Scotty Play DmC: Devil May Cry - Experimentation and Flow, Risk and Reward

This marks the first post of a series I plan to run every once in a while. I have no intention of conducting reviews or streaming games I'm playing. Rather, I want to focus on specific aspects of games I have played, stuff I find interesting or things I just think are worth talking about.

In this first article I want to draw attention to Ninja Theory's reboot of Capcom's classic series Devil May Cry. My perspective on this topic comes from someone who has played the first four games to death (except the second one, which I played for the minimum amount required to get all the achievements for and no more).

Just a note, this post will contain spoilers so if you haven't played Ninja Theory's Devil May Cry, you have been warned.

I do not own the rights to any of the imagery depicted in this post. Devil May Cry is the property of Capcom © 2015. Any .gifs were generated from a purchased copy of DmC Definitive Edition.

There are two main points of discussion I wish to address. The first is Ninja Theory's attempts to change the series and the uproar it created in the fan-base. The second is the series' defining feature: its combat.

Devil May Cry as a series (hereafter referred to as DMC) offers players an experience of fast-paced action, excessive melodrama and almost twitch-reflex difficulty. Ninja Theory took the reboot (hereafter referred to DmC) and really mixed things up. They took a far edgier approach, making Dante a misunderstood delinquent rather than his usual, over-the-top self. A lot of fans were up in arms about this stylistic change. The new Dante is as cocky as ever, but comes across as a asshole rather than the lovable, melodramatic fool of the earlier titles (except DMC 2 - edgy DMC 2 Dante was terrible).

The story of DmC took an interesting turn. Not once while playing any DMC game have I actually cared about the story elements. I even remember looking over my shoulder during some of DMC 3's more ridiculous scenes to check people weren't cringing at the screen. But DmC tried to situate the story's events within a something more believable. The world of DmC was grittier, perhaps to match its grungy protagonist. People may not have liked the story but at least it was an attempt at something more complicated than "demons are being dicks; go fix that shit." Don't get me wrong, the narrative is not without its terrible moments (aka the script) and the game's take on Vergil is pretty hard to come back from. But at least Ninja Theory tried. Change is healthy and it stops things becoming stagnant, which DMC 4 was edging towards. Dante's characters arc in particular is worth praise. In my fanboy rage I hated DmC Dante at first but as the game progresses and his values and integrity of character come through, he becomes less of a tool and more genuine.

One thing in particular that Ninja Theory did right was the environment design. Limbo is simultaneously eerie and gorgeous. The sense that you are not wanted there is very evident yet traversing its hazardous paths yields a defiant joy.

Something I definitely want to give props to Ninja Theory for is the introduction of colour. Limbo is vibrant and full of contrast, particularly when compared to the brown, grey and occasional dark red of the earlier DMC titles.

As atmospheric as the Gothic architecture of the earlier games was, it's nice to have games that take advantage of the full spectrum. Unfortunately .gif compression is rendering my argument somewhat weaker but it looks great on my telly, trust me.

A change Ninja Theory made that was met with some distaste was the push for DmC towards a more casual audience. If difficulty in Dark Souls was the slow pulling of teeth, then difficulty in the old DMC games was a sharp prick from a cattle prod. The games were fast-paced and brutal if you didn't know what you were doing. As a DMC veteran I found 'Nephilim' difficulty to be comparable to the old 'Normal' mode, which made the two difficulties below it seem like a joke. The later difficulties were more to the classic DMC taste, with 'Dante Must Die' throwing in some particularly nasty enemy combinations, albeit not quite requiring the same level of precise skill.

This push towards easier games is not just evident in DmC. Games like Dungeons & Dragons: 5th Edition and some of the later Halo games are examples of games that have taken a more accessible route. This is likely the byproduct of gaming becoming more of a norm, thereby requiring mechanical shifts to allow understanding and mastery from a broader audience. This is not inherently a bad thing either. As I mentioned before, change is healthy and in the case of making a game more accessible, it means there are more people available to share the experience. If additional options are available such as 'Hardcore Mode' for DmC or 'Skulls' for Halo, then the elite players of the franchise can still get their desired experience without resorting to pretentious whining on the internet.

So let's move on. The most important component of the DMC series is the combat and Ninja Theory made some pretty significant changes there. The reformatted control scheme was awkward at first but on trying to play with the original lock-on options, I very quickly found the new controls were much more appropriate for Dante's moveset. They made shifting between weapons instantaneous, allowing for highly fluid combinations of attacks. Many of the attacks are designed to compliment each other and it is easy to get into a state of flow with your maneuvers.

Although Dante's moveset isn't as expansive as DMC 3 or DMC 4 Dante, there is still a decent amount of variety in the weapons available. 'Eryx' and 'Arbiter' are a little interchangeable (they probably could have been the same weapon and given the open slot to something creative like 'Lucifer' or 'Nevan'). At least 'Osiris' and 'Aquila' have separate enough functions and 'Rebellion' is as reliable as ever.

The 'Ophion' demon pull and angel lift are fantastic additions to the game which make for some interesting traversal sequences and are invaluable in combat. In DMC 4 I used Nero's demon grip all the time to string combos together. I often found half of Dante's moves in DMC 4 would knock enemies away before I was finished with them so having the means to fly at or pull enemies towards myself in DmC was a blessing.

There is also the addition of some nice features such as slow-motion finishes and close-ups that add to the drama of the experience. Even the way the camera zooms in on moves like 'Stinger' or out when you're doing aerial combos exaggerates the action and helps the player feel like more of a badass. The animations for Dante's moves are beautiful and hold a lot of weight behind them. This is complemented by the sound design which makes Dante seem more desperate/aggressive in the fight. As funny as Dante's banter was in DMC 3, I got really sick of him yelling "Go to hell!" every time I used 'Beowulf'. Contrary to this, it would have been nice to have the ability to taunt in DmC, but alas we cannot all be cocky bastards.

One thing I loved about both DMC 3 and DMC 4 were the spectacular boss battles. Unfortunately DmC lacks a bit in this aspect. Not only is it guilty of dedicating entire missions to a single fight (with maybe a couple of mobs that aren't worth talking about), but most of the bosses are big static things that curse at you until you kill them.

Mundus goes down with painful simplicity and the whole fight felt very under-cooked and gimmicky. DMC 1's Mundus did not mess about, even with his terrible Star Fox knockoff sequence. It seemed Ninja Theory was going for a more cinematic experience with this fight, which would be in DMC fashion but is less forgivable in a game lacking quality boss-tier content.

At least we have the Hunter and Vergil to mix things up. I would include the Mundus spawn fight if it didn't make me so uncomfortable. Ignoring Vergil's character, his boss fight is quite interesting for several reasons. He is one of the few bosses that has a significant sway on the pacing of the fight. For most of the battles up until this point you are able to swing, slash and swoop however you wish but Vergil's ability to parry or counterattack after receiving a set amount of hits forces the player to be a bit less aggressive and more reactive.

This is great for making players feel like they're fighting someone with a similar combat style to their own. Even though great players can make the battle completely one-sided, there is a sense of something resembling equality in this fight. I got a similar vibe from fighting Riku in Kingdom Hearts, Vanitas in Birth By Sleep, Gerhman in Bloodborne, Artorias in Dark Souls, Vergil as Dante in DMC 3 and Dante as Nero in DMC 4. These fights all nailed the feeling of a showdown and required players to balance offense and defense to come out on top. DmC's Vergil may break the player's flow every now and then, but he is still open to small burst combos that provide degrees of satisfaction that help maintain engagement without him feeling like a nephilim-shaped punching bag.

But what is the point of all this yarn? As I said, this is not a review. I'm not going to be giving DmC any amount of points, stars or any other arbitrary ranking value. I personally really enjoyed this game, particularly with the additions in the 'Definitive Edition.' Ninja Theory experimented with the formula and took the series in a fresh direction and for that alone they have earned my respect. It's nice to see bigger companies taking risks rather that cranking out annual copies of the same garbage. I will be infinitely more excited if Ninja Theory got the opportunity for a DmC sequel than for the next Assassin's Creed. It's a shame DmC was met with such conflicting opinions because it feels like a case of the fan-base stifling creativity more than production deadlines and sales targets. If we do get a DMC 5 or a DmC 2, I just hope Capcom learns a thing or two and the series can move forward.

It's been a while since I played this game (excluding collecting the footage for this post) and I've gotten everything I want from it. Hopefully you found this article interesting. Maybe it made you want to give the game a try or play it again, or maybe it triggered you and for that I apologize. Either way, I've said my part. Good day and goodnight. Brebner out!