Barely two weeks in, and 2013 has already brought us its first great game. Crafted by the UK’s Ninja Theory under the supervision of Capcom, DmC reboots the Devil May Cry series with a mix of flair, technical virtuosity and compelling narrative, instantly making you forget the disappointing Devil May Cry 4 and embrace the new ‘emo’ Dante. This isn’t just a good Devil May Cry but a great one, and an action game that can stand proudly with the likes of Bayonetta, God of War II and Ninja Gaiden: Black.
It’s not difficult to spot what Ninja Theory has bought to the series, or what it has thrown away. Where the old Dante gave us the demon slayer as a hair metal rock star, the new Dante is a skinny whelp with alternative leanings, but with the same proclivities for cheap sex and cheaper violence, and the same middle-finger flipping attitude. The neo-classical architecture, the fantasy-horror and the convoluted storylines are still there, but they’ve been given a gritty, grungy makeover and a more grounded emotional reality. It’s not that DmC can’t be ridiculous at times, but its excesses aren’t so cheesy. If old Devil May Cry was the equivalent of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond (or even Roger Moore’s), DmC is the Daniel Craig interpretation.
The plot recasts Devil May Cry and Devil May Cry 3, covering Dante’s battle against a demon overlord, Mundus, with the aid of his long-lost brother, Vergil, and a youthful witch. Here Mundus is the head of a shadowy organisation that secretly rules the Earth, and lurking beneath our mortal plane we find the hellish world of Limbo, where monsters walk among us and everything is twisted into dark new forms. It’s a great concept, mixing dark fantasy with The Matrix, and the strong story gives the controversial new Dante a depth the original sword-swinging dude never had.
Otherwise, Ninja Theory has worked on bringing Devil May Cry into the modern age. After the awkward semi-fixed perspectives of Devil May Cry 4 we finally have a proper 3D world with a fully controllable camera, and a very impressive world it is too. With the Unreal 3 engine providing underpinnings, the detail in the characters and scenery is consistently dazzling, and the use of colour, distortion effects and lighting is masterly, making each trip into Limbo a treat for the eyes. DmC is rich in spectacle. If you like to see cities torn apart, giant monsters being battled or strange netherworlds twisting away into the horizon, then this is the game for you. Creature design is on the kind of level you’d expect from Capcom’s own studios (i.e. very good indeed) and the animation is beautifully done.
None of this would matter had Ninja Theory messed up the gameplay, and while previous effort Heavenly Sword had some brilliant blade-on-blade action, I had doubts that DmC could match God of War or Ninja Gaiden in this department. I needn’t have worried. Dante still has all the sword-swinging, pistol-shooting, monster-juggling moves that one might wish for, and the fighting system is both fluid and rich in depth. Along with timing-based fast and heavy sword attacks and dual-pistol/shotgun firing moves, all at a tap or hold of a face button, Dante can switch to special angelic or demonic weapons by holding the left or right shoulder buttons. Scythes, gauntlets, axes and flying glaives all come into play, each proving useful for crowd control or fighting off specific foes.
It’s a brilliant system, and DmC throws up fight after fight that tests it to the limit. The difficulty curve in the standard Demon Hunter level is just about right, pushing you to think about your attacks and work on your evade moves without punishing you for any lapse like a Ninja Gaiden would. If you need more of a challenge, then the Nephilim level delivers and there’s a Human difficulty level if you want an easy ride. There’s variety too, with massive battles against hordes of cannon fodder demons, tough scraps against big or fast enemies, and plenty of fights that mix the two. Nearly every combat leaves you feeling relieved that you made it through alive, and eager to see what awaits you around the next corner.
There’s not a lot of exploration in DmC, which might disappoint fans looking for the original’s Resident Evil roots, but there is some excellent platforming, powered by some handy double and gliding jumps and angelic and demonic grapples with chain-swinging and object-tugging powers. There are a handful of set-piece sequences that border on quick time events, but these are kept mercifully short and sweet, and usually come with some big cinematic payoff. Meanwhile, each level has its own distinct look and feel, and its own new challenges. If DmC grows ever-so-slightly tired towards its climax and suffers from at least one tedious boss battle, then it’s easy to forgive it: for most of its ten to twelve hour running time it’s real thrill-a-minute stuff.
That’s ten to twelve hours for a single play-through, too. Like previous Devil May Cry games, and indeed most Capcom classics, DmC is built for replay. There are hidden tortured souls in need of releasing, concealed challenge missions to unlock, and ratings to improve for every level, with your ranking posted to a global leaderboard. What’s more, completing the game once opens up new difficulty levels, with new different waves of tougher foes in greater numbers, and ultra-hardcore Heaven and Hell modes where everything including Dante dies after just one hit. I’m not a huge replay fan. Once a game is done it’s done, and I have other games to go onto. DmC, however, has me coming back for a second go. That’s a sure sign of its lasting appeal.
After the horrors of Resident Evil: Outbreak and the disappointments of Resident Evil 6, Capcom has finally got something right. Ninja Theory’s reimagining of Devil May Cry has some of the best combat and most lavish spectacle of any game in its genre, and it’s a vast improvement on the backwards-looking Devil May Cry 4. The new Dante is a more likable hero than you might expect, and the twisted demon worlds of Limbo offer gamers a challenge they can get their teeth into. No matter how casual or hardcore you see yourself, there’s a game worth cherishing in here. This is the best gaming reboot since Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and it’s good to see the series return in such winning style.