Oh Dante, what have they done to you? When this DmC re-imagining first appeared on the scene at the Tokyo Game Show back in 2010, the sound of a million fans all crying out in anguish could be heard. Long gone are the campy silver locks and confusing androgynous sexual appeal (no homo). Instead we were presented with an urban, brooding Dante who wouldn't look out of place in a Twilight movie.
But once you get past the all-new look of the game’s antagonist, fans should be relieved to hear that the franchise’s core essence is still intact. DmC is stylish, moody, and oozing more cool than a tube of Macleans toothpaste (of the triple stripe variety). While Dante may have misplaced his iconic manner, it hasn't affected his demon slaughtering ability. This reboot retains the intense action and, above all, slick combat controls that made the franchise so successful back in 2001.
In DmC, evil is everywhere. Even lurking in your can of soda if the opening cinematic is anything to go by. Dante is trapped in Limbo; a plain of existence between the real world and Hell, where evil can seep into our lives and corrupt our very souls. Dante, the offspring of both an angel and a demon (or Nephalim if you want to get technical), is gifted/cursed with supernatural powers – able to cast back the evil and save the human race from extinction.
By ‘cast back’, we mean ‘thrash the living bejesus out of’. And it’s here that DmC excels. The combat has always been crucial to the franchise and despite a new team of developers at the helm, it retains the fluid and graceful feel to the relentless hack-slash’n’shoot gameplay. Due to Dante’s mixed heritage, he can call on either angelic or demonic powers in the heat of battle. Holding down the L2 trigger causes your attacks to be more virtuous, or defense-orientated. Meanwhile when holding down R2, your manoeuvres are more hellish and rage-fueled, causing wanton destruction all around you.
By chaining together combos with a rhythmic finesse, the combat has depth and substance that seldom feels repetitive. Enemies require different strategies and despite the urge to use your full-on ‘fire and brimstone’ powers, some will often require a more tactful approach and a calm demeanor - rather than furious button mashing.
Magical powers aren't your main method of vanquishing foes either. Dante’s primary weapons are his trustee side-arms (still named Ebony and Ivory) and, of course, his Rebellion sword - which is about the size of a small child. With so many options in your arsenal, players have an almost infinite array to stringing together attacks.
Performing successful combos comes down to timing and, when executed well, are simply stunning to witness. For example you could engage an enemy with your sword before sending them skyward with a demonic uppercut, launching into the air yourself and filling them with bullets while suspended in midair; before finally slamming them into the ground in a blaze of fire.
DmC rewards players for gratuitous violence and every chained combo or special move earns you points to eventually give you a rank at the end of the level. Both newcomers and fans of the original game will feel right at home here, with enough variety and outlandish devastation to keep anyone entertained. A well-balanced upgrade system ensures that there are always new attacks and abilities on the horizon for you to pursue as well.
All of these unlockable attributes are put through their paces too, as Dante comes face to face with terrifying abominations before the game’s final credits roll. Giant boss battles that take up the entire screen are often a welcome change from the multiple waves of enemies that will attack from every direction. The difficulty is bordering on sadistic, but the punishing combat only alleviates that sense of reward. Unlike the ruthlessly demanding Bayonetta, DmC is still accessible and has a learning curve that challenges, but doesn’t deter like other games can do in this genre. To aid this, the game includes a training mode where players can practice chaining together combos and try out new attacks.
There is a lot to like in DmC. While the ten hour campaign is fairly brief, you’ll be encouraged to replay it at a harder difficulty, bringing forth your new abilities and unlocked powers to improve your scores. Returning to various missions even reveals new secret passages and bonus collectibles to gather. The set of three difficulties, and then a secret ‘insane’ mode doesn’t just make enemies tougher, it even mixes up the repeat experience by placing enemies in different locations or making Dante unable to take any damage. You’d have to be crazy to attempt that particular setting.
There are times though, despite all of the awesome, that you can’t help but be reminded of how much Dante has changed. Unlike the uber-cool, silky-smooth operator of the original albino Dante, here he is angry and reckless in an adolescent sort of a way. But it works, especially for a Western market for which this was obviously (and primarily) intended. The voice actor behind the main character does takes some getting used to, with a cocky American ‘jock’ demeanor to the delivery of often weakly written lines. Even the number of cuss-words seemed to grate early on, but none of this is enough to prevent the enjoyment when the action kicks in.
The other downside to DmC lies in the story and execution of the narrative. While the game dabbles with a sinister plot revolving around religious superiority and modern-day corporate corruption, it never builds into anything with substance. The arcade-esque gameplay prevents it from feeling anything more than a light-hearted beat-em’up featuring a Hellish theme. It doesn't help that the story takes a weird tangent about half-way through and throws in a terrorist organisation just for good measure. To be fair though, the original Devil May Cry games weren't known for their brilliant story or character development either.
Fans had every right to be anxious. It was bold of a UK company like Ninja Theory to take on such an entrenched Japanese game and try and make it their own. This is an outfit that marked their debut with Kung Fu Chaos on the old Xbox for Heaven’s sake. But the Cambridge-based studio later showed their appreciation for artistic merit with releases like Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
Ninja Theory have been faithful to the original games, but still added enough of their own lick of originality to warrant the return. While there have been a few decisions that fans will disagree with, their stylish reboot of a beloved franchise is worthy of your hard-earned pennies if you enjoyed the original, or games like God of War and Bayonetta.