DmC: Devil May Cry is the latest entry and reboot of the Devil May Cry franchise, featuring a brand new cast and storyline. The title is so different compared to previous releases that it has spawned massive controversy, revealing the very worst in the games industry. Gaming outlets would insult fans and constantly revel in trying to show them up. Conversely, fans would focus on any minor gripe that they could to project DmC as a failure.
As a fan of Devil May Cry, myself, it’s hard not to be disappointed. The characters that I enjoyed have been replaced, the series has become darker and less crazy, and even the gameplay has been altered to fit Ninja Theory’s artistic designs. Regardless, DmC is a reboot, and such changes are to be expected. I defended the game from some of the sillier criticisms from the start, but does the game actually deserve the criticism it gets? Is it the failure that fans claim?
Developer: Ninja Theory
Genre: Action//Hack-and-Slash, Brawler; Fantasy
Platform: PlayStation 3(Reviewed), Xbox 360, Windows PC
Release Date: 15th January, 2013 (NA/EU); 17th January, 2013 (JP)
Set in a brand new universe, the world is ruled by demons through consumerism and media brainwashing. Social outcast and series protagonist Dante (Tim Phillips) is hunted by the demons who plague society until he meets Wiccan Kat (Sage Mears). Kat introduces Dante to the leader of The Order–a group of rebels fighting the demons and lead by Dante’s twin brother, Vergil (David De Lautour). Vergil informs Dante that they are half Angel/half Demon hybrids and are the only individuals in the world capable of slaying the Demon Lord Mundus (Louis Herthum).
The title plays similarly to previous iterations of the franchise. Players control a demon hunting protagonist capable of super human feats. Unlike most action games, DmC: Devil May Cry challenges players into stringing together a combination of attacks as efficiently as possible in order to take down their foes, rather than mashing at the attack buttons. Players may take advantage of an array of weapons, each with their own attack sets, to rack up “style points”. The combat has more depth than the average hack-and-slash title, with even a pause in button presses constituting as an input for a different attack string. These pauses may also be used to swap from one combo to another, similar combo for another weapon. It’s fun and quite rewarding to mix up things up and experiment with the tools that the game offers. Additionally, the player may time an attack right to parry their opponent’s strike, launch their enemies into the air to unleash air combos, buffer charged attacks, cancel combo strings by jumping off of enemies, or blast away at their foe with their gun. Certainly, the combat offers more than most titles in the hack-and-slash genre, but it also fails to compare to what previous Devil May Cry games offered.
Unfortunately, players who dabble in the mechanics beyond using the standard combos will quickly discover the limit (or “skill ceiling”) of the combat. There are elements of the previous titles that still remain in DmC, but appear to have been implemented with little understanding of their function or use. Consequently, it is far too easy to ruin the balance of the game, with players even being capable of defeating entire health bars of bosses on the highest difficulty in just a single strike or two. This does not even require much skill to execute, simply requiring the use of basic abilities that are readily available, rather than bugs, glitches, or general exploits. It does not take long to master the combat, and the game is clearly designed in a way that suggests that developers were aware of these shortcomings, but yet fail to absolve them. There are many enemies in the game that restrict the player in their abilities or weapons that can be used. These enemies are littered through out the twenty stages of the game — especially on higher difficulties. The game can barely keep up with players who learn simple techniques such as changing weapons between a combo, let alone with skilled players who can take advantage of some of the other relatively more advanced techniques. There may be many tools at the player’s disposal, but this does not constitute as deep gameplay.
Furthermore, DmC‘s own score system is poorly executed. The angel weapons are the most visually interesting weapons in the game, but are the most useless. In comparison, demon weapons tend to be rather bland yet useful. This would have probably been a rather good approach to this stylish action game, where the player must balance style over substance. Instead, the scoring system favours the more powerful attacks, rendering angel weapons unnecessary. The player’s final ranking for a stage is heavily influenced by the player’s score, encouraging the player to exploit the damage-based scoring system to simply rely on the demon weapons and Dante’s neutral sword, Rebellion.
Overall, the enemies in the game simply suffer from a lack of polish. It’s very clear that little time was spent testing the combat, which further leads to the impression that DMC mechanics were just simply added with little thought. Most of the enemies found on later stages or difficulties have a specific affiliation that restricts the weapons that the player can take advantage of. Using anything but angel or demon weapons, depending on the enemy, results in the player being parried. It is a poor design choice that is made even more apparent when the title’s auto-lock feature occasionally interferes with the player when fighting two separate enemy types, often resulting in the player being rendered vulnerable through no fault of their own. While challenge is greatly appreciated in a title that’s [masquerading as] a brawler, removing tools from the player is just not fun in a game about experimenting and mixing up combos. The bosses themselves, usually a highlight in such titles, are just dull and uninteresting. Their attacks amount to nothing short of what would be expected of bosses during an era in which three-dimensional gaming was still being explored. They’re slow, predictable, and probably the easiest enemies to fight in the game.
DmC doesn’t just have combat, though. Splitting up the various fights are long stretches of platforming sections. These platforming sections are very bare-bones, requiring that the player either jumps on to a platform, pull on to a platform, or pull a platform toward them. The platforming ultimately serves as a means to get from point A to point B in the title’s linear level design.
Meanwhile, DmC: Devil May Cry‘s story serves more significance than the platforming. In contrast to previous iterations, DmC‘s story takes a more serious tone than players familiar with DmC will be used to. Intended as a satire, players will be exposed to both literally the ugly face of the consumerism that enslaves us, and the media which imprisons us in our own ignorance. While the title takes good measure to tell us that both aspects of modern society are utterly evil, it fails to actually explore why. Players are beaten with nothing but unsubtle notions that society is corrupt by simply explaining it as: “demons”. Humans are also portrayed as rather angelic beings considering their neutral position, as everything wrong with the world is entirely the demons faults — including any bad experiences the protagonists have had. Meanwhile, the angels that are supposed to be warring with the demons are nowhere in sight. What’s more, it often gets mixed up in its tone in the attempt to make Dante a sarcastic, wise-cracking anarchist.
Dante has little motivation or agency within the plot. Instead, the protagonist blindly follows the orders of his rather cold brother with little hesitation or doubt. It’s partly due to this that the final twist is handled rather clumsily. The main theme of the game is symbolised by Dante’s primary weapon: the Rebellion. Unfortunately, this theme is also poorly explored. Dante is simply a rebel without a cause, given no real reason to rebel and shown no consequence of rebelling. Phillips also performs poorly as Dante, often speaking his lines with deadpan delivery or a clear lack of enthusiasm. Fortunately, the other voice actors all pull their own weight, making up for Phillips’ shortcomings.
Fortunately, the game manages to become quite visually creative, at the very least. The twenty missions can be split into about four of five main sections, each of which consisting of its own visual theme. In the night club section of the game, Dante must fight his way through Limbo (the world between demon and human) with the background styled after audio visual graphics. These are all very interesting, and serve to contrast with the rather dull and grimy looking real world. This is supported by a rather appropriate soundtrack that works wonders with the environment.
For a brawler, DmC: Devil May Cry fails to deliver a capable experience. The gameplay is poorly balanced and lacking, especially on higher difficulties. Fans of the franchise will undoubtedly be disappointed, as the title lacks the depth of previous releases. However, players who play the title as a simple hack-and-slash may find a more rewarding experience than can be found elsewhere.
(DmC: Devil May Cry was completed on every difficulty from the Nephilim difficulty, in roughly fifty hours of game time.)
Edit: The first paragraph about combat has been added to be more positive to ensure that it is clear that the game can be fun for players looking for a hack-and-slash experience. Equally lacking polish, the details about weapon restriction has been moved to the paragraph about enemies and is made more clear.