Capcom and Ninja Theory are returning to the demon-hunting franchise Devil May Cry with the raucous reboot DmC Devil May Cry, which casts the sarcastic son of Sparda in a new light. Join us for the next 4 days as we discuss Devil May Cry, both old and new, leading up to the game’s release.
I won’t admit to being wrong very often. I’m a man of proud Eastern European descent, which means that, even when I am actually in the wrong, I will fight tooth and nail to find a scapegoat for my error. When someone finally corners me properly, I will sheepishly admit my fault and then quickly divert attention elsewhere to save some of my pride.
So now I sit here, controller still warm from my playthrough of DmC Devil May Cry, Ninja Theory’s reboot/reimagining/alternate universe/whatever it may be of the classic Capcom franchise, and I’m happy—no, excited—to admit that I was wrong. There are crumbs of humble pie and bits of crow on my face, and I don’t care; I was wrong.
When DmC was first announced (without the Devil May Cry subtitle), I was disgusted. Not only was Capcom foisting development of the series off to Ninja Theory, a (gasp!) British developer, but they had cast Dante in a new light. No longer were we dealing with the white-haired, lovably cocksure scoundrel that we’d all fallen for from the first game, but a young, skinny, dark-haired kid…and kind of a douchebag at that. Early trailers had him spouting some lame duck one-liners that lacked the rapier wit of the originals, even if they hinted at the same devil-may-care attitude, even going so far as to scribble “fuck you” on a bouncer’s clipboard after he’d decked the poor slob. This wasn’t Dante, this was some sort of imposter, a wannabe brat with a faux punk-rock sensibility and a terrible barber.
My attitude towards Dante hasn’t changed much after playing DmC Devil May Cry. He’s still a douchebag, and sometimes he’s damn unlikeable, but something happens over the 20 missions of the game that makes the character change work: he grows up. This really is a hero’s journey, from nymphomaniac anarchist living in a trailer with a chip on his shoulder to an inhuman freedom fighter who discovers his true place in the world. It’s surprisingly affecting stuff at times, as we get to see this emotionally retarded young man grow into what he is supposed to be, even if he is a bit obnoxious and arrogant.
The story hasn’t just changed Dante, either. Original series villain Vergil is now working side-by-side with his brother to overthrow the demonic regime of Mundus (yup, he’s back, too), who has subjugated the human race with the one-two punch of the Raptor News Network (a thinly-veiled jab at a certain Rupert Mudoch-owned news outlet) and Virility, a soft drink that has all of the popularity of Coca-Cola in this world due to its secret ingredient. There are some obvious references to cinema of the last 3 decades, from the subliminal billboards a la They Live and the idea of an entire population living a manufactured existence like The Matrix, and all of these nods and winks add up to a fast-paced, fun romp that feels very 1980’s in a good way. The dialogue is serviceable, sometimes funny, with quick notes of puerile humor to break up the incredibly dark tone. There’s an early exchange between Dante and a boss monster that quickly escalates until the two of them are eye to eye, screaming “fuck you” at each other with all the maturity of a middle-school tussle. It was immature, sure, but the delivery was impeccable and the outcome amusing. There’s some other satirical elements that work surprisingly well, which reminded me at times of John Carpenter (naturally, given the They Live connection) and Paul Verhoeven’s consumerist satire that he injected into the likes of Robocop.
This involving story and amusing characterization would be all for naught if the gameplay wasn’t solid, and Ninja Theory certainly made sure that that base was covered perfectly. This is Devil May Cry as you know and love it, with your mainstay weapons of Rebellion, Ebony, and Ivory being joined by several other weapons that you can switch to with a flick of the trigger. Dante’s new origin (his father is still the Dark Knight Sparda, but his mother is now an angel) means that he has angelic and demonic weapons to switch off in the heat of battle, which makes the game’s style-based combat sing. Certain enemies are only vulnerable to certain weapon types, and the game throwing fire- and ice-based foes at you simultaneously leads to some truly chaotic battles, switching from demonic to angelic and back again within a matter of moments. It’s still hard as hell to get that perfect SSS rating, but it’s damn fun to try. Controls are tight, and not once did I feel that any falls, missed steps, or parried blows was anyone’s fault but my own.
This is especially important given the new game world of Limbo, which is a hellish reflection of the real world. Limbo is a living, breathing place with a very loose set of physics that seethes with a hateful life of its own. Approaching a wall leads to a cancerous black growth blooming across its surface, and trashcans and lampposts crumple in your presence. Oftentimes, the world completely loses its sense of gravity and weight, and tears itself apart, snarling a threat in your direction—complete with environmental subtitles—before thrashing itself to pieces. Bridges become a series of weightless islands, walls merge together to crush you between their planes, and what was once a half-step quickly becomes an obstacle course. These moments are deviously planned, with many jumps leading to harrowing moments where you just land on the nearest edge of a platform, giving you that momentary twinge of fear as you expect a plunge to your doom.
Finally, there’s presentation—always a Ninja Theory forte—which DmC Devil May Cry nails almost perfectly. The Unreal-engine powered visuals are gorgeous to behold, although there are some hideously low-resolution textures mucking up the otherwise impeccable graphics. The frame rate is buttery-smooth (crucial in a game this chaotic and fast) and the motion capture is simply stunning. The facial expressions are captured flawlessly, right down to characters pressing their lips together tightly when deep in thought, which is one of those small details that make something feel that much more real. Audio is equally punchy, with the sort of loud, bombastic mayhem you would expect from 9-odd hours of swordfighting and gunplay. The music by the bands Noisia and Combichrist also fits the proceedings like a sword in its scabbard, giving a crunching industrial soundtrack which feels right when you’re slaying demons by the dozen. There were a few songs during boss battles that were a little too dubsteppy for my tastes, but they still worked very, very well.
So yes, I was very wrong about DmC Devil May Cry. Ninja Theory clearly has the same deep affection that we all do for the source material, and it shines through in the game, which manages to balance old and new perfectly. I felt all the same adrenaline rushes that the previous games brought me while still feeling the sort of wide-eyed excitement that a new franchise can bring. If this is the new direction for the Devil May Cry series, then I’ll gladly accept it with open arms and a waiting controller.
His haircut is still awful, though.