34 floors above ground in The Shard, this is definitely the swankiest place I’ve ever been just to play a video game, but then that should be expected when it’s Devil May Cry 5. This is a game that is all about Smokin’ Sexy Style, and with just a month left until launch we’ve been indulged with a juicy in-depth session.
There’s something ironic about being able to marvel at the London skyline from up high while playing through a fictional version – black cabs, tube stations, even a ‘burrow’ market – all gone to the dogs, which given the state of the UK right now and what’s due to happen at the end of March, cuts rather close to the bone. But no, it’s not exactly a political allegory. This Red Grave City finds itself under siege from a demonic apocalypse, channeling Day of the Triffids as plant-based monstrosities take root throughout the city. That the rest of the demonic foes manifest themselves in bug-like form makes you feel this apocalypse is simply in need of a decent pest extermination squad.
Fortunately for them, we’ve got three demon hunters up to the job. With about five hours to sample almost a dozen missions, that was plenty of time to sink my teeth into protagonists Nero, Dante, and the mysterious V. The latter still remains a bit of an enigma, though I could imagine similar results if Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin had taken a goth direction and cast Adam Driver in the lead role. There’s even something Iago about his talkative feathered friend Griffon.
What little we do know is that it’s V who ties Nero and Dante together, recruiting the two to face the latest demonic threat, but when you then get to play as him, he provides quite a switch-up of the series’ signature fast combat.
Being a bit more hands-off, V summons powerful beasts to do the dirty work for him. There’s the aforementioned Griffon who dishes out electrifying ranged attacks when he’s not squawking, while the wildcat-like Shadow gets up close with its claws. Then there’s Nightmare, a hulking beast you can summon crashing down from the air when your Devil Trigger gauge is charged up. At first, it’s strange standing back while others do the fighting, but these familiars are essentially functioning like extensions of your limbs, dealing the melee and ranged attacks we’re used to, it just takes some adjusting when you’re controlling both V and your familiars’ movements at the same time.
Still, Shadow and Griffon can only weaken enemies into a stunned purplish hue, leaving them for V to warp-strike in with his cane to finish the job. It’s a satisfying moment as the camera zooms in and slows down for the killing blow, as your style meter shoots up with that pay-off.
If that makes him sound a bit overpowered, then you do need to be mindful that your familiars also have their own health you need to keep an eye on before they revert to an orb on the ground, slowly recharging. It leaves V vulnerable to attack, though positioning yourself close to their orbs will speed up recovery time.
Personally, I had the most fun with Nero, who Xbox owners have had the pleasure of rinsing in the demo for the past couple months. Just the ways he handles in the air, from high-rolling enemies up into the air or yanking them up off the ground, while also pulling off a sort of double-jump with a mid-air taunt that flips him on his Red Queen blade like a skateboard, makes him incredibly fun and effortlessly agile to control.
His ridiculous Exceed ability, where you can perfectly time the left trigger with a slash to charge up Red Queen for an even more powerful attack, returns from DMC4 and is the kind of move that had me perhaps over-exerting myself to the point my arm was physically jolting as I hit those buttons. Excessive much? And yet that’s how immersed in the action I found myself, which actually helps with the rhythm of the combat (speaking of rhythm, I’m still not sick of that ‘Devil Trigger’ song).
This was also a chance to try out more of Nero’s devil breakers concocted by his nerdy sassy partner-in-crime Nico, who runs a shop out of her van for all your upgrading needs. There’s eight different devil breakers in total, and besides pulling off kick-ass attacks, some have more interesting uses. Punchline is a cracker, flying off to rocket-punch distant enemies, but Nero can jump on top of to ride around. There’s also a couple that aren’t directly doing the punching, such as the Tomboy, which buffs your other weapons, or the Ragtime, which goes a bit Bayonetta with how it slows down time.
The most important thing is to not get too attached to any one in particular since they’re fragile and you’ll find yourself going through quite a few, but will pick up just as many in return. It’s a bit annoying that there’s no way to manually switch to another arm without destroying the one you’ve already equipped, but it does encourages you to switch things up and improvise with what you’ve got.
Dante needs no introduction, even if like in DMC4 you don’t get to play as him until a good way into the game. Compared to the other two, he’s very much the expert mode that fans know and love. We sadly didn’t get to wield two halves of a motorcycle as weapons, which had been so insanely shown off in a previous teaser, but his four fighting styles – Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, and Royalguard – are back and easy to switch with the tap of the D-pad. Pulling his Devil Trigger is then your go-to for laying the demon smack-down as well as health regeneration.
But just as the narrative jumps around the timeline, the trio’s journeys also intersect, which the game’s online functionality will make use of. Although this wasn’t an online session, I got an idea an idea of how the seamless co-op will work. One particular mission lets you play as either Nero or V, the two deciding to split up to cover more ground, where you’ll notice the other fighting demons nearby. Your AI companion does their own thing just fine in the background before you converge fighting another horde together, so it will be interesting to see just how this plays out with another player who could help, hinder or perhaps take all the glory off you. That aside, it still incentivises replaying a mission just to see how the other’s path differs and overlaps, although hardcore DMC players will obviously be replaying missions to max those Sweet Smokin’ Scores anyway. Besides these alternative, parallel paths, there’s still secret missions off the beaten path, which can now also be played outside of a chapter once discovered.
Otherwise, this is still very much DMC as we’ve known it. With the RE Engine, it’s also hands down the prettiest one yet, and that push for photorealism hasn’t impacted on the slick core gameplay one bit. On the Xbox One X I was playing on, it maintained a smooth 60fps throughout. To be fair, and as the joints of my fingers can attest, my focus was on keeping up with the frantic pace of combat, getting those EX-act timings down and boosting that style meter, but a photo mode, as well as the game’s occasional moments of slow-zooms or the opening credits as Nico bombs down the road while Nero rides shotgun blasting away demons, certainly provide breaks in the action to give your eyes a feast.
I was already in the ‘DmC was great, actually’ camp, so I can’t say DMC5 is a return to form from Ninja Theory’s under-appreciated gem, but fans have every reason to be united behind this new entry. It looks and sounds incredibly worthy for the current gen hardware, and doesn’t compromise on its philosophy of having you be the most badass and stylish demon hunter. Even after a few intensive hours, I’m still itching to pull that Devil Trigger again.