What’s So Terrible About DmC, Anyway? «

What’s so terrible about DmC? People sure were angry when Capcom revealed this Devil May Cry prequel/reboot last year. Not having particularly followed the series myself, I found the outcry a little baffling. Sure, it was being outsourced rather than being developed internally by Capcom, but the studio responsible for it is Ninja Theory, who have yet to make a poor game; on the contrary, their work — particularly the recent sleeper Enslaved: Journey to the West — have been quite nicely received by critics. In the end, the complaints mainly seem to boil down to the fact that protagonist Dante suddenly has dark hair and a coif that look an awful lot like that of Ninja Theory’s boss, Tameem Antoniades. 

OK, so maybe it’s a little self-gratifying. But still, I have to ask: What’s so terrible about DmC? Now that I’ve had the opportunity to play DmC for myself, I have a hard time imagining that any fan of Devil May Cry fan wouldn’t enjoy Ninja Theory’s take on the franchise. Yeah, Dante has become something of a self-insertion character, and he’s a cocky twerp; but his brashness is offset by a delirious combination of over-the-top silliness and over-the-top action game excess. One moment, Dante is answering the door of his trailer home in the nude; the next, a massive demon is attacking and the hero dresses himself in slow-motion by free-falling through the air into his clothes. (Conveniently placed hovering free-fall objects such as slices of pizza manage to preserve his modesty to the viewer through an increasingly improbable sequence of events.) There’s a real sense of tongue-in-cheek absurdity to it all; were these events to simply flash past in a moment, they’d seem frivolous. Instead, they drag on just a little too long and become just a little too ridiculous, and that clearly deliberate excess amounts to a knowing wink at the audience. It works.

What’s so terrible about DmC? The setting and mechanics are interesting enough. Granted, it borrows liberally from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Soul Reaver in its use of a dual-world mechanic, but like I keep saying: If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Dante switches between the real world and the concurrent realm of Limbo, which twists reality and affects the minds of passing humans in subliminal ways. The name on a shopping arcade sign becomes “SPEND MONEY” in Limbo and beams its message into reality. What happens in one realm affects the other, so that when an amusement part ferris wheel is jarred loose from its mooring by a Limbo demon, the game flashes to reality where the news reports it as a terrorist attack. And, of course, the overlap between the two realities affects moment-to-moment game play; the producer promises that many puzzles within the game will involve shifting between planes. Hopefully these intellectual challenges will grow more complex than the demo’s simple tasks of destroying guardian cameras to unlock doors. [Edit: A Capcom representative has informed me that this statement is a misunderstanding and that the dual-world overlap will be relegated strictly to the story, not the play mechanics.]

What’s so terrible about DmC? The dynamic levels seem fun and challenges. Dante deals with more than simply bad guys; the realm of Limbo itself seeks to stand athwart him and his goal. Environments transform into hazardous gauntlets and actively change to impede players. Reaching the opposite end of a cathedral nave becomes a jumping and platforming challenge as the floors tear apart and expose endless pits that Dante has to air-dash past. The interior of a clock tower becomes a spinning abattoir of blades where simply moving too close to the walls is a danger. Even in the brief slice of the game Capcom has shown off, the level design appears both engaging and challenging.

What’s so terrible about DmC? The combat remains an exercise in timing, juggling, crowd management, and maintaining combos. Unlike many action games, combo execution in DmC isn’t simply a matter of hammering on the attack button as quickly as possible. Success requires both good timing and an excellent grasp of your abilities. Dante’s sword can slash foes and knock them into the air, while his pistols interrupt enemy actions and juggle foes into the air. The sword can change form into other weapons, such as a scythe with a special charge attack and doubles as a grappling hook to wrest shields away from foes or close the gap between Dante and distant targets. Performing aerial combos by launching a monster into the air and leaping up to slash it requires a deft touch, but once you have the timing down you’ll be able to pull off near-infinite climbs that Ninja Theory will almost certainly need to minimize while balancing the action lest gamers break the game by climbing well beyond the intended play space.

Honestly, what’s so terrible about DmC? I can’t imagine that anyone could dislike DmC if it simply manages to maintain the wry humor on which the demo ends. After fighting his way through a cathedral that splinters and stretches to force players to travel by air-dash over yawning chasms, Dante crashes through a strained-glass window and lands next to his phantasmic companion.

“That felt like it went on forever,” he jokes. The girl looks at him blankly.

Church,” he smirks, perfectly happy to explain his little joke and walk away as the cathedral crumbles behind them.

Of course, I don’t have the perspective of a long-time Devil May Cry on all of this, so maybe DmC is a stain on humanity and I simply lack the context necessary to recognize it. If a game this vibrant, funny, and fluid is a disgrace, though, I’d be happy to see more developers scrape at the dregs of humanity.

 

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