Reboots are dangerous. Fiddle with a loved property and you stand to incite the ire of its devoted fans. This was just the challenge at hand when Ninja Theory began work on a reboot/prequel of the classic Capcom action franchise Devil May Cry. The first wave of discontent came when the developer revealed a grimier, punk take on the main character’s style–a younger Dante with dark hair. It seemed like Ninja Theory didn’t know how to handle the beloved character. However, now that the completed package is in the hands of gamers, I am happy to report that Ninja Theory knocked it out of the park, delivering a stylish and edgy reboot and an all-around fantastic action game.
First and foremost, the renewal of the character is far from the travesty fans were expecting at Dante’s first reveal. Besides the hair, the other main change is Dante’s parentage, which has been altered slightly to make his father a demon and his mother an angel. This makes Dante Nephilim the only being with the power to end the reign of Mundus.
In this new storyline, Mundus reigns over Limbo City, controlling humans through a combination of soda and deceptive news broadcasting. Sounds schmaltzy, but it works with the crazy vibe Ninja Theory is going for. This being a reboot/prequel, Vergil is on Dante’s side (though one could reasonably guess this might change for the next game), leading an underground movement against Mundus and his demons, who reside in a hell peripheral to our world called Limbo. Limbo exists just under the tangible layer of the human world, and the demons under the command of Mundus reside here.
Ninja Theory’s penchant for creating deep characters through well-acted performances shines here, with outstanding motion capture and animations that give a very human element to the digital characters. Smaller things in the cutscene, like an actor’s involuntary twitch of the eye or small body movement, show here as well. This developer is on par with such masters as Naughty Dog and Rockstar, sitting on the bleeding edge of digital performance capture.
Combat is as great as ever. The controller has one button each assigned to guns and Dante’s main sword “Rebellion,” but progression through the story unlocks a handful of additional weapons, including those aligned with Heaven and Hell. Angelic weapons generally yield lighter and speedier attacks, while demonic weapons favor heavier and slower attacks. Switching between them is a breeze–simply holding down the left or right trigger activates one of the additional weapons, with the d-pad switching between weapons of the same type. Dante also has access to a sort of supernatural grappling hook for each side: Demonic pulls objects and enemies, and Angelic pulls Dante to them, and either can be used at any time. With this scheme, it’s possible to string together endless combos utilizing all of the weapons Dante has access to.
This is the beauty of the DmC combat system: similar to 2009’s Bayonetta, the system has an accessibility that allows button mashing if need be, but it’s much more rewarding to learn and master the combos and string them together. Of course, it woudn’t be a DMC game without the Style system, and this game has it intact: any combat action performed feeds into the Style meter, which fills in letters from D all the way up to SSS. Mixing up attacks, executing perfect dodges, and utilizing both the environment and other enemies’ attacks are much healthier for the meter, and will result in significantly more points. Getting hit will knock the meter down two ranks, so staying mobile is important for a higher score. Compared to older DMC games, this one is quite a bit easier on the default difficulty level, though the myriad selection of higher difficulty levels that introduce such variables as one-hit kills for all parties return things to their old-school feel. These higher difficulties also mix up enemy spawn patterns and attacks, making for quite a bit of replayability.
There is a strong cerebral and tactical element to combat as well—several enemies are impervious to a specific type of weapon, necessitating the use of others. Other enemies will dodge one type of grab until their shields are depleted, and till others fire projectiles that can be deflected with a well-timed button press. In the second half of the game, two or more of these types of enemies will appear simultaneously, requiring a very strong awareness of the battlefield and management of adversaries. Things can get as involved as switching between weapon types mid-combo in the name of crowd control. Each of Dante’s weapons, including the several additional weapons Dante acquires over the course of the game, can be infused with a variety of upgrades that add new attacks and increase damage, opening up vast new combat options.
I was initially a little disappointed at the lack of a lock-on system and the ability to cycle through targets, but after playing the game more and getting used to a remarkably intuitive automatic system, I don’t even miss it. The game is extremely good at knowing which enemy you want to aim for, commonly going for the enemy closest to Dante in his immediate field of view.
The boss battles, while good, aren’t really anything to write home about compared to past DMC games, and they certainly lack the inventiveness of other similarly-styled action games, particularly those coming out of Japan. Save for the final battle, all of the bosses rely on the “rule of three” of classic 3D platformers, as well as recognizing patterns and heavily telegraphed attacks. It’s a lone disappointment in an otherwise stellar game, and it certainly should not deter a playthrough.
Limbo has to be one of the most interesting and creative visual treats in a video game in quite a long time. From pieces of the world breaking apart to form a path above oblivion, to an entire world flipped upside down with rain falling upwards, Ninja Theory pulled out all of the creative stops when designing the demon world. When Dante gets pulled into Limbo, words screamed by unseen demons appear on the walls, and parts of the world shatter apart and remain suspended in midair. One of the more exciting levels takes place in a devilish nightclub, and as the walls slide up to trap Dante in an arena, silhouettes of moshing bodies behind the walls can be seen as lights flash across the dance floor. What the level transforms into is just too good to spoil. The Limbo levels consistently thrill with their visual inventiveness, and pressing forward to see what they serve up next is engaging.
The soundtrack is the best it has ever been for the series. Ditching the generic metal of the past games, the reboot utilizes the joint efforts of Noisia and Combichrist for a thundering industrial metal background with a good selection of actual songs. When the music kicks in, it really gets the blood pumping. There are also a handful of quieter instrumental tracks for cutscenes focused on exposition. The whole package is a grimy symphony that perfectly executes the tone of the game.
In fact, darn near every piece of the game is handled magnificently, with each one sliding perfectly into place to complete a brilliantly executed action experience with strong characters and an emotional undercurrent. It’s less concerned with feeding nostalgia and more concerned with ushering in a new class of high-caliber action gameplay. Fans may have had the right to be wary at the first few teasers, but with a game this good, the only players that will have any major issues with this game are the ones who go into it stubbornly prepared to preemptively hate it. With DMC, 2013 is off to one hell of a solid start.
DmC: Devil May Cry was developed by Ninja Theory and published by Capcom. A PlayStation 3 copy of the game was purchased by the editor for review purposes.