Last April, I reviewed the Devil May Cry HD collection
. The general theme of that review was that the original Devil May Cry is still the excellent game in was back in the day, while the other two still just exist. What the original lacked in potent visuals, seductive voice acting, and interesting story telling, it more than made up for in gameplay - which was fast and furious in ways that would make Vin Diesel cry in the bathtub. However, it was also clearly meant only for those who wanted to reminisce about the 90’s, because the top-notch gameplay just wasn’t going to be enough to keep very many gamers that didn’t play it in the 90’s interested. I suggested they play Devil May Cry 4 or wait for the “gritty reboot.” If you chose to wait for the “gritty reboot” then your time is now because DmC Devil May Cry is one of the best action games I’ve ever played and easily one of my favorite games of the last 12 months.
DmC Devil May Cry posits a surly, late teens/early twenties Dante who lives in a trailer on the boardwalk, parties all night and sleeps with club girls two at a time. He’s a total douche for sure, but far more relatable to the modern gamer than the previous snowy-haired and stoic Dante. In this incarnation, Dante is half-angel and half-demon and when he’s not sleeping with club girls two at a time, he’s killing demons in Limbo. He has no memory of his past and parents thanks to a bout of meningitis when he was seven. He’s just a dude that lives hard, parties harder, and kills the hardest, while a masked terrorist wreaks havoc throughout the city. Then one day a woman shows up at his trailer to warn him seconds before he’s set upon by a Hunter demon - a demon she claims is too strong for him to fight. This opening sequence seeks to connect new Dante to old Dante via a ridiculous sequence where he dodges the Hunter’s attacks while dressing himself in slow motion. It even includes a ridiculous pizza-based bit of physical comedy straight out of an Austin Powers movie. It was so unexpected that I couldn’t help but laugh, except looking back it wasn’t that unexpected.
Who sent the Hunter demon? Why it was none other than the demon king, Mundus, who, in this incarnation, is a plutocrat with enough power to boss around the President of the United States. Whether this is an intentional political statement, I can’t say for sure; however, it’s not like the demon that secretly rules the world through the acquisition of debt would be a hippie vegetarian. Mundus and his “girl” friend Lilith paint a scary picture thanks to their off-putting faces that may or may not have been rendered as ugly as possible on purpose. If it was on purpose, it totally works. I wanted nothing more than to take out Mundus and Lilith if for no other reason than their nightmarish faces.
Anyway, once Dante vanquishes the Hunter, the woman that warned him, named Cat, takes him to meet her boss Virgil, who also happens to be the masked terrorist the local Rush Limbaugh-like anchor of the ubiquitous Raptor News Network is constantly railing about early on in the game’s background. Virgil is also fighting against Mundus and he needs Dante’s help, and help he does. Along the way, Dante learns much of his forgotten past and he learns how to wield a number of weapons and perform a multitude of attacks and terrain traversal techniques. And you, as Dante, will need to get comfortable with most of them over the course of DmC Devil May Cry’s 20 levels and, roughly, 8 -15 hours of gameplay (depending on your chosen level of challenge).
The story, itself, is pretty standard videogame fare. However, unlike the original it makes much more than the barest lick of sense. The characters, their roles, and their relationships to one another are clearly presented and the dialogue is sharp and well voiced. The back and forth between Virgil and Dante is especially well done. It’s clear that both men want the same thing, but don’t agree with each other’s methods while Virgil clearly thinks he holds some advantage over Dante that only he’s privy to. Their relationship plays out in a way that will probably be obvious to Devil May Cry veterans, but it’s fun to watch nonetheless. As far as the new Dante goes, I’m sure someone out there will hate the fact that his hair is brown instead of white and that he actually has an emotion other than “anger” and “damn I’m awesome” but I’m not that person. I’m sure there are others that will lament the change of developers from Capcom to Ninja Theory, but honestly, it was the right move. Ninja Theory seems able to tell a coherent story in a way that Capcom just can’t or doesn’t care to. And really, the story and personalities are all that changed.
As well done as the game’s cut-scenes and voice acting are, it’s the combat that makes up the meat of my praise for DmC. You start with the sword Rebellion and the pistols, Ebony and Ivory, but soon you gain access to a powerful axe, a scythe, gauntlets, and a pair of chakrams. The axe and gauntlets are powered by Dante’s demon half, while the scythe and chakrams use his angel half. Switching between his demon and angel weapons is done with the left and right triggers, while Rebellion remains the default weapon accessible by simply not holding either trigger. This system allows for wonderfully seamless weapon switching in mid-combat or even mid-combo. In fact, many combos call for the use of two weapons. Chaining combos naturally requires the use of every weapon in Dante’s arsenal. That gets a little trickier, but never comes of as something only meth addict on a 4-week Red Bull bender could pull off. The D-pad switches between your equipped demon and angel weapons. Some combos require swapping those weapons mid-combo. So you’ll be mixing the D-pad in with the triggers and face-buttons. It’s an advanced technique to be sure, but still not difficult to execute with practice. You’ll also gain access to a sawn-off shotgun and a third magical gun to intersperse your melee strikes with.
The combat is all very smooth and pleasantly difficult without being the murder-grind or exercise in health-bar management that the first one was. However, the camera can sometimes really be a hassle. That can make combat and exploration a little more difficult. It’s the wrong kind of “difficult,” however. Honestly though I never found it to be more than a minor issue.
The combat is complemented by DmC Devil May Cry’s version of Dante’s classic Devil Trigger ability. This time, you don’t change form, but rather time slows slightly and all the enemies on the screen are magically lifted into the air. Dante gets a damage boost and increased damage reduction because some tougher enemies can fight back during Devil Trigger. Enemies that are lifted take even more damage from Dante should he damage them while also airborne. It also refills your health slowly so it can function as an emergency lifesaver. Overall, its impact on the difficulty of combat is minimal since it’s already a shade easier than hardcore Devil May Cry fans might expect. Even the boss fights, which are very well done and often very visually interesting, never really become hard on the highest difficulty level available the first time you play. You do unlock progressively harder ones as you complete the game, but again, some of you hardcore action gamers may find a little to be desired the first time through. The combat is so much fun, however, that playing the game again isn’t really a negative, and the first unlockable higher difficulty is actually more on par with the original Devil May Cry, but by that point, you’ll be an expert and will welcome the challenge.
Besides combat, the best part of your time in each level will be spent hunting for collectible items. These include keys that unlock doors to secret levels. These secret levels present you with challenges that must be completed within a time limit and can be played over and over again. Clearing one nets you either a heath cross fragment (four increases your total health by 10%) or a Devil Trigger cross fragment that increases your Devil Trigger capacity for every four you collect. You’ll also find trapped souls that need to be freed and the occasional Vital Star or Devil Trigger Star for instant on demand health and Devil Trigger refills (you can still slowly refill Devil Trigger with stylish combat). You can also buy these items from divinity statues scattered throughout the game by spending red skulls that you earn via stylish combat (the D through SSS combat ranks return). Every time you buy one, however, that item becomes more expensive. You also earn white skulls that net you experience that is spent on new skills and attacks, green skulls that refill your health, and purple skulls that refill Devil Trigger. The whole economy is basically identical to the original game and that is fine by me.
As you progress through each level, you’ll come across many areas that can’t be accessed or environmental cues that are clearly meant for Dante to use, but can’t the first time you come across them. Many collectibles are in these areas that won’t become accessible until you learn the right move or gain the right ability. This enhances the game’s replayability, naturally. I don’t know about you, but the completionists in me hates passing by areas that aren’t accessible the first time you see them, so if you’re like me, trust that it’s not that you’re just not skilled enough to figure out how to get there, you just literally can’t the first time around. Consider that a PSA from me to you.
If I can offer another word of advice: don’t fear the “gritty reboot.” I know that for many gamers and fans of other traditionally “nerd” pass times, the gritty reboot is a dirty word. However, DmC Devil May Cry does not tread on the legacy of the old series unless hair color means that much to you; instead it updates that legacy and proves that it’s possible to drag old franchises from the 90’s into the light of the second millennium while keeping the game’s soul intact. DmC Devil May Cry is one of the best action titles to come out in recent times. It builds on and, arguably improves, the formula set down all those years ago, and it’s made me a fan of a franchise that I was never really into before. Those are all good things.