Despite having an astonishingly similar plot to Futurama’s “Fry and the Slurm Factory” episode, and the first hour of the game being dedicated to Dante finding out what we already know from reading the plot synopsis, 2013′s reboot of the venerable Devil May Cry franchise is hit and miss in as many different ways as your enemies will try to kill you. Ninja Theory’s Dante isn’t quite as feminine as Capcom’s original introduction to the character, and whilst purists of the franchise will by no means be happy with the character re-design, they will notice very similar combat mechanics – at face value.

DmC is full of easter-eggs referencing Capcom’s Japanese aesthetic, and these feel necessary since – side from the combo mechanic and UI – DmC feels like its own game in its own right. In fact, scratch that, DmC feels like every other reboot, ever. You take a character that had a very specific identity, strip him down, give him an “any-hair” cut, and give the players a chance to feel as though they could be that protagonist. Ubisoft’s reboot of the Prince of Persia franchise in 2008 did exactly that: Persian? I can’t be a Persian! How can I be immersed if I can’t imagine being the protagonist with relative ease? Stripping down the characters aesthetic isn’t the only way DmC’s reboot reminds me of 2008′s Prince of Persia, either, in that it is incredibly difficult to die - something that is, quite decidedly, at ends with the original franchise’s skill based ethos. In DmC, however, there isn’t a princess to save you from those missed jumps – you just… appear.

2013-01-26_00062

Nothing more Western than attributing skill to hacking. 

There are two things I need to get out of the way in a couple of paragraphs now, to make the rest of this read a much smoother ride. Firstly, Dante is a total and utter twat. From the opening sequence entailing the meth-addled trailer-park-on-a-pier dwelling dress-rehearsal (where pizza covers the genitals of our elegant protagonist and he dressed himself in slow motion in mid-air), to the first obnoxious line out of his mouth, DmC sets itself as an antagonizing bro-fest developed to appeal to the hearts and minds of… well… I’m not entirely sure. The thing is, Dante isn’t in the slightest bit likable – and he’s not really all that cool. With his Twilight looks and douchey attitude – two things that have stigma, I thought – Dante is relateable to insofar as the sensation I get when I look at a couple of idiot kids at a bus stop, listening to tinny music on their budget mobile phones. Every line out of the guys mouth has me, a 25 year old English guy with a mouth that’d make a nun stigmata straight to hell, cringing like a dad at a Bieber concert. That’s what 2013 Dante is: the Justin Bieber of hard-rock. And not even good hard-rock.

Secondly, the sense of humour is puerile without justification. Saints Row III is puerile, but it’s supposed to be – it’s a parody; Saints Row III is a joke.  Talking about squirrel semen, and an inability to follow tech talk because you’re too “cool”, or forgetting an elevator number, or a back and forth “fuck you” with a demon is not all that funny. And this is a game that takes itself very, very seriously. DmC has style, and whilst the aesthetic might be a consistent Salvador Dali knock off with some M.C Escher thrown in the mix, the game is beautiful, fluid, and visually dynamic.

2013-01-27_00016

Do you pleasure your mother with that finger?

So let’s ignore the fact that in altering the aesthetic for Western audiences, they’ve created a non-character, and talk about the game mechanics. Well, I’ve already said that DmC is a much easier game than its predecessors – and for the entire 6 hour experience, I died 5 times – and that was during jumping sequences towards the end where, if you get caught in fire in between the stepping stones, you burn up very quickly. This was more a matter of my patience running thin with the endless, cookie-cutter step-by-step platforming that plagues the game throughout. DmC is comprised of four main components: wiping sections clean of enemies, platforming, boss fights, and cut-scenes. You go through a linear, on-rails path, where enemies spawn. Then, you hack and slash your way through the enemies in the room, pulling off super-awesome-sick combo’s until the game lets you move forward.

Combat in DmC is visually stunning. It’s fluid, dynamic, and has a great control scheme. Dante has four weapon rotations he can use during combat: his sword, two alternative weapons (which can be changed with the D-pad), and his guns. There’s no cumbersome equipping or upgrading here, just Dante and his weapons. Using the right and left bumpers on your game-pad, you can interchange attacks without breaking combos with great ease, and because of amount of weapons at your disposal in the middle of combat, there’s an endless array of attacks to keep you raking up the numbers on that score.

2013-01-26_00030

Sunglasses not included.

With your abilities come a wide range of enemies with their respective abilities. Some enemies require certain weapons to kill, which are split between the colours red and blue. If an enemy is blue, use blue attacks. If an enemy is red, use red attacks. Yes, I’m orchestrating combat by a colour code – it really is that simple. DmC is a light-show, and whilst the fluidity is spectacular, and character animations and articulations grand, the ease of the whole ordeal means that combat feels like a mere necessary stepping stone in the story, where it should be the integral mechanic – the key to enjoyment. It didn’t seem to matter what enemy they threw at me, or how they mixed up the “pot” of enemies on the screen, it was just a matter of chaining myself towards them, spamming Y, mixing in some alternate moves, chaining to the next, and getting through to the next area.

In fact, whilst I don’t condemn the combat mechanic in the game for what it is, it wasn’t really satisfying enough to be the central focus of the game that it needed to be to justify the rest of the title lacking any substance. For instance, THQ’s Darksiders 2 had very comparable combat, but with an expansive world and RPG elements, there was much more going on to focus on – a lot to do in between killing. Here, there’s just killing, and platforming.

2013-01-26_00046

Consistently beautiful set pieces make this title a visual feast.

Platforming really let DmC down, partly because there’s so much of it that is just feels like filler, and partly because it’s so bland (in terms of the paths you take) and unoriginal. The aforementioned Prince of Persia reboot is a good spot to get a taste of what I’m talking about. You use one of two “chain” attacks to either pull yourself, or objects, towards you in order to jump to them. You can somewhat glide, and you can double jump. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Platforming is on rails, and whilst the set-pieces are surreal and pretty, the “red ring” for pull-towards-you objects and blue ring for launch-yourself moves makes the whole process feel like a dot-to-dot puzzle. Where do I go from here? Oh, the next dot. If you fall, you just try again – no penalty, no health lost, no death.

It’s not all about jumping, running, and slashing, though. Boss fights in DmC are cool. They’re not hard, they’re not all that funny, and they’re not very lengthy – they’re just cool. The boss designs and dialogue (when integral to the story) is well written and well voiced – something of a running theme in this game – and the music and background animations assist the mood tremendously. There’s a real “club vibe” to the whole thing, and boss fights switch out the hard-rock for dubstep, keeping the high-octane sense of ‘I’m going to turn down my headphones for a bit, I think’ that the rest of the game invokes. Seriously though, if size is what you want in the bosses, then you got it. The problem is, every boss in the game is basically the same: attack weak spot for a while, jump for a bit, grapple something, do it again. Eventually they die, and you move on.

2013-01-27_00018

If Bill O’Reilly did Tron.

The story is a little about love, a little about mass-consumerism – a lot about Fox News. I don’t know what Fox News did to Ninja Theory, but they parody the living Republican out of that network. The populous has been rendered docile and complicit by the aforementioned cartoon soda, and Bill O’Reilly acts as their main source of right-wing, anti-Dante, pro-demon propaganda keeping their ideological minds in check. There are some funny moments, especially his boss fight, which is possibly the most unique in the game (albeit not really), making the Bill O’Reilly spoof one of my favorite things about this reboot. The theme, though, adds to the try-hard sense of ‘anti-consumerism, anti-establishment, pro-profanity, cool-skinny-guy’ vibe the adults at Capcom were clearly going for. In fact, DmC doesn’t seem to want to appeal to youth-culture, it seems to want to spoof it – making Dante their punchline.

Devil May Cry has been completely stripped down, and its mechanics and attributes carefully analysed by Ninja Theory. They’ve rebuilt the combat mechanics and sense of fluidity which seems to references the originals quite well, but that’s about as far as the connection goes. The levels are much more linear, and the characters are much blander, and because there’s no more searching for keys or entering rooms more than once, they’ve replaced a lot of the game will jumping around objects in a space vacuum - which felt like they were trying to purposefully waste my time, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever said about a game before.

2013-01-27_00019

Basically every weapon can hit everything in the room from the middle.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, there’s a wide variety of enemies, and fighting each one for the first time is genuinely enjoyable. Some will argue that there are tactics involved, since some enemies have shields, or can fly – and there’s even a “witch” who can shield enemies. Other enemies require flaking, or kiting, or biding your time. Once you work out the requisite moves for each enemy, though, it’s incredibly easy to replicate them. Whilst there are a wide array of weapons (relatively), most of them can kill basically everything around you – and shields aren’t a problem when you’ve two gigantic Hellboy fists at your disposal. Likewise, chaining yourself up to enemies makes their flight redundant, and the ability to flank is a matter of merely side-stepping. It doesn’t seem to matter how many enemies they throw at you, it’s clearly all fodder for the combo meter.

There’s also an extensive upgrade mechanic, wherein each of your weapons can be upgraded for new moves and skills. On top of that, you can purchase items to extend Dante’s health, or find keys to run challenges to pick up pieces which, when stacked, do just that. The upgrade system is interesting, and the periodic weapon acquisitions do add something to the combat – just not quite enough, since they all feel very samey.

In that vein, getting an awesome combo really just depends on the amount of enemies in the room. Most enemies stun very easily, and chaining yourself around the place, or grappling them to you, means that you’re never not hitting something. You go from D to SS remarkably fast, and this is something I felt was at odds with the series roots. It shouldn’t be that easy to do well.

However, there is hope – since when you beat the game, you unlock an extra difficulty, which extends the attacks of the enemies, allowing them to pounce at you, and changing your tactics. This, indeed, is one of those games that, like Sniper Elite V2, or Hitman Absolution, if you want to enjoy it “properly”, you have to do it at a higher difficulty setting.

2013-01-26_00016

2 seconds later, they gave me a weapon that hits through shields. 

DmC tries so hard to be stylish that it comes across as trite and tactless. Whilst the artists at Ninja Theory are clearly creative and competent, those pulling the punches have orchestrated a bit of a soulless love-child. Don’t get me wrong, DmC is “cool”, and if you sit down to play it for a short session, or just want a brainless 6 hour linear romp whilst your ears are raped by youth-metal, then you’re going to have a great time. The problem is, Devil May Cry has always been both subtle and stylish – but Capcom have tried too hard to fill boots too large for them to fill, and instead we got a very expensive looking spectacle fighter with half the meat of God of War, and half the depth of Darksiders 2.

If you’re between the ages of 15 – 17, then you might enjoy this title for what it is, but if you’re someone looking for something more substantial, and you don’t have rose-tinted goggles on, then you’ll probably remember a time where fighting surreal monsters was broken up with puzzle-solving, not brainless platforming, and protagonists were enigmatic and mysterious, not douchey and tiresome. The story feels like a love-letter to Guillermo del Toro, the art to Salvador Dali and M.C Escher, and… the lens flare to J J Abrams. What it has of its own? Well… that eludes me.