchise has always been notable for the depth in it’s combo mechanic, relying on timed button presses rather than specific button sequences. Brief pauses in player inputs can result in varying outcomes, with a number of new attacks being performed when selecting different timing in attacks. Despite losing hard-lock, DmC still manages to keep the intricacies found in previous Devil May Cry titles. Players can also still take advantage of jump cancelling to extend aerial combos, change weapons mid-combo for more variety, use guns for ranged attacks, and make use of a grappling hook ability to influence the pace of battle (seen previously in Devil May Cry 4). It’s all still there, and it’s leaps beyond the average action game. Although, much like the controls, the flow of battle also suffers a little from the soft-lock.
Ultimately, Dante may have more control over the battle, but his dodge ability also breaks the flow a little. Essentially, dodging will have Dante leap out of the way to avoid incoming attacks. Whilst that may obviously serve its purpose, it also interrupts the fight. Sure, the player could grab the enemy and pull them closer, but that’s putting the fight on hold for at least a second or two. This may sound minor, but dodging in this title feels more like retreating than avoiding an attack. It makes Dante feel less powerful, and it ends your combo. Previously, dodging would allow you to extend your combo instead of being hit by just simply side-stepping in close to the enemy, or hopping over their attack. It’s amazing how much it’s the little things that make a difference.
Much like the previous games, DmC scores players on how well they fight. As Dante unleashes his plethora of combos, the player will gain new Stylish Ranks. Mixing up combos will result in increasing Stylish Rank; however, different enemies also have varying effects on the rank as well — with attacking the boss on the second stage resulting in the rank improving much quicker, but I’m getting ahead of myself. As the rank increases, the music changes and players are rewarded more points for their attacks. Similar to Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening and Devil May Cry 4, the player’s rank will not decrease unless the player is hit or leaves combat.
Enemies themselves also appear to be well designed, each with their own strategy. Some enemies require the use of parrying, some require the use of a specific weapon, some require the player to pull their shield off them, and some require getting behind them. It’s the diverseness of enemies that promotes experimenting with new abilities.
The first stage of the demo also introduced me to the title’s new platforming element, which seemingly replaces the franchise’s puzzle element. The platforming feels somewhat clunky initially. A couple of players struggled before me when attempting to glide, making them look awful considering how easy it looked to use. When attempting it myself, the controls didn’t feel very responsive, with gliding itself suffering from a delay after I input the command. It took some adjustment, although this may have been an issue with the PlayStation 3 controller’s trigger button. Beyond that issue, the platforming in the demo was simple, involving either jumping between platforms or creating platforms using either the push or pull function of the grapple hook. The platforming also took advantage of the shifting environment, which was really cool to say the least.
The second stage of the demo introduced the boss battle. It echoed the first stage in that it mixed up the simple platforming with the fighting. It was in this fight that I actually discovered how easy it was to parry… and how horrible the dialogue could be. “Fuck you,” says the old bag demon, who is over one thousand-two hundred years old.
“Fuck you!” Dante exclaims with a smirk.
“Fuck you!” shouts the boss, vomiting up as she shrieks. I wish I was making this up. As an opponent, she made her attacks very obvious, as she swings wide giving the player enough time to attack her hand — which parries her attack. The window for parrying seems huge, and I didn’t need to keep on my toes to succeed at all. After unleashing a flurry of attacks on her, she would then regain her composure and either begin trying to slap Dante again, or make the platform dangerous to step on, temporarily. To escape, simply using the grappling hook ability would land Dante on another platform. This process repeated for a couple of times until gameplay completely stopped, and the boss hung loose.
I must have spent at least fifteen minutes trying to figure out what to do next, with the support of an incredibly small crowd behind me. We tried everything. Shooting the boss, using the grappling hook to attack some of the cables, as the appeared to be, that connected to her, trying to physically reach her using broken, floating platforms. We even tried all the exact same stuff on each and every platform. Nothing worked.
It turns out that the boss freezing was a glitch. A quick search on YouTube would land me plenty of videos which showed the boss eventually getting up from that position, after a minute or two of rest. I also discovered that this event was intended to occur when I emptied her first health bar, when in reality I had just emptied her second. Unfortunately, this meant that I couldn’t finish the boss battle. If Capcom staff had been there at the time, maybe I would have realised sooner and restarted the boss earlier in the fight. At this stage I was holding up the queue, and it was time to leave. My time with DmC Devil May Cry wasn’t exactly brief, but while it was spoiled towards the end I must note that the title is still in development, and that bugs like this are still to be expected.
Now, we reach the difficult part: the conclusion, and the difficult choice that comes with it. Should I approach DmC Devil May Cry as a sequel to Devil May Cry 4, or should I approach it as a fresh new title since it’s a reboot? I can safely say that as a new title it holds its own well, but that’s simply due to the fact that it borrows from Devil May Cry‘s successful mechanics. So how does DmC hold as a Devil May Cry game?
Platforming is introduced in this reboot, replacing puzzles. Unlike the puzzle sections previously in the franchise, the platforming sections blend better with the action. Aerial combos see a new focus, whether for better or worse. And lastly, the grappling hook ability introduced in DMC4 has been enhanced to have both push and pull abilities. But, for every step forward DmC also takes another step back. DmC Devil May Cry feels more like it just takes the mechanics presented in previous games only to mimic them instead of contributing to them. Sadly, it’s also held back by the regression in control scheme and a lack of polish some of the little touches in Devil May Cry always had right. The franchise was, in part, innovative because of how it controlled.
DmC is primarily an action game, but its only real contributions lie in its platforming segments. Much like DMC2 and DMC4, DmC seems linear, which also means it loses that three-dimensional metroidvania gameplay style that was prevalent in the two most well received titles from the franchise.
On its own, DmC Devil May Cry is gearing up to be a good game. As a Devil May Cry game though, it still feels like it has further to go. It’ll be interesting to see how the final product shapes up.
Edit: Removed use of “tells” and instead made sentence about the demo’s boss more clear.