From the get go DmC makes it clear that this isn’t the Dante that you’re used to. Early scenes show Dante out clubbing and dancing with girls in angel wings before taking them back to his home, a trailer, and before the first level’s complete Dante will have been naked, sworn at a demon, and flipped a middle finger. While this initial characterisation seems like a fairly two-dimensional portrait of a “rebellious” dirt-bag who thinks only of himself, it’s obvious from the opening level that there’s more to him than that, and more to the world he inhabits.
Those hidden depths come in the form of Limbo, a hidden realm beneath the world that your Average Joe inhabits, one full of demons and danger. It’s here that Dante spends most of the game, although not usually through choice. While early in the game the leap to Limbo is something that Dante and his compatriots have control over, later on you get “dragged” there by your demonic opponents in an attempt to get you out of the way.
The hidden nature of Limbo is one of the key aspects of the game’s story, with characters, rooms and even city streets having hidden depths in Limbo. For example there’s an absolutely fantastic level where you confront one of the main protagonists in a night club. While on the surface everything seems normal enough, taking a step into Limbo reveals the true nature of the club, a twisting series of neon platforms interspersed with rooms full of demons trying to kill you.[videoyoutube]Actions in Limbo do have effects in the real world though, with an early battle with a demon at a fairground letting a ferris wheel escape its supports and cause mayhem, while a later encounter with Bob Barbas, a new anchor for the right wing Raptor News Network who just happens to be a demon, having consequences for the network’s output. The two worlds are always demonstrated as being separate but linked, and the game certainly uses it to good effect.
When you are trapped in Limbo and have to go toe-to-toe with a demon the experience is thoroughly enjoyable, leaving you with a huge smile on your face. The combat is buttery smooth, and aside from one minor camera issue in the game’s final boss battle you never feel like the game’s getting away from you or becoming too hard to handle. It’s probably not quite up to the high bar that Rocksteady’s Batman games have set but it comes within a hair’s width.
You can move between weapons with barely a thought, and while I’m not quite capable of fully exploiting what the game’s combat system has to offer the depth of what’s there is absolutely mouth-watering. You always have four weapons available, your sword, an angel weapon, a demon weapon and a gun, and not only is switching between weapons you have equipped a breeze, but so is switching out your loadout mid-combat. A simple press on the left d-button will change your angel weapon, up will change your gun and right will cycle through your demon weapons, while holding L2 or R2 will switch you between angel and demon modes.
In particular it’s in aerial combat that things really come into their own, and the ability to perform juggles of a ridiculous length that frequently combine multiple enemies comes with ease. You can send someone flying with your sword, jump up to meet them, slice them a few times, hit them with a shotgun blast to push them even higher into the air, smash them with your demon fuelled Eryx gauntlets, use your angelic Arbiter scythe to cut through them before pulling another demon into your web of pain. If you really get to grips with switching between different weapons in a single combo then the combat opens up into something special.[drop]It’s not all demon slicing though, there’s a good amount of platforming with some levels being much more heavily focused on this element than the combat. While the level design in these parts of the game is frequently brilliant, and often accompanied by some absolutely beautiful artwork, the actual gameplay falls slightly wide of the mark at times.
Your control in jumps isn’t quite as accurate as you’d like it to be, and when you use Dante’s jump dash ability it’s frustratingly easy to miss the platform by a matter of inches. It only costs you a small chunk of your life-bar and you’re not sent all the way back to a checkpoint, in fact you restart instantly at the start of the missed jump, but it does become annoying when you just miss the same jump for the fifth time.
However, when you do get the platforming right it feels just as fluid as the combat does. Early into the game Dante gains a grappling hook of sorts, with different abilities coming into play when used with the two aspect of his powers. The angelic side of Dante allows you to pull yourself up towards a grapple point, while his more demonic side will pull some chunk of scenery towards you. When you have to combine these to make jumps that look impossible the whole thing just clicks together and leaves you with a real feeling of accomplishment.
Dante’s combination of angelic and demonic powers is a core aspect of the game’s story, and an element that helps to explain a lot of his reasoning and growth. You see Dante and his brother Vergil are Nephilim, the children of a union between a demon and an angel. They’re the only ones of their kind, and that means they have a key role to play in the game’s lore.
The whole Limbo aspect of the game and presence of disguised demons in powerful positions comes from Mundus, a demon lord who rules humanity from behind the scenes, manipulating humans and seeming to have a huge amount of control over every aspect of society. Before the start of the game Vergil has formed The Order, an organisation dedicated to overthrowing Mundus’ rule. Dante has nothing to do with them at the start though, only coming into the conflict when Mundus discovers he’s a Nephilim and sends a demon to kill him before he discovers the full scope of his powers. If it was me I’d probably go out of my way to avoid drawing him into the conflict but then again I’m not a demon with godlike power.[drop2]After Dante escapes the first attempt on his life via the intervention of Kat, Vergil’s right hand at The Order and the character you’re obviously meant to connect with, he joins up to the crusade and quickly discovers the powers his heritage gives him access to. While Ninja Theory have gone out of their way to try and establish the characters in the game as being “alternative” and have set Dante up as an anti-hero, it’s depressing how bog standard this element of the story is.
It’s the stereotypical story of a character learning of their past and their potential for greatness, and is out of the way so quickly that it feels a little like it’s there for the sake of it. It would have been nice if they’d stretched out this element of the story a little, playing up the discovery elements more and making Dante’s growth feel more natural. While you can’t deny that he does change over the course of the game, it all feels a bit too brief, as if he was balancing on the edge of change before the game even started.
However, the relatively brief exploration of Dante’s powers and his past is almost forgiveable because of the cutscenes that depict his childhood. These employ a wonderful painted art style, and are re-used at key points throughout the game and in some load screens. They really are the game’s artistic high point, and a simply lovely touch.
It’s a shame though that the rest of the game doesn’t quite live up to this graphical promise. The game really falls flat in some cutscenes, with the frame rate feeling slightly like it’s stuttering and environmental textures feeling incredibly flat.
Fortunately when you’re in control it looks a lot better, although it’s not a graphical masterpiece by any means. While there are levels that employ great art styles, and the the way that the cities warp and morph when you enter Limbo looks fantastic, you’re never really blown away. At its best it does start to feel a bit special, but it also has moments that feel like you’re seeing a game from the start of this generation.
If you’re looking for a game that’s long in one playthrough then DmC may not quite be for you. You can probably run through the main story in under ten hours, but there’s plenty of collectibles to go back and pick up, as well as leaderboards to compete with your friends on. On top of that there’s four extra difficulty levels that change up the game with different conditions, such as Dante dying in one hit and changing enemy waves. Realistically how much you’ll get out of the game depends on what type of gamer you are, but if you do like to find every secret a game has then there’s plenty to go back for.
- Buttery smooth combat
- When platforming clicks it feels great
- Some absolutely great level design at points
- Sets up nicely for more games
- Plenty of collectibles and secrets
- Controls when platforming aren’t quite accurate enough at times
- Hit and miss graphically
- Dante’s character growth feels somewhat rushed
- Core story could be longer
It’s obvious why long time fans of Devil May Cry had concerns about the reboot of the series but Ninja Theory have done a lovely job with taking over the reigns. It’s certainly not without its issues, and at this stage in a generation you feel like a game should probably be wielding more graphical clout, but the game’s combat more than makes up for it. It’s simply brilliant, and you can have a lot of fun trying out the different options it presents you. Once Dante’s picked up every weapon there’s simply so much available to you, and that’s what sets the game apart.