While we’ve been called many things in our time, one thing gamers most certainly are is a passionate bunch. Utterly dedicated to our chosen pastime, we transcend traditional definitions of loyalty. We’re happy to forego any amount of quality family time, choosing instead to enter digital worlds and liaise with digital companions, striving to right wrongs, bring justice where there is none, and survive to fight another day. Such passion comes with a voice, one we’re not afraid to use when we perceive that one of our beloved franchises has been short-changed. One such franchise is Devil May Cry, which, upon the announcement of its latest iteration, was subject to the full force of that voice. Not only was the franchise to be rebooted as an origin story, it was to be completely westernised. Capcom Japan handed over development duties to Cambridge-based Ninja Theory, who promptly abandoned Dante’s trademarked white hair and gave us a new, fresh faced (and distinctly Caucasian) anti-hero that the majority of us hated from the get go. At the time it seemed that the franchise was doomed, forced to languish in limbo until its creators once again embraced their original vision. DMC should have been atrocious. It should have proven once again that most of the innovation and entertainment in the video game industry comes from Japan. It should have killed the IP. But what it actually did was to deliver one of the best entries in the franchise so far.
One of the first surprises (other than a youthful Dante quipping his way into our hearts) is that DMC offers a well-written, satirical narrative (the true vision of corporate hell and the Britain’s Got Talent homage where Dante competes to be “the world’s top most fucking idiot” are of particular note). Alex Garland has done an admirable job of scribing the beginnings of Dante’s journey – the narrative is as ham-fisted as we’ve come to expect, but is consistently entertaining from start to finish. DMC introduces us to a naïve Dante, one who is unaware of his origins, and cares about them even less. It’s not long before he gains the unwelcome attention of Mundus, king of the demon world and head of Silver Sacks investment band, who endeavours to control the world via demonic means. Once Dante teams up with the psychic Kat and his long-lost brother Virgil, the only way to defeat Mundus is to slaughter tens of thousands of demons using as many convoluted, stylised moves as possible. One of the main criticism DMC has garnered is that of its difficulty – or, more accurately, the lack of it. It’s here we tend to disagree. Admittedly, this entry never gets close to the complexity of the combat mechanics experienced in Devil May Cry 3, but that’s not to say the game is dumbed down. For the hardcore player there are a number of increasingly rigorous difficulty settings, the upper levels of which touch on insanity.
While lacking the aforementioned four interchangeable combat styles of DMC 3, here Dante is given a number of skills never seen before, along with the addition of two weapons, one angelic in nature and the other demonic. Coupled with his trademarked sword and dual pistols, the death-dealing combinations on offer are manifold. There are mini-tutorials that pop up throughout the campaign, which some may feel are a little too obvious, but in the main – while never overly complex – DMC retains its famed combat prowess, while having a little more structured fun with it. Most importantly, the slaughter never gets old. Each encounter (which is abetted by the fantastic soundtrack) feels fresh and exciting, and is never a chore. Given the slightly easier combos on offer, even newcomers to the franchise will be pulling off moves that would make Neo envious.
There isn’t much more to say about DMC; for want of a better phrase, it is what it is. Unexpectedly, Ninja Theory have delivered exactly what we want from the franchise (to wit, frantic, stylised, and breathless combat). Taken together, it represents an entertaining story and a fresh, invigorated Dante. It’s a game that refuses to deviate from the original blueprint (insofar as we fight hundreds of smaller demons in order to progress and fight a massive one; rinse and repeat for 8-9 hours), but it’s a testament to the developers that each experience feels new, and is never less than entertaining. Being new to the franchise has not affected Ninja Theory’s ability to tap into what makes Devil May Cry tick, nor has it afforded them a license to stray too far from what we would expect of such an iconic character. When it comes to video games, expecting the worst and being pleasantly surprised is a rare thing, and one we’d like to experience more. For those of you reluctant to experience a re-skinned Nephilim for fear of franchise abuse, fear no more. Repeated demon slaying hasn’t been this fun for years.