Monday, 13 May 2013

DMC Devil May Cry

The Title Screen

Introduction
DMC Devil May Cry is a spectacle-fighter released in 2013, by Ninja Theory. Intended to be a reset, or re-imagining, of the Devil May Cry series, it features the same characters, combat style and general feel of the other games with the name. It's available on PlayStation, Xbox and PC.

Disclaimer: Most definitely an adult game with sexual themes, violence and frequent strong language. Players should also expect to find concepts and ideas common to stories featuring hell, angels and demons.


The First Thing
I am only passingly familiar with the games from the Devil May Cry series; I roughly knew what to expect with regard to gameplay, but not much else. Consequently, the tone of the game completely surprised me. The heavy music, deep voiced announcer and chosen background images painted an air of "serious light-heartedness". DMC embraces that it is 'over the top' and frankly a bit daft and maintains a serious and solid gameplay experience. As strange as it sounds, this combination of the absurd, irony and polished gameplay endeared this title to me almost from the start.


Plot & Devices
The world is in peril. The people of Earth are permanently monitored by an evil mass-media corporation and an addictive, tainted soft drink keeps them fat and obedient. Demons are responsible and are pulling the strings from their parallel dimension: Limbo. Dante is the feared orphaned son of an Angel and Demon, blessed with the powers and strengths of both races. Initially content with women, drink and nightclubs, he is drawn into the war by the demons who see him as their only threat. Saved by a psychic called Kat during one of their attacks, Dante finds himself part of the human resistance and reunited with his long lost bright, Vergil. Together the three of them must exact revenge and free humanity from slavery.

Dante

One of the key story elements is the character progression of Dante. At the start he is a bit of a douchebag; there is no better way of describing him. It's perfectly understandable since he is a young man with incredible powers, but the transition to responsibility would be meaningless if he was mature to begin with. Advanced primarily in between levels, there is nothing particularly surprising in this standard revenge story. Even the plot twists end up being quite predictable and standard. Do not mistake this for inept story telling though, DMC is intended to be so 'over the top' that to consider it unbelievable is missing the point. Although one or two key moments are handled with surprising grace and emotion, DMC is mostly about the gameplay.


The Game
The original Devil May Cry is pretty much the poster child for the spectacle-fighter genre; where style is emphasised over realism. Waves of demons, fantastical locations, and abilities that defy the laws of physics are all par for the course for a spectacle fighter. Set in the third person perspective, the game is split between combat and platforming. The thematic elements of Demons and Angels are found throughout, with each having a different impact on gameplay.

The core of DMC is combat, which mostly takes place against waves of demons in enclosed arenas. Enemies have different attacks and the objective is to chain together offensive abilities in the most fluid way possible, whilst avoiding taking any damage. The player is expected to be actively involved in choosing attacks, targets and locations. Enemies are either ground based or aerial, and there are many different ways of moving between the two. Occasionally much harder adversaries require specific tactics, and boss fights at the end of some sections test skill in standard fashion.

The power of Angels and Demons

Dante has three weapon types: Angel, Demon and Ranged. Each type has two or three weapons to choose from, but only one weapon usable at a time. Angel weapons are typically fast and low damaging, good at handling multiple enemies. Demon weapons on the other hand are slow, but very powerful. Ranged weapons vary from being basic damage filler, to situational attacks. If neither angel or demon mode is used, Dante will use his regular sword intended to be a balance between the two. Each weapon has two buttons/attacks are determined by combinations, ground/air location and whether the demon or angel modifier is used. For example:

■ Button 1 = Standard attack with balanced sword
■ Demon Modifier + Button 1 = Standard attack, with Demon Weapon
■ Angel Modifier + Button 1 = Standard attack, with Angel Weapon

The other side of gameplay is basic platforming where the only goal is to move between platforms and not fall. Falling results in a Zelda-style loss of health, and return to a previous platform. The various tools Dante has at his disposal to navigate the platforming challenges are tied to the Demon and Angel modifiers; with the modifiers turning his ranged weapon into a grappling hook. The Demon Grappling Hook is used to pull objects towards Dante, and the Angel Grappling Hook is used to pull Dante towards objects. It is quite clear which hook is supposed to be used by graphical prompts and the challenge comes in executing the correct hook, at the correct time. Dante also has a jump and double jump, but these are not especially useful in platforming due to their vertical nature. The Angel modifier however turns the double jump into a forward glide that is used throughout. All the platforming abilities can be used in combat, such as pulling Dante towards an enemy or vice versa.

RPG gameplay

Dante will acquire items and points that are used in an RPG fashion to purchase combos or upgrades. Weapons are unlocked at set points during the campaign, but upgrades and abilities beyond the default are left to the choice of the player. Any spent points can be sold for a full refund and assigned somewhere else. A training mode is provided for the player to try combos, or abilities before purchasing. At the end of each level the player will be presented with a score on how stylish/varied their play was. This score also rewards in points used for more upgrades.

The soundtrack is only noticeable during combat where it becomes quite heavy. The sound effects and voice acting are nothing special, but are solid and reliable. Although, the voice acting is hard to judge given the outlandish nature of most of the dialogue. The graphics are good, although can sometimes feel a little cluttered. A lot artistic effort has been placed into the art style of each level to make them feel interesting and different. Although most of the game takes place in 'limbo' the experience is a little different each time - whilst conforming to similar ideas such as no gravity, or stopped time. DMC certainly has some unique and memorable level aesthetics.

I encountered no issues with the PC version. I played with a gamepad, as I do all third person platform/combat games and found no control issues. It did take a little while to get to grips with the default key-bindings though. Fitting the angel/demon modifiers into combat will take some practice before players feel 100% in control of every action.

Large boss fights feature at the end of many levels

Wrap Up & Negatives
Is it a negative to have an outlandish, shallow and clichéd story? Even if that was that was the design goal? I simply don't believe the developers were unaware of how loopy their story was and I believe the ironic undertones reflects this. But still, this will be a negative for some - and if so, probably the biggest. The combat will also become repetitive for any player that chooses not to experiment with the variety offered. The game is also quite on the easy side, especially the boss fights. I did not try the harder difficult settings, which I presume provide a great challenge.

The platforming is noticeably not as varied as the combat and is mainly used to quickly connect different combat encounters. Also, I fell to my death a fair few times due to the vertical jump, which was frustrating. The platforming is also quite 'samey' and is mostly "jump, grappling hook, more jump, more grappling hook". However, despite being simplistic it does feel smooth and fitting with the overall feel. Since the platforming often takes place in some very interesting level design, it is less noticeable.

Other than that, I feel most negatives are subjective. I can imagine the art style, gameplay and music could all be disliked, but these are not negatives in their own right.



Personally
Once I'd adjusted to the ludicrous story, I settled into DMC and had a lot of fun. I can imagine avid players of the spectacle fighter genre being disappointed with the difficulty; but that is why harder settings are provided. The combat is well put together and the result is an enjoyable and stylish experience. The platforming is a little simple for my tastes, but I still found it satisfying. I also warmed to Dante even though (and I hope you'll forgive the expression) he is a total dick at the start. This is actually a testament to good character progression that we feel differently about him at end than the start. I also found the dialogue quite funny at times.

Sometimes the level design is really imaginative

However, there is one aspect of DMC that makes it worth playing for alone; the level design. Having levels set in an alternate reality similar to ours allows for some really interesting concept exploration and some of the design is nothing short of astounding. Perhaps even more impressively, the innovation is kept going throughout the game, with new ideas found in later levels. One boss fight in particular sticks in my memory for being simply a great and original idea, even if simple to overcome.

A polished, enjoyable title that deserves recommendation. The story is clichéd and crude but the gameplay is solid from start to finish. Just get over the different hair colour and remember we were all young once...even Dante.


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