Ninja Theory has had a rough time of late. Enslaved was not seen as a commercial success, despite being an excellent title with more personality than most. Being handed the reins of such a highly regarded franchise such as Devil May Cry was both a blessing and a curse, as fans of the series questioned the choice and the subsequent visual direction. I don’t feel the need to further mention the fan backlash over this game. I don’t feel it necessary to dwell on the issues of the change in developer, and the aesthetic of the game. All that needs to be mentioned is how fantastic it is.
The game takes little to no time throwing you into the action, with a sensory overload of an opening introducing us to a young, hedonistic Dante. We meet him drinking, picking up girls and having carnal fun in his trailer. His character is quickly established.
It isn’t long before Dante is called into action, being warned of the impending arrival of a hunter demon on his trail by Kat, a hooded figure who accompanies him throughout most of the game, and predictably, is the subject of a developing romantic relationship. For now, Dante is dragged into limbo, an altered version of the real world which allows Ninja Theory to go wild with their design, retaining some of the gothic style from previous games whilst giving the game their own flavour. Black ooze and tentacles cover the fairground boardwalk, street lamps are entwined with bulbous vein and clots and concrete and steel are twisted into bizarre unrecognizable states. It’s immediately arresting and is the only the start of some superb artistic design.
The world that Ninja Theory and story consultant Alex Garland (yes, he of The Beach, 28 Days Later and Sunshine) have built here is rich and intriguing. The demon realm that Dante is frequently dragged into is paralleled with the ‘real’ world, and anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist commentary is made on advertising, news media and the gullibility of the masses. But don’t worry, most of the time you will be hitting things. Stylishly.
Let’s get to the combat. A caveat: I am no Devil May Cry veteran. In fact quite the opposite: I have never played a game in the franchise, and have little love for the genre in general. My lack of experience and expertise in this area means I’ve always found hack and slash games to be fairly stressful, and requiring a level of skill I simply don’t possess.
DMC does a great job of slowly unlocking an extensive move set, starting off with a simple sword and gun, and later introducing devil and angel weapons, utilised by holding down the left and right triggers. These modes also modify the dodge move for increased attack strength or invulnerability, as well as determining whether the later acquired grappling hook pulls Dante towards enemies and objects or enemies and objects toward Dante
The vast array of weapons and combos available can be daunting, but the game does a very good job of making it very clear what enemies strengths and weakness are and what weapons and moves are most useful in a given situation, giving you a full range of audio and visual cues to assist quickly and consistently with your choices in combat. Animation is fluid and slick and despite the outcry over the removal of lock on and the drop to 30 frames a second, action is highly kinetic and crucially, constantly in the control of the player. This is one of those games where frustration is rare, and failure is followed by realisation of your mistakes.
Criticisms towards the game have also been focused on the apparent dumbing down of the difficulty. For the record, there are seven levels of difficultly and the game is design to be played more than once, with areas being locked of until you have the requisite equipment and items. Rarely do I replay games, always in search for the next hot new thing, but this had me compelled to try out the first of three unlocked difficulties, Son of Sparda. Interestingly, the difficulty isn’t just restricted to adjustments to hits and health, as it mixes up the enemy types you meet, introducing some powerful enemies much earlier, and varying the types and combinations at different times. As a result, you as the player are made to feel incredibly powerful, and your arsenal gives you a sense of confidence, and you relish the opportunity to jump right back in.
Expertly paced and surprisingly engaging, the main story thread is hugely entertaining, wrapping up in a way that leaves plenty of scope for Dante to continue his adventures. It is a shame that Capcom have already lowered sales expectations, largely viewing this as a commercial disappointment, because what Ninja Theory have done is crafted an action game that appeals to more than just the hardcore crowd, specifically to gamers just like me, who otherwise wouldn’t take much interest. DMC deserves better than that, and I strongly recommend it, even if you have misgivings over the genre.
MLG Rating: 9/10 Format: PC / PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 Release Date: 15/01/13
Disclosure: Craig Hallam rented a physical copy of DmC: Devil May Cry for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.