Skip to main content

DMC Impressions- Doofuses May Cry, But This Game Rocks

1521942-dmc_title_logo_copy-640x300

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.

Barnes May Cry…Over Modern Gaming

The most surprising thing about playing through Devil May Cry via the new HD remaster collection isn’t that I wound up absolutely loving it, having somehow never played it since it was released eleven years ago. It’s that the game made me terribly sad. Not because the barely-there narrative of Dante, Trish, and the awesomely named Mundus, but because it reminded me of how video games used to be before the industry began strip-mining and over-monetizing itself under the banners of DLC, preorder bonuses, and online passes. The classic Capcom title also recalls a time when game makers were working with technology that wasn’t really anywhere near approaching cinematic technique with any seriousness or effectiveness. Instead of employing quicktime events and prattling z-grade scriptwriting to tell stories, the thrust of the game’s narrative is almost completely in its gameplay, setting, and atmosphere.

Devil May Cry is definitely an old fashioned game, and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible. The save system is obnoxious and you’ve got to buy these stupid yellow orbs that look like some kind of gummy candy to continue without redoing the entire mission over. Voice acting and dramaturgy is the pits, but those were the par-for-course Achilles heel of Japanese design in the early 2000s. The camera angle is fixed despite it being a 3D action game, and this undoubtedly would chafe modern gamers used to panning and tilting a clumsy camera around a character. Locked doors requiring weird keys and simple adventure puzzles abound.

That makes sense because the game was originally conceived as a Resident Evil entry, and it looks, feels, and even sounds like a pre-RE4 franchise effort except that instead of Panzer Jill or Abrams Chris the character is free-moving, limber, and has an unlimited supply of bullets. The game predates Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden by a couple of years and Kamiya’s title lacks that sixth-gen masterpiece’s depth and variety. It’s a basic hack and slash game that exists somewhere halfway between Golden Axe and Bayonetta.

But all of the above doesn’t matter, because the game is a great example of how timeless, solid gameplay overrides technical limitations and dated or obsolete concepts. Control is great, the combat system is simple but laced with flourish, and exploring the castle is compelling. It’s not quite the great location that Arklay Mansion was in the first Resident Evil, but it has a similar sense of architecture and space. It’s expertly laid out, with every furnishing positioned with the precision of an expert propmaster. But boy, does Dante hates furniture- who knew that chairs contained so many red orbs. The set is left a shambles.

It’s a sub-ten hour game, but it’s the kind of thing that’s worth coming back to. Performance rankings are a powerful incentive to replay, as are secret areas and alternative paths within a relatively linear framework. The game is meant to be replayed at higher difficulty levels, and since the gameplay isn’t tied so specifically to narrative it doesn’t feel tedious to revisit completed missions. I love the structure- 23 fairly short missions, each with a specific goal. It’s almost casually bite-sized. You can either buckle down and burn through a string of missions or just do one in ten minutes or so. It’s almost a modern concept.

It surprised me that I was able to get into the game and without a sense of feeling like it must have been great for 2001. I feel like it’s great for 2012. I recently tried to play Ico and Shadow of the Colossus and although I appreciated both, I liked neither for exactly this reason- I felt like I had missed the point at which those games had the most impact.

But what I keep coming back to is how refreshing it was to play a game that was 100% complete without any DLC, marketing gimmicks, screechy “community” politics, controversy over endings, or other modern quibbles. It was also refreshing to play a game that was very clearly a video game and had no aspirations to multi-billion dollar sales and no ambition to compete with any other form of media. It also exists a million light years away from the pretentious indie attitude that video games can be revolutionized by rhapsodizing about how great the 8- and 16- bit generations were. Its bluster and attitude are now quaint, but Dante’s silly swagger and ridiculous anime look are still not redolent of the off-putting hyper-male, locker room machismo of many modern games. There’s a certain glam rock patina to the game that I just love.

It also reminds me of how much I really do like Japanese design and how much I miss that pervading sense of cross-cultural strangeness that games going back into the NES era often had. Goofy internal logic, nonsensical storylines, ludicrous incongruities. It made me miss the days when Japanese designers weren’t trying to emulate the West- and gamers wanted the quirk, strangeness, and charm more than they wanted AAA polish, blockbuster sheen, and Michael Bay wallop. At least Platinum Games still carries the torch. They remember.

Playing Devil May Cry for the first time circa 2012 was hardly a trip down memory lane for me. I had no nostalgia for it. I wasn’t frothing at the mouth that Dante’s hair isn’t white in the upcoming- and very awesome-looking DMC from Ninja Theory. I just wanted to play a good brawler with great gameplay regardless of its vintage. But by being reminded of how much has been lost in this console generation, I got more than I bargained for- depression!