Since the release of the early Dante pictures we have looked on with interest as the franchise fans vocally trashed Capcom for their decision to pass the Devil May Cry series to English developers, Ninja Theory. “He looks like ****ing Justin Bieber” was a common forum post found within the darkest reaches of the internet; yet still a quiet buzz accompanied the game wherever it went. Gamers, hardcore and casual alike, have praised previous Ninja Theory efforts like Heavenly Sword and Enslaved, the latter criminally overlooked by a lot of people but what would they do with a huge franchise. Could they pull it off? Could they take their creativity and grounded storytelling to a bigger audience, keeping in mind the previous titles mentioned were new IP’s, no heritage, no vocal fan base to satisfy. Well, hats off to them, they done good.
Our hero Dante begins the tale as a bit of a dick. Actually no, a complete dick is a more accurate statement. He has a mouth on him and cares little for anyone or anything, other than himself of course. Fitting really that he looks like a spoilt pop star as he acts like one from the get go and throughout the adventure whilst he does become much more likeable he can still be seen flipping the bird and back chatting almost every bad guy he comes across...that is of course until he is dragged into a quest to save mankind from the control of demons (obviously). The demons in question have infected the real world, crossing over from Limbo to seize mankind and rule the entire world. This is where we really see the first of the well honed skills of the Ninja Theory team. The story isn’t your usual fantasy nonsense containing characters talking gibberish about good vs. evil and the never-ending fight to stop some guys whose name you cannot even pronounce. There are strong links in DMC to recent real life events and at times you will form a wry smile when references to modern society are made.
You see the bankers are demons, the politicians are demons and a single huge news corporation brainwashes the populace, led by a disgusting news anchor spreading lies, lies and more lies about our hero Dante in a fashion that evokes memories of V for Vendetta...ringing any bells?! The demons are led by the head of the global news corporation, the wealthiest man on the Earth who has enough clout to tell the President of the United States what to do. With one phone call this guy could crash the global economy (if the bells aren’t ringing now maybe just stop reading and take a nap). The man in question is Mundus, both he and his surgically messed up wife control everything - even going so far as to spike our favourite soft drink with a little demon something to control all that drink it.
The story is one of control and of the evil within civilised society; right now an awful lot of people believe the bankers, the politicians and the news corps to be evil - this is where the story pulls you in, it has some similarity to our very real everyday lives, tapping into the emotional feelings of western society today - obviously not to the point where you go into each battle thinking “die Cameron” but it avoids that common trap of being throw away and just plain silly. Investment in the story is further heightened by the superb vocal work and great facial capture work. As mentioned Dante is a dick and you believe the guy is a dick not because of the animations but by the way the character is played, he becomes believable through performance and this is further testament to the actors assembled for the title. There are no household names to be found here but every-one involved does do a great job of bringing the characters to life, no matter how nasty they are.
The campaign is split into twenty missions, ranging from forty minute romps to two minute staged quick time like sections and there is just enough variation to keep it from becoming a chore. The hack and slash template is used to good effect throughout with a liberal amount of climbing and flying through the use of your trusty whip...um...thingy. Over the course of the campaign it is mostly plain sailing and good fun, unfortunately there are some annoyances which include the platforming aspects and the use of cheap mechanics. The platforming can be frustrating but nine times out of the ten it will not be because the game has let you down, it will be because it was meant to be difficult and you, the gamer got it wrong. Some random mechanics are used at certain points, sometimes just the once to keep you on your toes - for example the floor changes and you have to be in Angel mode while that happens (or the opposite) or you lose health. Such things come across as quite annoying in the heat of battle rather than challenging, designed to trip you up and generally mess with you while you are desperately trying to fend off enemies with similar hit restrictions (must hit certain enemies with certain weapons and so on). These things are minor but they do stop the experience from being as fun as it possibly could have been.
Whilst the game can be played as a brawler you will get the most out of it if you are more akin to old school fighting games. Upgrades can be obtained through points tallied and are spent solely on special moves with each weapon type. Those who welcome X,X, Pause, B,B, A, X are going to fall in love with DMC - it is combotastic. Noobs will not go anywhere near this aspect and will likely stick to a handful of moves, which is fine, but the screen simply lights up when you unleash some of those crazy combos. Collectibles are present on each mission as well as secret missions in the form of challenge rooms (keys required), each presenting a decent enough reward for clearing. Items can be purchased at the end of each mission and at key points within the missions themselves - be careful though the cost of the next health vile for example will cost you more than the last one did and this carries through into each new game +.
Graphically the game excels throughout, at times bordering on a master class of visual design. Sure there is the odd mis-step, particularly early on. As a package overall every little last bit appears to have been squeezed out of the aging Xbox 360. The animation as well is smooth and accurate, combat moves flow from one to the next, dazzling as you chain together one ridiculous combo after the next. There is no framerate drop throughout, “yeah as they lowered it to 30fps” I hear the internet cry - well yes but the combat is still reasonably paced and frenetic when it wants to be.
The real high point is not so much the graphics themselves, although naturally they play a huge part, it is more in the sheer amount of creativity on display throughout. Dropping Dante into Limbo in almost every mission allows the developers to really take the gloves off and create isolated arenas that are often a sight to behold. Sure there is a raft of annoying platforming with an ever so slight occasional inaccuracy but as it all looks so damn vibrant, different and visually arresting you forgive such things. Boss battles perfectly highlight this - the boss battle at mission ten for example is best in class. Creatively, audio and visually superb with some fantastic little curve balls to progress the narrative and reinforce the main storyline - evil demons control the message, don’t believe everything you see on the news and so on. Arguably the most fun to be had within DMC lies within these key encounters - mechanically it’s all been done before and the rule of three is present but the sheer creativity on show smacks you in the face and reinforces the long held belief that Ninja Theory are a great studio.
The soundtrack fits neatly into the package and will delight fans of hardcore thrash metal. If you are the kind of person that loves a grown man screaming into a microphone over heavy drums and fast guitar, quite simply you will love it. If that isn’t really your bag then take comfort in the knowledge that the heavy stuff only kicks in during the combat sequences and heck there is always the volume controls in the menu if you really can’t live with it. All combat sequences are for want of a better phrase ‘staged’, accompanied by the aforementioned thrash metal and bookended with a killer slow mo move on the last enemy standing. Gloriously gory and quite needless but visually great all the same - it doesn’t get old.
As a package whilst on the surface DMC may look like a romp through a fantasy world with an array of badass weapons, there is quite a bit of depth and a lot of replay value. You begin with three distinct difficulty levels and they are further supplemented by another six, yes SIX more. Immediately the 100% achievement/trophy crowd are making the kind of noises the guy down the garage makes when your car won’t start “ooof that is going to take some time”. The campaign itself on the easiest difficulty can be tamed in around nine to ten hours, so upping the difficulty is unlikely to shorten that time. On the higher difficulty levels the enemies are mixed up a little and they behave quite differently, again upping the ante from a previous playthrough. Finally there is the scoring system, an ever present in the series and right at home here in DMC. Combos are the key to success, presenting the player with style points, at the end of each level they generate multipliers based on performance, as does time taken, items used (negatively) and deaths (again negatively). The leaderboards will no doubt be chock full of all your friends and if you are THAT good you can make your way to number one in your region (Europe for UK players). The traditional DMC ranking is back, your performance scored accordingly and designated a school like grade at the end of each combo, action and mission alike - SSS being the pinnacle of perfection and general badassary (deffo a word, check out Borderlands 2). It is possible to obtain excellent rankings on the easier difficulty so new players will not feel left out, however the crazy scores will no doubt sit in the hands of the elite who will no doubt take on the raft of higher difficulty modes.
There are some gripes to be had within the package. The first half of the game is a large tutorial and often quite laboured. The storytelling whilst for the most part fantastic can be a bit overbearing, ramming the point home when any educated gamer who lives in Europe will know exactly what is being alluded to, although it is not fair to say it treats the gamer like an idiot as it doesn’t but the hand is firmly held for a bit too long and of course all is forgiven when everything heats up after the halfway mark. It is also glaring obvious during these early sections that the main crowd control weapons haven’t been required that much, primarily due to there being no crazy swarmed set pieces. Enemies come at you in small groups and the screen is very rarely full of enemies. Sure there is variation in enemy type and behaviour requiring you to think fast and chain those combos but crowd control is rarely required - later in the game it is to some degree but even then the enemies are low level grunts. Perhaps an odd thing to say, but a little bit more action wouldn’t hurt in certain missions.
DMC isn’t without fault appearing to suffer slightly from trying to pander to the hardcore fans with a deep and sometimes tricky combat system, larger than life characters and gore galore - all the while making the game more accessible to newcomers and western audiences alike. The narrative is one of most modern day western societies (demons aside) and on the whole grounds what could quite easily have been a silly angels vs. demons tale. The combat is slowed from previous iterations and generally it’s a lot easier to progress especially on the standard difficulty settings. The only real worry is that neither set of players would come away fromDMC completely flawed by the experience. Hardcore players will likely bemoan the concessions for more casual gamers (it’s no Bayonetta) and casual gamers might find the control system(s) a tad complicated as you cannot really just mash X to succeed even on the easiest difficulty. It was always a gamble for Capcom and a hell of a tough challenge for Ninja Theory to balance such varied expectations considering the vocal fan base of the series. Ever since they released the early Dante pictures, right up until the demo there was the potential here that this could all go horribly wrong. Well quite frankly it hasn’t in the slightest. Ninja Theory have against all odds created something fresh; a creatively superb and in places fantastic action adventure game. It will not be for everyone and is certainly more mainstream than previous efforts but DMC is a rip roaring start to 2013. We look forward to Ninja Theory’s next venture.