Although only a moderate critical and popular success, Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyessy to the West is one of my favorite action games of all time. With an intriguing science-fiction premise, Enslaved is an emotionally nuanced, post-apocalyptic, story-driven adventure with brilliant performance capture and top-drawer voice acting (like Andy Serkis and other pros).
DmC: Devil May Cry is proof that Enslaved was no one-off fluke and that Ninja Theory should be at the top of everyone’s chart when it comes to imaginative storytelling and performance capture that manages to transcend the “animated mannequin” look, giving us digital characters that have all the small, telling gestures of real actors. A sideways glance or a tilt of the head make all the difference in Ninja Theory's examples.
For this fifth entry into the long-running Devil May Cry franchise, the studio has taken the franchise’s iconic characters (Dante and Vergil, and the uber-demon Mundus) into boldly reimagined territory. While the move might enrage the DMC purists, it’s a great shot of adrenaline for what was becoming a tired premise and a bit of a videogame cliche. The reboot works so well because it weaves political and social commentary into the age-old good-versus-evil story, because the action is satisfying and fluid, and because the parallel dimension of Limbo is a visually stunning, super-saturated Salvador Dali-esque landscape of twisted, distorted buildings and grotesque enemies. While the story has none of sci-fi realism of Enslaved, it manages a reasonably coherent narrative that is set in an inchoate world.
The plot of this new Devil May Cry hits most of the expected beats of a young, headstrong angel-demon offspring attempting to avenge his mother’s death, discover his past, and come to terms with his powers and responsibilities. As like with Monkey in Enslaved, Dante in DmC is ably assisted by a young woman who becomes his mentor and guide through the world. Though Ninja Theory have been criticized for creating nubile damsels-in-distress that seemingly lack power and agency, the relationship between Kat and Dante is nevertheless believable, occasionally tender, and generally without the overtly leering, sexual posturing that characterizes so many male-female relationships in videogames.
Devil May Cry embraces its essentially absurd story with a great bear hug of over-the-top bosses, bright colors, social commentary (Mundus controls an oblivious human populace though a secret ingredient in demonic soda, and rules the world through debt), and a stunning visual style that keeps surprising at every turn. The Limbo dimension is one in which nearly anything is possible, but with logical ties to, and consequences in, the “real” world. For instance, when Dante defeats a handful of demons in the Limbo version of an amusement park, the “real world” equivalent is also destroyed and Dante is branded a terrorist and outlaw; in short order, Dante is an unwelcome visitor in every dimension.
In its gameplay, Devil May Cry is perhaps less innovative, but still quite successful, polished, and a lot of fun. Even late in the game, Dante acquires new weapons and a steady stream of upgrades to his angelic and demonic powers which can be effortlessly mixed and matched in the middle of a frenetic fight. While most of his combos are relatively simple, there is a huge amount of choice and variety in dispatching enemies, though unsurprisingly, most of his foes have a weakness exploitable by a specific weapon. Once completed, levels can be revisited and replayed for higher scores, hidden bonuses and secret levels, and points to spend on items. I rarely replay games, but I found myself playing through some of the shorter chapters quite a number of times to try out new combos and to reach the coveted SSS rating.
Even on its normal setting—one of the game’s seven possible difficulties—Devil May Cry is a challenge and is a good 12-15 hour experience. A few of the enemy types reappear a little too often, and although many of the late-game bosses are impressively challenging, the rank-and-file, pattern-based enemy AI is not terribly adept. The electro-death-metal score is entirely appropriate but not especially memorable or inviting; it’s balanced by voice acting that is excellent and dialogue that occasionally rises well above mere story exposition.
If you’re a die-hard Devil May Cry fan and come to this game with a fixed set of inflexible expectations and beliefs about the story and characters, the reboot may rankle; but for those of us who don’t really care about DMC canon and just want to play a great game, Ninja Theory and Capcom have created a fresh, exciting, and entirely successful take on the story of young Dante and his tale of retribution.
Where do you stand on reboots? Does it depend on the established legacy, or is anything fair game? Let us know your take on Twitter @Gamers_Hell