One of the worst- and woefully dated- things about Capcom’s Devil May Cry series is Dante. Sorry to send those of you who still think that a guy with white hair in a red trenchcoat is “cool” crying into your Trigun cosplay jacket, but Dante is a bad character that really ought not appeal to anyone over the age of 16. It’s that charmingly clueless sense of whatever Japanese “cool” is that’s kept him afloat all of these years, and the fact that he’s starred in at least three great action games that all have their share of clunk and junk ranging from terrible writing to bad pacing to unbalanced design.
So after all of the fan rage over Dante’s makeover, we’re left with the new title in the franchise, DMC, and a host of things that Ninja Theory has done with this long-running brawler franchise. I’m just a couple of hours into the game, having just ushered what the game calls a Succubus to a rather gruesome death in the bowels of an energy drink factory, but I’m not hesitant to state that the new game is the most refined, slickest game in the series. It’s by far the best-written, it’s the best looking, and it is the most seamlessly fun.
I’m going to shoot down any kind of comment about Ninja Theory “dumbing down” DMC right off the bat. The Devil May Cry games are as a whole incredibly fucking dumb. But they’re dumb, rock n’ roll fun, and that’s a good thing. In DMC, when the Z-grade Fear Factory cover band they got to do the soundtrack kicks in and you’re juggling bad guys, spinning around in the air with guns blazing, and hearing the new, chic-er Dante proclaiming awful one-liners it’s just as much fun as the first, third, or fourth game could be. Sure, it’s easier- at least on normal. The combos are simpler and it’s kind of shocking to fight the first boss and never get hit one time. But I’ll be damned if I’m not enjoying it more.
I’ve been constantly surprised by the game, in particular that I actually like the story and not in an ironic “oh, those crazy Japanese writers” way. Hell more or less controls the world with energy drinks and subliminal messages, Dante and Vergil attempt to stop head demon Mundus. It’s really overblown, ridiculous trash- but it’s at least self-aware, smart trash that bites enough from John Carpenter’s They Live to make adolescent-friendly messages about, like, the government and stuff, man. All of the eye-rolling nonsense about angels and demons getting it on and spawning bad-ass swordslingers is present, but the sense is that it’s a game written by folks smart enough to realize that the original games could be both playfully mocked and reverently respected with a single stroke of the pen. Oh, I’m 100% sure the writers (one of whom is apparently screenwriter Alex Garland) were very aware of how terrible some of Dante’s comments are.
I’ve also been surprised by the platforming, which is actually not terrible at all. This time out, Dante’s abilities are split between angel and devil ones and each has a whip associated with it. Angel whip is a grapple, devil whip pulls things. There are some rather nifty jumping sequences that use both of these, and there are plenty of opportunities to explore or wonder if maybe there was an argent key up that way that you didn’t go. Fortunately, it’s a game built for replay so there’s always next time. Challenge rooms, multiple mode unlocks after completion, pursuing the higher rankings, and beating folks on the leaderboards gives this game far more legs than is usual for AAA action titles these days.
I’m also really pleased at how the game is developing in terms of gameplay. New weapons, abilities and concepts are unlocked almost constantly, and it seems- so far at least- that there’s always something new to do around the corner. This is a very accessible game, yet it is not at all a dopey button masher. I love that I can try-before-I-buy all of the upgradeable abilities for every weapon- you can get a feel for how Roulette or Stinger fits into your rhythm before dropping the ability points. Don’t like it? You can respec any time.
It all comes back around to the fighting, and man, is it good. At first, there was a bit of an adjustment period and I didn’t feel like the game was as smooth as the past games. But once I found my particular flow, I was hitting the S rankings and feeling like a total killing machine. It has been disappointing that the enemies are pretty dull and repetitive, but the big boss fights have been memorable if not quite up to the standards of some of the others in the series. That said, at least you don’t have to retry fights 50 times to get it right.
So yeah, DMC turned out really damn good. Probably the biggest surprise of all is that Ninja Theory actually made a really great game, particularly after the sub-mediocre Enslaved. I’m really happy that the team had enough respect for and understanding of the original Capcom designs to look at what worked best, what had grown long in the tooth, and what needed to be completely changed. I’m sure there are still old school Dante fans claiming that this game is some kind of sexual assault or that eeeeevil Capcom is at it again, but for those looking for a great, highly stylized and very modern action game this is your first stop in 2013.
Now, the ultimate question. Is it better than Bayonetta? The answer- absolutely not.