When Capcom announced they were rebooting the Devil May Cry series, a lot of fans were concerned. Developer Ninja Theory has a decent track record, but handling the intense combat of Capcom’s over the top franchise is something few developers could tackle. With DmC (yes the capitalization matters) Ninja Theory has crafted one of the most impressive reboots of our generation. They’ve taken a lot of what made the series great, expanding it with better storytelling, a new twist on the tale and some truly outstanding combat. It might not be as in-depth, or as “hardcore,” but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
Since DmC is a reboot, Ninja Theory had the opportunity to retell the story of Dante and Vergil. This time around, things are much more coherent and, frankly, interesting. I played through the original four games and still came away confused at the overall plot. With DmC, things are much easier to follow. Dante starts off the game as we expect: cocky, sarcastic and generally caring little about anything outside of partying and killing demons. He eventually meets Kat, a psychic that introduces him to Vergil, his brother. Vergil then makes Dante aware of his past, informing the hero that he is actually a Nephilim (half demon, half angel) and that Vergil is his twin brother.
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I don’t want to spoil any piece of the story beyond this, but rest assured that Ninja Theory’s trademark storytelling really helps finally tell a coherent narrative in this universe. Some solid voice acting, and great facial animations help all this along. If you have played Enslaved or Heavenly Sword, then you know how well Ninja Theory conveys emotion through their facial technology. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the game, and even a few nods to the series’ past entries. Overall, Ninja Theory has done an outstanding job of making the series their own, while still capturing a lot of what made it great in the first place. The finale of this adventure is truly something special.
Of course, DmC is going to be judged solely on its gameplay and combat, which is where this iteration becomes most interesting. Dante still wields his trusty sword Rebellion, and his “ladies,” Ebony and Ivory. The combat consists of slicing up foes with massive combos between your sword and firearms. The vanilla combat feels smooth, and very much like any other DmC game. Mastering timing for combos, and switching up moves feels natural. The game also does a great job of progressing through new abilities. Earning upgrade points allows you to unlock new combos for each set of weapons, and these are paced regularly throughout the campaign.
In addition to standard combat, Dante also has two trigger modes that are intuitively mapped to the left and right triggers. One is called Angel while the other as you might have guessed is Demon. Each one coincides with a color and type of attack that comes into play with certain enemies later in the game. You will also earn new weapons for each of these types that you can swap on the fly with the d-pad. Both of these forms also come with a type of grapple that can be used for combat and platforming. Mixing these moves up with your standard sword and gun combos is what makes DmC’s combat so intensely satisfying.
Combat is once again rewarded with style points. Dispatching enemies with a diversity of combos will rack up points. Performing the same move over and over will decrease its value, as will taking damage from enemies. Ninja Theory has gone above and beyond to make this transparent by tossing all points and combo stats on the screen. They have also implemented a new training mode that allows you to practice combos on invincible dummy enemies. Needless to say, you can definitely toss the game on the “Human” difficulty and get by, but executing combos is infinitely more satisfying. Dante’s Devil Trigger also returns, giving him a sort of slow-motion advantage. Combo points are multiplied here, and Dante’s health slowly regenerates during this mode.
Those concerned about difficulty can lay that concern to rest right now. DmC is broken up into five difficulties, with the lowest one torn down into three separate, moderate levels of challenge. Once you complete the game, you’ll unlock Son of Sparda mode, which increases enemy challenge and quantity. You also have a couple of novel difficulties with Heaven and Hell, which basically consists of one-hit kills for Dante and all enemies, and Hell and Hell which gives enemies full health, while Dante has only one hit. Ninja Theory has also added a timer in the pause menu showcasing the time since your last checkpoint, which is great for knowing when to use items, or just knowing how much you will lose if you quit and save.
One of the things I absolutely love about DmC is its variety. Enemies are all unique in both style and presentation. I always knew what tactics to use as soon as combat started. The design of the bosses is absolutely fantastic. There is one section of the game I cannot talk about that I constantly wanted to show people as I played it. This was a running theme with most of the levels within the game. Ninja Theory has crafted some of the most interesting and unique level designs in recent memory. Each area felt like a virtual playground that was just begging me to traverse it. I loved the design of almost every area, and I could not wait to see what was next as I progressed further in the game.
The main campaign will run you between 8-10 hours to complete on your first go, but there is plenty to come back for. For starters, the aforementioned difficulties really amp up the challenge, and mastering the combat system is truly a joy. Your upgrades will also likely not be maxed out on your first run, so going back to collect more points and orbs (for purchasing items and upgrades for health and Devil Trigger) is a must. You will also collect keys that unlock secret challenge rooms. These will earn you shards for health and Devil Trigger, and deliver a variety of challenges that can also be replayed from the main menu.
The game looks great from a design perspective. The level designs are some of the best I have played in recent memory, and the facial animations are stellar. The game is running on Unreal Engine, so expect to see the standard texture pop-in from time to time. It is also worth noting that the Xbox 360 version has a slight performance advantage, once again due to the Unreal tech behind the game. Neither version is a technical mess by any stretch of the imagination. Audio is also well done, with some solid voice acting performances. Dante is arrogant and crude, while Mundus is genuinely evil. The music is what you would expect, with a mix of death metal and some weird dubstep mixes. It all sounds aggressive, and kicks in at just the right moment.
DmC is the first major release of 2013, and if it sets the tone, I am excited for the rest of the year. This is easily the best reboot I have played in ages, along with being one of the best action games in recent memory. Ninja Theory has really nailed what makes these kinds of games fun, while at the same time crafting a coherent story in the DmC universe. Sure, the combat can be argued all day long by purists of the series, but if that is your hang up, you are denying yourself an amazing game to play. Fans of the genre, series and games in general definitely need to see what Ninja Theory has achieved here. It’s easily an early contender for my favorite games of the year.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.