V For Vendetta. They Live! Industrial Music. What do these three discussion-sparking facets of entertainment have in common? The new Devil May Cry. If you were expecting a witty remark or colloquial excerpt, you were wrong. The ultimate power fantasy character, Dante, has returned under the watchful eye of juggle-combo obsessed Ninja Theory. Turning the series into a political commentary while retaining the campy, bad-joke filled nonsense that made the original three games so special is an incredibly bold move. Devotees to the white-headed progenitor doubted the reintroduction, but dammit, they pulled it off quite admirably.
Taking a beloved series and turning it on its head is a very difficult task, one that is rife with die-hards throwing rocks at your windows for every new design choice you make. Devil May Cry 3, which is considered the series pinnacle, is what many fans hope to find in every subsequent title bearing the DMC name. The combat was maddeningly hard, but the possibilities available to those who mastered the system was pure, unabated satisfaction. When the redesign of Dante was released, a collective jeer around the gaming world could be heard from miles away.
While some were reviling the supposed bastardization of the series, I saw some promise in the edgier concept. Do I think we need another tough-as-nails action title featuring the traditional snarky, cheesy hero? Maybe. But will I hold up the values of a solid take on a beloved series that adds a few tricks to its repertoire? Absolutely.
Dirty Gutter Punks
DmC crashed onto the scene with diabolical landscapes being overrun with demonic phrases creeping along building in a painterly world. Visions of a city begin split in twain represented by sweeping black brush strokes with demons clamoring their way to end Dantes rather indignant existence was impressive to say the least. Thankfully, those visions have become reality in an absolutely beautiful, yet twisted world containing many nuances. While games such as Epic Mickey betrayed their earlier concepts to satisfy publisher concerns, Ninja Theory was given a creative blank check to create the world they initially envisioned.
Playing the game on Ultra settings is simply a sight to behold. Every area of the game has been crafted in painstaking detail to recreate the beautiful concept art pieces seen so long ago. Mundus orders to his legion of demons crawl along walls in the form of text to antagonise and threaten the player. Streets will tear away and fall into the twisting Nether below, and buildings will crumble as Limbo City attempts to implode with you inside of it. This beautiful and violent destruction intimidates the player at every turn, all the while leaving their mouths agape with its audacious allure.
Furthermore, insignificant things stand out, highlighting the attention to the finer details in the environment. Elements such as newspaper boxes writhing and imploding as you approach them, or Dantes eyes quickly darting back and forth when you take a moment to admire the complexity of his character model shows the passion Ninja Theory put into this game. I would highly recommend pausing your constant slaughter to take in the copious amounts of beauty and detail available. I haven’t been this compelled to take screenshots since Skyrim.
In terms of ports, DmC is a solid, yet somewhat lacking in technical details. Anti-Aliasing options are limited to “HD AA On/Off”, as are Shadows and Textures. While Far Cry 3 went all out a few months ago to provide PC users many different options to optimize their experience, DmC provides just enough to pass as acceptable. The thing about it, though, is that the game runs incredibly well under some very stressful situations. I have a higher end i3 coupled with a RADEON 7770 and 16GB RAM, and I was able to experience this game in almost constant 60FPS in Ultra.
Framerate drops seem to only occur when enemies proliferate an area with copious particle effects, but the drop is hardly noticeable. Enabling VSync was necessary as I was experiencing a bit a screen tearing during some segments where the camera was spinning about constantly, so your mileage may vary with consistent framerates.
We Aim To Offend
Cultural relevancy has always been the furthest apple to fall from the malignant tree in the Devil May Cry series. A looming tower, a fraternal conflict and tons of hack and slash action proliferated every corner of the previous games. The formula was growing a bit stale, as such a trite and simple storyline with an almost one-dimensional character wasn’t cutting it. The franchise needed to move on, to reinvent itself to appeal to a new generation. If there was one thing most people did not see coming in a series known for snark was the heavy focus on cultural satire.
Ninja Theory spins on the abstract side in their critique of consumer culture by injecting their own brand of cynicism into the landscape. While the game begins with Dante fighting demons in a twisted landscape and making snarky comments as per usual, it eventually transforms into an expose for those who indulge in lifestyles of brand consumption and loyalty. While infiltrating the factory of a popular energy drink, words like “Stupidity” and “Obesity” are brandished along the walls as you progress. One of the main antagonists in the game is the perfect amalgamation of FOX News watchers ultra-conservative fantasy.
DmC takes no prisoners showing the player what it thinks of certain groups of people. The unabashed presentation on society is fresh despite games increasing utilization of political commentary . While tongue is profoundly planted in-cheek, it gives depth to a series not known for the bravado of story. Just don’t expect to be blown away by a deeper take on cultural stereotypes.
Dante is now at the center of all these political commentaries, eventually being dubbed a terrorist, thus rendering his persona in previous titles too stark of a contrast. Enter “Prequel Dante”, a media-dubbed “sexual deviant” living a life similar to a low-class high school dropout, but still clutching to bits and pieces of humanity. The Dante of yesteryear had always kept players at arms length in order to complete the power fantasy. This new iteration allows the player to get a bit closer to understand why he evolves into the action hero of yesteryear. Any identifiable humanistic approach on this trope will cause many to worry, but for me, being able to access the character I am assuming makes the experience that much more important.
DmC’s Dante appeals to that tactless drinking-age rebelliousness that some of us experience at one point or another in our lives; it is an ode to that youthful feeling of invincibility, and gives possibility to such an outrageous idea. There are plenty of moments that will make your eyes roll back into your head, but the instances that flesh out the relationship between Dante and Vergil make you appreciate how their sibling rivalry came to fruition. Dante’s carefree position as the protectorate of humans in comparison to Vergil’s laissez-faire approach brings an interesting duality not fully realized in previous entries.
All of this rancor for modern day politics would certainly necessitate a musical style based on rebellion and rejection of society, right? But instead of the techno-punk rock we were all expecting to hear, aggrotech powerhouse Combichrist and veteran game composers Noisia provide the score. The fit is almost too perfect, the rage encapsulated in Combichrist’s harsh presentation complements Noisia’s adrenaline-pumping beats impeccably. There is an excellent balance between sinister and solemn tracks to set the tone during story segments, and ground-thumping insanity during battles. Wearing headphones for this audio experience qualifies as pure ear candy, even if these music genres aren’t your cup of tea. It’s not often that I go out of my to purchase a game soundtrack, but this is a first since Bastion almost a year and a half ago.
The Insatiable Craving For Power
The first significant alteration immediately apparent when entering the pseudo-European Limbo City is the combat difficulty. It is simply too easy. This is where most diehards will cry foul, and rightfully so, as the most satisfying challenge of Devil May Cry was being shamed multiple times by the AI until you found your groove. I was able to complete the entire game without dying a single time on Devil Hunter difficulty, which I found to be a bit odd. The core theory of combat seems to be that every player should feel empowered and unstoppable, as some enemies will seemingly wait patiently for you to massacre their friends. Mirror this with DMC3’s crushing basic difficulty, where most people gave up by the second boss, and you will begin to see how turning the difficulty up to Nephilim is almost a necessity. Amusingly enough, there is a “Human” difficulty tier below the default one, which I can only image to be almost non-interactive.
Special Missions make a return as locked doors that require keys found scattered off the beaten path in obscure places throughout the levels. Instead of being the old flavor of, “You will die incessantly on every mission”, the doors are ranked according to their difficulty. On Devil Hunter, I was able to conquer almost every challenge within two to three tries, with the lower tier challenges being even easier than typical monster encounters. It is a bit disappointing to charge through what I had assumed were going to be keyboard slamming/controller tossing festivals of frustration. The point of it being a challenge is to entice the player to surmount a daunting task, not provide a theme park of enemies to mercilessly hack to death. The Argent Challenges, which rank as top tier, are the only ones that provided multiple tries to conquer.
For the sake of review, I completed the game and tackled Son Of Sparda mode, which remixes enemy groups and raises the difficulty significantly. While there were a quite a few deaths in acclimating myself to how vulnerable Dante had become, the challenge melted away as I reconciled that constantly evading was the key to success. The bits that I had a tough time with were enemies that required a specific weapon to defeat which can sometimes ruin your combo and stagnate the flow of battle. While it was disconcerting to not be properly challenged, there were still two more difficulty levels to unlock.
Gripes aside, the base of the combat is undeniably addictive and well-designed. The ability to switch between your entire arsenal of weapons on the fly allows you to chain nearly endless combos. The ability to mow your way through a gang of demons while making your way up to SSSensational ranking belies the essence of making the player feel good from cradle to grave in every encounter. Controls are as tight as they ever were, and locking on to a specific enemy is as simple as advancing in their general direction. I had almost no problem staying focused on one enemy and immediately chaining my combo onto a more worthy meatbag across the room. The old mechanic of switching weapons and Styles (albeit Styles have been ditched) by pressing a dedicated button once is gone, and replaced with keeping your finger depressing the desired weapon trigger the entire time.
The addition of the Demon Pull and Angel Lift mechanics allows players to stay in the heat of battle almost endlessly. Aside from their platforming uses, they will either pull Dante towards a distant enemy, or drag them over to him to continue chaining combos together. This reconfirms the game is inclined to keep your blood stirring at all times; while it is a cheap way to rescue a combo for accidentally knocking an enemy too far away, it still remains incredibly fun.
While Dante has been controlled by a gamepad for over a decade, keyboard and mouse controls are surprising solid. The initial setup, while being fully editable, is a very cohesive arrangement that works and feels superb. I spent some time getting to know the controls via a keyboard, and before long I was seamlessly hacking my way through the game. Expectations were definitely surpassed with the addition to switch between Key/Mouse and Controller modes almost instantly. Personally, I used an XBOX360 Controller for a majority of my experience, but both methods are equally as effective, which was definitely a pleasant surprise.
Ninja Theory has been fighting an uphill battle for the past 3 years, starting with their TGS trailer in 2010, to post-release criticism from devoted fans. While the accessibility of the series has definitely been widened to almost a fault, there are a plethora of redeeming factors to negate the naysayers. A beautiful, devilish world where some of the best combo-based gameplay leaves me craving more and more, rather than being the dissonance that some claim it to be. It is a daunting task to retool a series with a decade of polish, but this is easily the best reboot to any long standing name since the GameCube’s Metroid Prime. There is simply too much fun to be had to dismiss this title, and you would be doing yourself a disservice to not experience this for yourself.
Ninja Theory, take a bow. You deserve it.