Dante had the cards stacked against him this time around. Ever since Ninja Theory announced their reboot of the venerated Devil May Cry franchise with a gritty mugshot of a scrawny punk-rock Dante, fans of the action gaming god have been up in arms. Most were determined to hate this Westernized take on Capcom's pioneering hack and slasher, some were cautiously optimistic, but hardly anybody was truly, unabashedly hyped to see what Ninja Theory could accomplish with DmC. The reboot game is a difficult one to play, after all – possibly even harder than Devil May Cry 3. You've potentially got a built in audience, but you have to appease that audience while simultaneously offering something fresh to draw in new fans. Ninja Theory seemed like they were poised to bet big on DmC, with a bold new design for Dante and a greater emphasis on story while maintaining the stylish gameplay standards set by Hideki Kamiya more than ten years ago. They were confident, in spite of the criticism Dante's redesign had inspired, and more recent promotional material looked extremely promising. People began to put aside their reservations and consider giving the game a shot. I was one of them. I wanted Ninja Theory to silence the hate and deliver a great action game worthy of the Devil May Cry legacy, no matter what its protagonist looked like.


It's a shame, then, that what they delivered instead was a limp-wristed imitation of Devil May Cry, a paint-by-numbers hack and slasher ridden with cliches and lazy game design. No part of the game is flat out awful; there's nothing particularly broken or unbearable about it. DmC is just plain mediocre, a flatlining pulse that jumps occasionally thanks to some excellent scenery effects, a relatively deep combo system, and some Hollywood-quality cutscene production values. The moments that DmC truly shines are few and far between, though, and that's not enough to revitalize an aging franchise. It may be enough to entertain you for a little bit if you're a casual fan of action games, but you can read on and decide for yourself if the game's pros outweigh the cons.


On with the cons, then. Unfortunately, the much-touted story ended up being a bit of a letdown, especially coming off of Ninja Theory's excellent plot in Enslaved. In this iteration of Devil May Cry, Ninja Theory borrowed liberally from just about every dystopian resistance movie out there, with special borrowing emphasis placed on John Carpenter's They Live. The world has been secretly overtaken by demons this time, rather than aliens, and these particular demons use the conservative media, the stock market, and addictive energy drinks to keep the human populace under control. What a shocker. Their entire operation, of course, is hidden in the parallel world of Limbo, which only a select few “awakened” individuals can see or interact with. As you can tell, the game wears its politics patched right onto its sleeve, and there's not a hint of ambiguity to be found. But this isn't just a bunch of cheap shots aimed at hot-button social issues – this is a Devil May Cry game. You play as Dante, a heavily-armed disaffected youth who can travel freely through Limbo and is soon recruited by the friendly neighborhood resistance movement to fight back against the demons and free humanity from their influence. As it happens, Dante is a half-angel, half-demon hybrid, as is his brother Vergil, who leads the resistance and spends most of the game either delivering exposition or ordering you around. He's a far cry from DMC 3's Vergil, and even without that legacy to live up to, his character is about as bland as they come.


Bland is really the best way I can sum up the story as a whole, actually. There are a couple twists and turns on Dante's quest to fight the establishment, save the girl, and bring down the (demonic) Man, but nothing you haven't seen countless times before and wouldn't be able to see coming from a mile off. Considering how much exposition Vergil spouts, the world of the game still somehow ends up being poorly fleshed out. On top of that, the only character with any sort of arc is Dante himself, and it goes from “badass with a heart of gold” to “badass who is slightly more overt about his heart of gold.” Exciting stuff. Not exactly the knockout story Ninja Theory was boasting about. It's not all bad, though. Even if the dialogue ranges from forgettable to completely ham-fisted, the acting and character animations are fantastic, and go a long way toward selling the game's weak script. Of course, if Ninja Theory can be counted on to do one thing well with their games, it's to craft cutscenes with production values on par with most Hollywood blockbusters. They've delivered once again with DmC, and at times, I could forget the wasted potential and just go along for the ride.



But even if it's something Ninja Theory emphasized, I know there are plenty of gamers who couldn't care less about story. So how about the gameplay? How about the heart and soul of the Devil May Cry franchise? Well, that's more of a mixed bag. The good news is, DmC does an excellent job of preserving the combo system from previous games while simultaneously streamlining the controls and making it easier than ever to chain together massive, multi-weapon combos. In this iteration, Dante has three weapons available at any time – his standard sword, one angel weapon (fast, good for crowd control), and one demon weapon (slow and powerful, good for single enemies). Switching from the sword to one of his other weapons is as easy as holding down one of the triggers, and in no time, you'll be chaining together all three weapons, even if you could never master switching weapons on the fly in the older games.



Unfortunately, a combat system is only as good as the game it fits into, and in DmC's case, the fit leaves something to be desired. The camera is a mess; there's no manual lock-on, and it habitually gets snagged on geometry in tight corridors, so if you're fighting very mobile enemies in a small space, you have to fight with the camera as well if you want to see what's coming at you. It's more of an inconvenience than a handicap, though, because even on the hardest difficulty available at the start, the game is almost pitifully easy, and it hands out SSS ranks for your combos like it's going out of business. Ninja Theory's attempt to balance Dante's insane combo skills creates more problems than it solves, as the later levels are filled with enemies that are immune to all damage except from either angel or demon weapons. So in order to increase the difficulty curve, the game negates Dante's weapon-mixing ability altogether, which cripples the combat system and highlights how shallow each weapon's individual moveset really is. When you're forced to use just one weapon, the fun sputters out quickly, especially against larger enemies that can only be killed with the weaker angel weapons, which are designed explicitly for crowd control and not single combat.


Good game design results in a balance between the players' abilities and the challenges they face. It recognizes the core mechanics of a game and plays to their strengths. Sloppy game design, like in DmC, creates a conflict between mechanics, taking the most successful aspect of the gameplay and stripping it away from the player in order to artificially increase the challenge. The problem is, the challenge desperately needs increasing, because without these enemies to interrupt your combos, Dante could steamroll through the entire game with ease. This includes the embarrassingly easy boss fights, which play out more like interactive cutscenes than any test of skill. The only redeeming boss fight is the one in which you beat up a giant demonic Bill O'Reilly head inside of what is essentially a Fox News broadcast – it's not any more interesting gameplay-wise, but DmC gets points for originality, and more importantly, for letting players punch a giant demonic Bill O'Reilly in the face.



The last element of the gameplay that's worth mentioning is the grapple system, which expands on Nero's Devil Bringer ability from DMC 4 with the choice of either hauling enemies toward you or hurling yourself toward them, along with the chance to use these two grapple moves to traverse the twisted geography of Limbo. The grapple moves work well enough in combat, and learning how to use them effectively will grant you total control over the battlefield. The game relies on them far too much for boss fights and platforming, though, as once you learn to read and react to the overly generous cues that the game provides, these segments lose their edge and become rote. It's a step up from the impossible-to-fail climbing mechanics from Enslaved, but like the combat, it's still just too easy to provide any lasting satisfaction. It could have been a great addition to the gameplay, as Dante's grapple ability allowed Ninja Theory to go all out in designing the surreal landscape of Limbo. It's a fractured world, full of shifting platforms and sentient, warping architecture, and Dante's grapple allows him to swing across huge chasms or pull floating chunks of scenery out for makeshift platforms. It makes for a fascinating setting, and if there had been a bit more challenge to the grapple mechanics, these new gameplay elements would have complemented each other beautifully. As it stands, the grapple is only another aspect of the game that fails to engage and challenge the player.



At the end of the day, this is DmC's greatest flaw. It isn't engaging. It's safe. It sticks to well-worn cliches for its story and the series' legendarily difficult gameplay is stripped of its challenge. It's inoffensive in that regard, so if you're looking for an action game to breeze through that's light on...well, just about everything, you could do worse than DmC. If you're a hardcore hack and slasher vet looking for a new game, I'd suggest looking elsewhere, though. Metal Gear Rising provided much more of a challenge, with a deeper combat system and far better boss fights to boot (if you can't tell, I'm starting to rethink my 7.5 score after playing DmC). Either way, I can't say this bodes well for the future of the Devil May Cry franchise, and if the low sales numbers don't discourage Capcom and Ninja Theory from making a sequel, they have a lot of work to do if they want to get Dante's inferno burning bright again.