When you spend a lot of time covering games, either professionally or for a hobby, it becomes very easy to think that every fan of games falls into the same shrieking hell pits of frothing insanity brought about by this change or that ending. The reality is that most of the people who play games not only don’t know about the various “Insert game name here”-gate style brou-ha-has that pop up, seemingly every day, but they don’t care. They see games that they may like, buy them, play them and usually enjoy them. If they don’t, they move on to something else and live happy lives, unencumbered by the nautical miles of internet rage that accompany almost every release these days.
I mention this because, in playing DmC: Devil May Cry, Ninja Theory’s reboot of Capcom’s brawler, I had a brief shining glimpse of what it’s like to live in that rarefied air of Not Giving A Crap Mountain. As I have mentioned here before, I have no connection to the Devil May Cry series, so I don’t care what Dante looks like, or what clothes he wears. I played DmC because I heard it was good and lo and behold, it was.
Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly understand a fan’s trepidation over a reboot of their favorite series. “Reboot” is such a generic term that it can mean anything, and the potential is there for all that you loved about the series to be swept away in the rebooting process. Granted, there’s “trepidation” and there’s “bat-shit insanity”, and if you find yourself petitioning the White House over a reboot, trust me, you are firmly in the latter category. Luckily Ninja Theory understand what makes a good brawler, namely a bevy of weapons, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, a slick and intuitive combat system that rewards those willing to put the time into learning it and an array of enemies that range from cannon fodder to “I just took away half of your health because you were stupid.” Make no mistake, Dante is still a brawler. Whether or not he’s your brawler any more, well, that’s between you and Dante.
I, personally, have never been into the idea that games have to be incredibly difficult just to make those able to finish them feel better about themselves as players. Well, that’s not entirely correct. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be difficult games and that you shouldn’t feel good about yourself for completing a difficult game, but if you can’t feel good about yourself for beating a game at a higher difficulty level simply because the game allows less skilled players to beat the same game on a lower difficulty level, well, that makes you kind of an ass. I played the demo of Devil May Cry 4 and couldn’t get past it, I played all of DmC, mostly on the easiest difficulty level, and had an absolute blast. In my mind, letting people like me play the whole game is a good thing, because it makes me excited for the next one. If my enjoyment somehow negates your enjoyment, I’m not sure how to help you. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to waste time figuring it out.
But enough about me, this should be all about Dante because in DmC, Dante is pretty damn cool. That’s his job, to be cool, so it’s good that he pulls it off. He goes through a not-at-all surprising transformation from lone wolf, demon hunting, shagging girls in a trailer bad boy to protector of humanity over the course of the game and despite it not being surprising, it totally works. Well, not totally. Ok, remember at the end of Thor when Thor is all like “The Earth is under my protection”, and you should be like “Wait, what?” but you’re too busy being all choked up because he just got his armor back and sweet, heavenly Jesus, Chris Hemsworth is gorgeous? Yeah, it’s kind of like that, only without Chris Hemsworth. I mean, Dante is very good looking and is all swagger and sex appeal but he’s no god.
Dante starts off fighting demons because only he can see them, and they have a tendency to pull him into Limbo, the hell dimension that exists just under our dimension, complete with twisted geometry, flashing commands to kill Dante and demonic inhabitants. Soon he finds out that not only is he not alone in his ability to see demons everywhere, but he has a brother, Vergil, and that both of them are Nephilim, a product of the union between their angelic mother and demonic dad. Turns out their dad Sparda committed a big n0-no for lying down with an angel and Mundus, the current de-facto ruler of Earth, had their mom killed and their dad imprisoned. In a last ditch effort to save his boys, Sparda had the brothers split up and their memories wiped so that they woudn’t figure out their supernatural heritage.
Meanwhile, Mundus put on the face of a banker and through years of controlling debt, has managed to rise to power, a “ripped from the headlines” approach to villainy if ever there was one. Through the use of energy drinks and a Fox News-esque media presence, Mundus ensures that humanity is fat, happy and doesn’t ask any questions. While I was more than ok with the finance industry getting the demonic skewering, the whole energy drink/Fox News jabs were pretty lazy. If you’re going to paint the media as being complicit in the subjugation of the human race, there’s plenty of bullshit on both sides of the ideological fence to call people on. The game’s story felt like a lazy jab at the Right, allowing lefties like myself to feel good about themselves for never doing anything at all detrimental to the world, as if all of those iPhones we used to Tweet pictures of the last inauguration sprang fully formed from the earth. That being said, I loved the boss fight at the Raptor News Network, so I won’t complain too much.
The game follows the usual structure of a brawler, namely fights connected by corridors, but the gradual ramping up of new weapons and new enemies that require using your new weapons, means that things never get boring. The game is happy to point out when certain techniques would work best against certain enemies, provided you purchased the necessary upgrade, and usually gives you like, one guy, on which you can try your new technique before throwing a ten more at you. It’s as generous and gradual a learning curve as I’ve ever seen in an action game, and I appreciated it greatly. Similarly, at any point you can go and try out your new moves, should the timing prove tricky, and, in a move I wish every action RPG would replicate, any upgrade point applied to a weapon can be removed and applied to something else should you find that you either can’t pull off a move, or it’s not as good as you had hoped.
Add to this the fact that the button presses needed to pull off moves are repeated across the various weapons, meaning that you only have to learn the timing once, even if you have to relearn the application of said moves, and you have a combat system that eases new players in gradually but has the flexibility and gosh darn coolness, to let you pull off combos and long streaks of controlled mayhem with surprising ease. I have no idea if it’s as easy on the hardest difficulty level to get style bonuses and SSS combos as it is on the lowest difficulty level, but honestly, I don’t care. Whipping between sword, pistol, scythe, grappling hook and giant, demonic fists through measured application of button presses and trigger pulls made me feel like a dude who had been fighting demons his whole life, which is exactly who I was playing as.
If you’re really into Teh Hardcore, there are plenty of other modes to take for a spin once you’ve finished the game’s story. Some have remixed enemies and higher difficulties, some have one hit kills for all parties involved, Dante included, and one has enemies at full strength and health but give Dante a health bar so small that he goes down with a punch. You can also replay the main story to find all of the lost souls and keys and then use those keys to unlock secret missions full of timed platforming and combat mayhem. I would think that there’s enough difficulty there to appease the most masochistic of brawler fans, but I play games on Easy, so what do I know?
I know that it sounds like I’m slamming people who don’t like DmC, but that’s not it. If you’re a huge Devil May Cry fan and the reboot just doesn’t do it for you, then I’m sorry you played a game that you didn’t enjoy. My point is that if you’re a fan of the series, don’t discount Dante’s new look and new story simply because it’s more inviting to newer, less skilled players. Don’t worry, Dante has more than enough swagger for everyone.