Devil in the detail

Revamped ... <em>DmC: Devil May Cry</em>.
Revamped ... DmC: Devil May Cry.
A screenshot of <em>DmC: Devil May Cry</em>.

A screenshot of DmC: Devil May Cry.

A screenshot of <em>DmC: Devil May Cry</em>.

A screenshot of DmC: Devil May Cry.

DmC: Devil May Cry
RRP: $88
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 and PC
Classification: MA15+
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Rating: 7.5/10

I assume there is some prerequisite that must be fulfilled when applying to be a demon hunter. We're inundated with cocky, brash slayers of Satan spawn in films, games and books. Where are all the self-deprecating demon hunters at? An interesting question, but one that the Capcom-produced reboot of their classic property Devil May Cry deliberately avoids. Protagonist Dante is in no way unsure of how fantastic he is. The Dante of past DMC games was certainly smug; countless one-sided fights with lesser demons will give anyone a big head, but new Dante combines the smug head of the old with a cocky swagger and seemingly bottomless book of shockingly bad puns. Thankfully, although DMC's story becomes quickly irrelevant to anybody but the most die-hard of fans, the gameplay has taken a new lick of paint. Many fans have had a surprisingly militant reaction to the redesign of their beloved character by new developer Ninja Theory. A recent plea to Barack Obama to remove the game from American shelves was quickly, and rightfully, wiped from the White House's petition site but it just goes to show how far some fans will go to resist change. Considering that nothing is new and everything is permitted, the negativity that new-Dante has received seems over the top. Ultimately the reboot doesn't stray too far from what made the old games so entertaining, which is what makes the die-hard fans' complaints seem somewhat trivial. The demons are grotesque, the levels imaginative and the combat seems nearly the same.

When explaining the plot of a Devil May Cry game, you can easily find yourself sounding like a long-abused cliche. That's because the plot of Devil May Cry is (and has always been, regardless of reboots) nigh irrelevant. You're drawn from one beast-filled confrontation to another by a variety of meaningless MacGuffins but the gameplay is easily entertaining enough to forgive this.

Loosely, the plot to DMC is this: Dante, demon killer extraordinaire, is floating through life killing monsters and loving women but the rise of new demon lord Mundus has put Dante firmly in hell's crosshairs. Dante, an angel/demon hybrid, and his estranged brother Virgil, must reunite and take the fight to Mundus' toweringly ostentatious lair lest he claim all of mankind's souls for himself. A standard demon plan really. Any more than that might spoil a plot that is already thin on the ground but the majority of the fun in DMC comes from the combat.

Gameplay-wise, DMC sticks to what made the series popular in the first place. You hack and you slash your way through the increasingly intimidating demons that stand in your way, gaining abilities and weapons as you go. Dante excels at combining attacks and juggling opponents. It's not hard to master, but once the player gets the hang of switching weapons quickly and zipping around the battlefield, Dante becomes a powerhouse murder machine. The weapons are a mix of new and old, Dante's Ebony and Ivory guns return along with his trusty sword Rebellion. In between combat sections, DMC has some fun platforming sequences that ratchet up the difficulty to keep you entertained when not stabbing things.

Where DMC really makes its mark is the design. Fans will cry that Dante looks different but really he's just been to the hairdresser. The environments, on the other hand, are superb. The levels quickly become more insane and the demon-infested world of limbo is a delight to behold. Streets warp and burst as you walk along them and combine familiar human architecture with a twisted demon mind. One level in particular in which you assault a demon tower that only exists in a reflection (it's as insane as it sounds) has you crossing a section of the city upside down with intimidating demon propaganda and runaway trains assaulting you. The monsters are surprisingly uninspired considering the quality of the levels but they serve the purpose of letting you kick their heads in admirably. Not to say that they're not original, but after finishing the campaign their similarities become all too obvious.

In terms of longevity the story mode could easily be completed in two dedicated sessions but DMC fans will rejoice at the punishing unlockable modes. On the other hand, newcomers or fair-weather fans will find the story somewhat rushed, especially toward the conclusion. The ending itself is ruthlessly uninspired. Considering the primary antagonist is the same as the first DMC, you would think the developer would want to surprise long-time fans at the end. No such luck, players of the old games will see the ending coming 10 miles off and it's left firmly open for a sequel. While you can't really blame the developer for leaving the possibility of a new franchise open (this is a business after all), the predictable nature of the finale means fans will most likely be dissatisfied.

Another gripe, which may seem trivial but bothered me, was how on the nose much of the design is. Considering how top notch most of it is and that the story was written by Alex Garland, a man who has proven by now he knows how to write a compelling story, much of DMC's story and design is nicked from other media. Mostly these are subtle, with human advertising appearing in its true form in the demon world of Limbo. This means billboards are merely telling humanity to shop, value greed and reproduce. An interesting idea, but stolen directly from the 1988 film They Live. Some of the elements just feel as though they've been taken from other material and mashed together with a DMC layer of paint. Sure, nothing is really original but really Ninja Theory should have been trying extra hard to make the DMC world their own and knock the series out of the ballpark with the first entry in the new mythos but often it struggles to stand on its own.

Considering how hard it is to successfully reboot a stale franchise, DMC's main fault is that it doesn't try hard enough. The game sticks to the tropes it knows best and doesn't aim to surprise. When developing a sequel, at least the developers need to be innovative but this reboot seems to be an attempt to reinvigorate a franchise by re-skinning the same game. This doesn't mean DMC isn't fun by any means. The game compelled me through to the finale, regardless of the dissatisfaction with the ending, and I enjoyed dispatching Hell's minions. It's just that the game feels too similar to old-DMC, but then again that's probably what most fans want.

This story Devil in the detail first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.