DmC – Devil May Cry (The Fifth Symphony)
DmC is the fifth game in the mostly-excellent Devil May Cry series. 1 and 3 are widely (and correctly) considered the best. I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about Devil May Cry 3 unless you count internet crazies; it’s one of the greatest video games I have ever played. 2 was mediocre and 4 was merely good, which tends to leave them by the wayside when people discuss the series.
What’s in store for the newest iteration of Devil May Cry? According to rumor, this game was to change all sorts of things to save what was commonly perceived as a stale franchise. It’s a prequel to a prequel, the protagonist looks sort of different, and… uh, that’s actually all of it. If you’re expecting a completely different experience, go play another series, because DmC holds pretty strongly to traditions. This is not a bad thing.
Some of my muscle memory from years of playing Devil May Cry 3 came back while playing DmC. It was a weird feeling of sinister almost-synchronicity, like those people who feel incomplete until they chop off one of their own limbs. For example, I kept trying to jump off walls even though it’s not possible (there are all sorts of other methods for mobility, however) and attempted to use Royal Guard to block enemy attacks even though there’s no such thing in this one. But what you do get is a fantastic new array of weapons, tools, and skills.
You have two different types of grappling hooks (one that pulls you to the enemy and one that pulls the enemy to you, meaning that that dumb kid Nero is now obsolete), five unique melee weapons (each with a great library of techniques), three guns (each different and worthwhile) four types of dodge/dashing… DmC gives you more options than Gradius and more moves than a Filipino wedding. All of the Devil May Cry games are about playing as a highly technical whirlwind of death that falls apart with one mistake on the player’s part. DmC may too easy but it has the first thing right; in this game Dante has so many capabilities that he can quickly steamroll any opposition. Yes, this game is far too easy. Fun, but a child raised on modern movie-games could still complete it and get an SSS average rating. This is my biggest complaint about an otherwise quite respectable game.
I especially enjoyed using the Aquilla weapon. When I first got it I thought it would be some dumb shuriken I would only use to slowly plink away at the enemies’ health, but what I got was a versatile instrument that could attack whole swarms of enemies at once, juggle a single monster for an eternity, draw hordes of foes toward me for more beatings, fire a projectile to repeatedly slice a target while I either attacked separately or took care of other problems, and more. The weapons in DmC are so incredibly useful and entertaining as to make it worth the sticker price alone.
Skill points are unlockable through gameplay (such a huge amount of skills, and they’re all useful!) and can be rearranged at any save point and you can even practice them before you get them. This encourages the player to experiment and learn what’s best without having to experience trial and error. What’s more is that you can switch between the weapons on the fly through a combination of button presses like an octopus of fingers trying to complete a Rube Goldberg machine. No more selecting weapons at the start of a mission and hoping they were the right ones. It also shows you workable combos during the loading screen, and a training mode better than many fighting games’, which are two excellent touches.
The enemies of a beat/slash-em-up are probably the most important aspect of a game in the genre; if they aren’t interesting to fight against, then you have an inferior game whose other elements struggle to support it. Unfortunately, regular enemies in this game are just boring. Regular monster, regular monster with shield, regular monster with thick armor. There’s nothing like the chess pieces from 3, the lightning demon things from 4, or the marionettes from the first one; no memorable new enemies at all. And in previous Devil May Cry games you would face the same boss multiple times with slight variations, like they would learn new moves or something with each iteration. In DmC there are fewer boss battles but they are more unique than its competitors. A lesser game would have you fight a Nightmare demon horse; a Devil May Cry has you fight an undead horse and carriage that fires missiles at you. Each of these bosses requires a different set of skills and they are a greater challenge than the rank-and-file foes, making them much more entertaining. And one of them is the floating Tron head of a demonic Bill O’Reilly, who lives to spreads propaganda for his evil corporate overlord.
When I alt-tabbed out to paste screenshots into GIMP, the game would sometimes freeze. Surprisingly, it kept an auto-save from the start of the room where I left off rather than forcing me to load a save from the beginning of the chapter. While handy, this (as well as the standard game over/continue) unfortunately extends to sections of bosses. You can easily beat any multi-stage boss just by spamming continues, something that used to be expensive or impossible in previous games.
DmC is aesthetically well-crafted and visually fascinating. You’re not traversing bland castles and caves but abandoned burning-down carnivals, dark city streets crawling with hideous veins, the floating rocks inside the protagonist’s brain, a demonic cola production facility, a skyscraper’s reflection that extends into the sea. I particularly liked the television level where you run across the Fox News-esque network’s eyecatcher graphics as if they were platforms. You could make an entire game out of that. The upside-down prison complex reminded me of the inverted castle in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and anything that reminds me of that game can’t be wrong. The rave level is a fantastic idea (Dante runs over a series of musical visualizations and other audio-themed elements). And all of these would have been even more enjoyable had they been any challenge whatsoever.
Spoilers ahead if you honestly care about video game plots.
The much-dreaded allusions to the white-haired Dante of the first four games are nowhere near as common or as irritating as the internet might have led you to believe. You couldn’t let out a fart without it hitting someone complaining about the “new Dante”. The game’s creators knew people responded badly to brunette Dante but they stuck with it and it doesn’t really matter either way. Does he look dumb now? Sure, but you can barely tell with all the action on screen. In 3 and 4 Dante acted like a cocky arrogant teenager (he had little personality to speak of in the first two games) and here’s a Devil Cay Cry where Dante actually is a cocky arrogant teenager. Argh this makes me so angry that they changed everything! Come on, be reasonable, it’s not like they ruined the character to the extent of a live-action movie based on a video game would have.
I don’t talk about video game plots much but DmC has a surprisingly non-terrible one, though it has more than its share of direly bad writing. Being a prequel, players of the previous games know everything that’s going to happen because the relevant characters showed up in the other games already. You know that Dante and Vergil will become enemies, Mundus will survive to become the final boss of the first game in the series, and Dante’s hair will become as white as David Duke’s hood. So what? It’s enjoyable while it lasts. The settings are pure urban fantasy, a genre that is overwhelmingly trite when it comes to literary fiction but often unexplored in video games. If I want to use shotguns and giant swords to hack up shadow monsters in a modern-day city, why can’t I? DmC delivers.
DmC is superior to Devil May Cry 2 and 4 in quality. It is certainly enjoyable start to finish; It has more variety in skills and weapons than any of the others, the levels are finely constructed, the bosses a pleasure to fight, and there are no boring repeat parts like in 4. But the game’s absence of challenge and lack of creative enemies robs it of the greatness of the first and third installments. It’s a very good game all-around and worthy of the series’ name, but I just wish the harder difficulties were available immediately or they made it harder overall. Let the babbys have their casual games; I want more stuff like Dark Souls that kicks me in the nuts and makes me say I like it. Devil May Cry games should be about that, and you’re not getting it, but a close approximation, and that’s worth your time for sure.