The lights are on
Dante really wants to know what you think of his new look. Oh wait, no he doesn't.
Call me a DMC fanboy, but I wholeheartedly love the franchise. Ever since the original Devil May Cry on PS2, I have delighted in taking these games for a spin, racking up insane combos and gracefully slaying demons to my heart's content. Full disclosure: I didn't even really dislike DMC2 all that much. Sure, the game was too easy, but I was really into the visual aesthetic of the game, and I liked the different interpretation of Dante as a character (a stoic, world-weary warrior nearing the end of his adventures). I guess that's one of the reasons why I never really minded Ninja Theory changing Dante's physical appearance so drastically in this game.
To tackle the elephant in the room right off the bat: Dante is still as fun of a character as he ever was. Just like in franchise high-point Devil May Cry 3, Dante is a wisecracking rebel who doesn't take crap from anyone; I found myself internally cheering at some of his moments in the game, which I won't spoil here. One thing that Ninja Theory managed to do with Dante, and with his twin brother Vergil as well, was really flesh him out as a character, making the gamer connect with him on a level that never really occurred in previous games. One of the best examples of this is in his relationship with Kat, the story's female lead; over the course of the game, Dante and Kat's relationship grows from one of necessity at the behest of Vergil to one of friendship and maybe even a little more than that. Another aspect of Dante's character that was never really explored before this game is his more merciful side; again, in the interest of avoiding spoilers I won't reveal how this is portrayed in the game, but it is there. In all, Dante has become a much more complex character in DmC and that is a good thing.
The combat in DmC plays out a lot like the Nero segments of DMC4. One of the biggest disappointments, for me, about DMC4 was that once control switched back to Dante, I found myself wishing I was still playing as Nero. The main reason for this was Nero's Devil Bringer, his demonic arm that he used to pull enemies towards himself, or to pull himself toward bigger enemies; the Devil Bringer made combat so much more fast-paced and fluid in DMC4, so much so that when playing as Dante (who didn't have it) the pace of the fighting slowed down a bit. To solve this problem, Ninja Theory opted to give DmC's Dante his own version of the Devil Bringer, a whip that has a demonic function (pulling enemies toward Dante) and an angelic function (pulling Dante toward enemies, big or small). With this addition to his arsenal, Dante is more mobile in DmC than he ever was in the other games, which ultimately makes combat more exciting and fluid. Even the game's platforming segments, which are quite good, benefit from the inclusion of the whips; using the demonic whip to pull a new platform in front of Dante, only to quickly switch to the angelic whip in midair to pull him toward it (just before falling) provided a satisfying challenge between fights.
Combat has a great flow to it.
Ninja Theory should be applauded for overhauling the process of upgrading Dante's character. Now, instead of having to spend the series-regular red orbs received from killing enemies on both items and skills, Dante gets both red orbs (used for items) and white experience orbs, which he used to upgrade skills. Each white orb Dante acquires fills up a meter, and when the meter is full he gains one skill point. Each weapon Dante gets has a list of different skills attached to it; each skill only costs one point, no matter what, so players have a great deal of flexibility in how they customize their version of Dante. One of the biggest sources of stress in the older games was wanting to unlock a new move while also desperately needing green health stars to prevent dying in the middle of a boss fight. That difficult decision is now no longer a factor.
The weapons Dante gains access to are also fairly interesting in DmC. Aside from the standard Rebellion blade and his trademark pistols, Ebony and Ivory, Dante also acquires demonic weapons (slow, heavy damage) and angelic weapons (fast, light damage). By holding down the left or right trigger for angelic or demonic weapons, respectively, Dante can easily switch between weapons mid-combo; this makes racking up a better score a tad easier than in previous games, because players can rely less on mixing up their combos with one weapon and instead choose to switch back and forth between three weapons quickly. In addition, Dante also gets a powerful shotgun and a remote-detonated grenade launcher (humorously labeled "Kablooey").
The environments in the game are the real show-stealers, though. Dante spends the majority of each level trapped in an alternate dimension called "Limbo." In Limbo, demons can spawn at any moment to attack, the landscapes become highly stylized and exaggerated, and the very environments themselves try to murder Dante at every turn. One memorable sequence in the game comes to mind in which Dante must reach a stained-glass window in a church, upon which a portal out of Limbo has been created. As the player attempts to run to the window, the church stretches out to an impossible length, the floor begins to break apart, and the pieces attempt to move out of Dante's reach as he tries gliding across them. The environments are also pretty fairly varied, with a personal favorite being a scene in techno club that has been distorted by Limbo into a neon-rave fever dream.
The story is much more prominent in DmC than in previous entries, and it is also much easier to follow, which can be either a good or a bad thing. The basic set-up is that the demon king Mundus has taken human form and has managed to ensnare the global economy under a net of debt, which he controls; to make matters worse, Mundus keeps humanity docile and misinformed thanks to a demonically drugged soda called Virility and the blatantly FOX News-esque Raptor News Network. Dante, the son of Sparda, a demon knight, and Eva, an angel, is reunited with his long-lost twin brother, Vergil, who plans to take revenge on Mundus for the murder of their mother and the eternal exile of their father. What follows is a fairly standard tale of sabotage and deceit, with a few little twists thrown in to keep things interesting. One of the most compelling aspects of the narrative was definitely the character of Vergil; longtime fans of the series know how his relationship with Dante must develop, so watching their alliance take shape over the course of the game was really fun as a longtime fan.
Vergil is one of the best parts of the game.
One note on difficulty: the game can be a bit on the easy side, even on the hardest default difficulty, Nephilim. Anyone who has beaten Devil May Cry 1 or 3 should immediately start on Nephilim; any newcomers to the series might want to start on Demon Hunter, the medium setting. I honestly cannot imagine anyone needing to resort to Human, the easy setting, as even completely new players should be able to get through the game on Demon Hunter.
The game has a fair number of collectibles and secrets to uncover as well. Around 15 or so of the game's 20 stages have hidden challenge doors that must be unlocked with hidden keys found in remote parts of each level; the reward for completing the challenges is 1/4 of an item which, when four pieces are collected, will permanently boost Dante's health or Devil Trigger meter. These secrets cannot all be acquired on a single playthrough, so going back to earlier stages with endgame skills/equipment is a requirement for 100% completion.
There are only a couple real complaints to level against DmC, and this is a complaint that has been fairly common amongst reviewers, is the boss battles. With the exception of two battles, including the final fight of the game, DmC's bosses are pretty lackluster. They generally fall into the pattern-recognition style and, despite their often large sizes, they do not put up much of a challenge. A game like Devil May Cry would really benefit from bosses that focus on a more one-on-one duel format, rather than Dante versus a behemoth, because the true star of any Devil May Cry game is the combat. The best fight in the series will always be the battle against Vergil at the end of DMC3 for that very reason. Other than the boss fights, only complaints would be the lack of a target-lock feature (which led to some awkward moments in the heat of battle) and the game's length, which felt a little on the short side.
In all, DmC is a fine exampl of a reboot done right; Ninja Theory was able to distance their effort enough from past games so that it could stand on its own, but they nailed the combat and characters well enough to still make it feel like Devil May Cry. Whether Ninja Theory returns to make a sequel to this new DmC, or whether Capcom decides to return to the classic style, fans can find a great deal to like in DmC. Don't judge a book by its cover, give the first major release of 2013 a fighting chance; it won't disappoint.