Editor's Note: This preview contains impressions from the first 5 missions of DmC, and so contains some mild early plot spoilers.
It’s fair to say the DmC has looked better every time we’ve seen it. Ninja Theory was reticent about putting it into players’ hands until the combat was absolutely in place – a process that took years of careful work in collaboration with Capcom Japan – but now that the game is pretty much ready for release, the studio has nothing to hide. Armed with a near-complete version of the game, I put young Dante through his paces over a good ten missions, and found nothing at all to be worried about. On this evidence, this new DmC might actually be better than the Devil you know – the best game in the series since 2008’s Devil May Cry 3.
It’s a pleasure to see DmC’s now fully-fledged combat system in action. It is balletic, rhythmic, subtle and satisfying, and as you play through and unlock more moves for sword, guns, axe and scythe your combos naturally become more varied and elegant. It takes a while to work your fingers around the controls – you need to use the triggers to modify attacks – but once you’ve done that, it emerges as a system with immense complexity and range, letting you flow smoothly between four different weapons at once.
There’s a drip-feed of new demons in the early missions to test out your increasingly diverse arsenal against, each of which exercises your skills differently; some are immune to certain weapons, others have shields that need to be snatched away with the grapple before they can be sliced into bits. This forces you to explore the full range of DmC’s combat and play with the entire system, which in turn naturally helps you to get better at the game. You can redistribute skills between weapons at any point if you want to adjust your combo repertoire; that means no grinding whatsoever.
The real enjoyment in DmC doesn’t come from making it through the battles, it comes from mastering them.
It really helps to be able to see your Style ranking up in the right-hand corner of the screen, too. When it’s stalling, you know you’re not being creative enough. I nudged up into the SS rankings a couple of times over the first five missions (only on the default difficulty), but never got up to the elusive SSS; a single hit sends you instantly back to B. The real enjoyment in DmC doesn’t come from making it through the battles, it comes from mastering them – dodging out of the way of attacks at just the right second to trigger a damage bonus, chaining moves together, pulling enemies into the path of others’ attacks, using the grapple to either pull enemies towards Dante or yank him across the room towards them, and not getting hit.
Unsurprisingly, if you manage all of that you feel like a god, but the game makes you work for your buzz. DmC’s introductory three missions are relatively gentle, but after that it quickly ramps up the difficulty to the point where making it through a whole level without replenishing health with a Vital Star or having to revive becomes a real achievement. Lose your rhythm mid-fight and you can quickly sacrifice a good quarter of Dante’s health bar.
The difficulty settings are insane, too, in true Devil May Cry tradition: after you’ve completed the game, you unlock a mode with stronger enemies that appear in remixed waves. After that you unlock the appropriately-named Dante Must Die!, and beyond that a mode where all enemies die in one hit, but Dante does as well. And then if you’re completely crazy, there’s Hell or Hell mode, in which enemies all have normal health but Dante still dies in one hit. Yeesh. First person to complete the game under those conditions should probably be flown to Cambridge for personal congratulations from the development team.
Ninja Theory has made some very successful tweaks to the Devil May Cry backstory that recast Dante and his twin brother Vergil as rather tragic figures.
Ninja Theory has made some very successful tweaks to the Devil May Cry backstory that recast Dante and his twin brother Vergil as rather tragic figures, sons of a murdered mother and an exiled father, separated as children and left to fend for themselves in the world of humans. Because of their enviable genetic heritage, the leader of the demon world fears their power, and has been hunting them down. That’s why Dante is such a thrill-seeking hedonist; he doesn’t believe he’ll be around for long.
Vergil isn’t a playable character (at least not in the retail game, though apparently you’ll be able to take control of him in DLC to be released “shortly after launch” – naughty Capcom), but the part his plays in this tale is significant. It’s Vergil who awakens Dante to his forgotten childhood and his true nature as the son of Sparda, a legendarily powerful demon. A third central character, Kat, slowly develops Dante’s relationship with his human side throughout the game. This is the first game in the series with even a remotely relatable story, but it hasn’t lost the cheekiness or over-the-top nature of old-school Devil May Cry, as the insane opening level amply demonstrates.
That said, Ninja Theory doesn't shy away from difficult imagery; there's a lot of violence and pain in Dante's background. Detailed, pulsing visions from his past show Dante as a young boy, steeped in blood and chaos. One particularly disturbed such image shows him literally digging his hands through his chest into his own heart, trying to feel whether or not he is human. DmC might have its tongue in cheek, but it's not flippant.
DmC is a subversive game in many ways. It’s a Devil May Cry game that doesn’t look like a Devil May Cry game, a hardcore action game with elements of cultural satire and comedy and even human tragedy mixed in. Ninja Theory has had a lot to prove with DmC, but at this late stage the game oozes confidence.
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