DMC: Devil May Cry: Demo Thoughts
Now, it’s fair to say that the buzz surrounding DMC: Devil May Cry hasn’t been unanimously positive up to this point. The new aesthetic alone turned away fans and newcomers alike, and rumours of slow frame-rates, a broken style system and a poor script haven’t really helped matters. I finally got my hands on the demo last week which, for anyone following the game, will be strikingly familiar. It’s essentially the trade-show content that has been bandied about for the last year, but actually getting to play the thing was still somewhat of a revelation.
We’re given two levels: a linear, light-drenched one, which shows off the environment deformation; and the first part of a boss battle against a massive, grotesque combination of cocoon and witch. To start with the more traditional level – Dante is in limbo (basically the normal world that breaks apart and stuff) and he’s on a mission to destroy the super-metaphorical and ideologically transparent demon surveillance cameras. Getting to them requires first, of course, the slicing up of some bad guys.
Even for a pretty devoted Devil May Cry fan, the new system takes a little bit of time to get used to. The core is there – slashing, shooting and leaping all being immediately doable. My issue was with the lack of lock-on, a bemusing alteration that doesn’t seem to have really added anything. The camera jolted between foes, for the most part successfully, but I couldn’t help but feel less in control of the situation. I had to react to foes as they came, as opposed to executing an all-out offensive on my terms and every now and then an attack would come from off screen because I hadn’t been surveying the area well enough. Also, in previous games the lock-on had acted as a modifier opening up Dante’s skill set organically. The stinger for example – the move where Dante lunges forward with the sword – would be a simple case of locking on, pointing and attacking. Now you have to awkwardly tap the analogue stick up twice before attacking. Dodging, again, would be a modified jump, allowing individual enemies to be evaded accurately. Now, as a different button, Dante bounds around the battlefield irrespective of enemy positioning.
Elements of the combat are also flat-out broken at this point. The style meter, a staple of the genre that encourages offensive and diverse play, is now easily manipulated. For starters your grade doesn’t decrease over time – you only ever get bumped down if an enemy scores a hit on you. This altogether breaks the immediacy it fostered in games prior. Coupled with this is Dante’s new weapon system which, instead of allowing the selection of a variety of weapons, uses the triggers as modifiers that change the type. Left trigger will activate the ‘Angel’ scythe, for example, which is purportedly built for air juggling; perplexingly, this is made manifest in its ability to perpetually keep enemies airborne. By just hitting circle (B on the Xbox) Dante will sweep the weapon up keeping himself and any enemies airborne around him. This can be done ad infinitum without Dante ever re-touching the ground. As I’m sure you can imagine, this means that rocketing to the top of the style meter doesn’t provide an awful amount of challenge. Although, just in case (somehow) you were struggling, dodging with the axe equipped activates a slow-motion super mode that’ll get you there even quicker.
It has to be said, however, the game feel is decent. Once you get the hang of the three weapons and their activation and start using them in conjunction with the whip, you begin to get the best out of both Dante’s and Nero’s play styles from games prior. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it reaches Devil May Cry 4 mechanically, but the combat is far from a tiresome experience – perhaps just a simplistic one.
Much of the first level requires whip-aided platforming. Dante has never been known for his ability to negotiate geometry but this time around, with the help of an airborne dash forward and a Spiderman-esque zipline situation, he’s certainly got a few more tricks up his sleeve. Regrettably, it doesn’t really work as intended. There’s no significant challenge to the contextualised opportunities wherein the whip can be used, and the environments’ simplicity reflects not an awful lot of faith in the new additions. You the get the impression that the platforming is there in a role not disimilar to that of Uncharted’s – simply to look brilliant and suggest a hint of control during crazy set-piece sequences. Unfortunately, whilst the environments play their part in disintergrating for you, Dante’s lack of animation and weight prevent him for touching the majesty of Nathan Drake’s crazy scrambles from danger.
The boss fight fairs similarly averagely. I couldn’t help crack a smile when Dante was asked to identify himself and responded “I’m your prom date, you ugly sack of s**t!” A lot of the dialogue in the demo seemed equally ham-fisted; likely a stylistic choice on behalf of Ninja Theory, given their pedigree. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do it’s a refreshingly crass way of delivering a story. Dante’s voice actor seems to ironically care as little as the character he is portraying, delivering an oddly blank assault of generic teenage rebellion. The battle itself is relatively run of the mill, amounting to little more than wailing on the enemy and jumping out of the way of clearly scripted attacks. Every now and then the whip is used to avoid harm or damage the boss but, like the platforming, it’s heavily scripted and in no way challenging.
In summary, I can’t help but feel disappointed. In attempting to retain and evolve the key tenants of the series, Ninja Theory have also diluted them substantially. Whilst it seems perfectly playable, and this demo is unlikely a complete representation of the final product, the precision and control are missing – it’s just unfortunate for Ninja Theory that these elements define the franchise altogether as much as the arrogant moron at its centre.