One night on the week before Christmas in 2001, I arrived home from a long shift of fish mongering to find a gift from my best friend: Devil May Cry for the PlayStation 2. I was speechless; never before had anyone (other than my parents) spent that much money on me for any occasion. I was also somewhat troubled by the fact that I had no idea what to expect from this game that featured a striking, white-haired man on the front cover. Rather than swim around in feelings of gratitude and uncertainty, I booted up my gift and Matt and I started playing.
We laughed, we died (oh so many times), and we played into the early hours of the next morning. Despite our best efforts, we stalled at the third mission, unable to defeat the Phantom at its end. For days I persisted and finally triumphed - but that was only the beginning of my struggle. The fight against Nightmare held me for weeks, and it took me about two months to finally defeat Mundus and finish what remains one of my favourite video games of all time.
I've played every entry in the series, and while I have a special place in my heart for the original Son of Sparda, I must admit that I was relieved to see that Capcom had handed the reins to Ninja Theory after the festival of backtracking that was Devil May Cry 4. The English developer is renowned for creating some of the best looking games on current generation hardware (Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and Heavenly Sword), and while they were yet to create anything mechanically compelling, I had faith in their vision.
That faith has paid off.
Save for a new haircut and duds, this is pretty much the same Dante I've fought with for over a decade. Yes, there's new weapons as well, but in terms of tone and flow, this is strikingly similar to previous instalments. It's also easier (at least in terms of the Normal difficulty setting) and the scoring system is far softer, but Ninja Theory pay tribute and do justice to the series that internet trolls have campaigned against with relative benignity.
The reboot reinvigorates the franchise with some satisfying, grappling hook-heavy platforming, glorious visuals that are rich with colour, and a combat system that does just enough to stand apart from its predecessors. This old dog has some new tricks in store for you, but it really is that old dog that you know and love. Call off the petitions, protests and other meaningless acts of slacktivism!
Slow start to a Savage call
The greatest criticism I can level at DmC is that it takes a little too long to get going. It takes until just shy of the halfway mark for the training wheels to be taken off, and for the combat system to reach its addictive potential. Sure, the narrative is reasonably compelling in the initial stages; but with the swordplay failing to match the drama of angels, demons and the realm in between, I struggled to maintain interest.
Once the Devil Trigger is pulled, however, I found myself hooked. Hurtling across battlefields of varying sizes, controlling crowds of fierce enemies and making judicious use of weapons with varying affinities is great fun. I was worried that the need to use angelic and demonic weapons against specific enemies would be cause for frustration, but opportunities to unlock and upgrade weapons and attacks are afforded regularly, and the combat system never tires as a result.
The pumping, industrial-approaching-dubstep score and sound effects were key to my enjoyment of the brutal combat. It's easy enough to feel powerful, switching between guns and heavy melee weapons, but hearing a guttural "SAVAGE!!!" amongst it all really gets the blood pumping. The various S words that are screamed as you ascend the combo ranking system, paired with the fluid animation and positively ferocious attacks all make for a satisfying experience that, at times, reaches the heights of series' best entry, Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening. As a series veteran, I was ultimately pleased with what Ninja Theory had cooked up.
As I mentioned previously, DmC, at the Normal or "Devil Hunter" setting, is easier than the average Devil May Cry game. In fact, it's the easiest entry since the woeful Devil May Cry 2. Not to say that veteran combatants will be left wanting of a challenge though, as there's four extreme settings waiting for any players that finish the game. I've started my "Son of Sparda" run, and be rest-assured that the mix of enemies and remixed damage model have me failing like the days of old.
There were some other quirks that impacted on my experience. The PlayStation 3 version features some painfully-long loading times as well as some frame rate hitches during cut-scenes. These graphical issues are made all the more apparent when the silky smooth flow of combat transitions to a stumbling mess of a scripted sequence. Still, make no mistake: DmC is stunning, if not perfect to behold.
It's also worth noting that the boss fights fail to deliver anything near as challenging as a wave of Dreamrunners and Butchers. These screen-hogging encounters are time consuming though, so you may find yourself tuning out when you really should have your wits about you. The last two encounters in particular proved very underwhelming, if not visually spectacular. Speaking of Dreamrunners and Butchers, the run-of-the-mill enemies are where you'll see the fruit of Ninja Theory's labour. Each is stunning, colourful, and a perfect fit for the series. The big guys may not pack any sort of punch, but the everyday creatures show where the inspiration went.
Devil May Care
Look, if you're wanting the white-haired rock star with washboard abs, you'll get the stomach and the attitude. If you're after a quality brawler with enjoyable platforming sequences and a serviceable story, you'll come away content. It's a little slow to get going and it doesn't do anything too drastic with the established formula, but once you first pull the trigger, you're in for a real treat. Highly recommended; the first great game of 2013.