I remember how back in the day a friend of mine was quick to dismiss Devil May Cry 3 (DMC 3) as a God of War (GOW) clone. Quite indignantly, I explained the chronology and how the two games were different. That's when he argued that they essentially cater to the same demographic. But if you really must compare the two, I would say that DMC 3 is a game meant for GOW players who have outgrown their diapers. Make no mistake, I thoroughly enjoy the GOW games, but comparing them to DMC is a travesty. In the former, everyone can mash a few buttons and become Kratos, but do the same in DMC 3 and you'll get your butt handed to you. This is the rare instance when a mainstream game has the pluck and gumption to incorporate the level of challenge and gameplay depth usually found in a masocore indie game.
This probably explains the negative buzz surrounding the reboot, quaintly stylised as DmC: Devil May Cry (DmC). The fans weren't impressed when it was revealed that Ninja Theory had taken over the reins of the reboot and planned to turn the Japanese quirkiness of the protagonist into a distinctly Western avatar. This was followed by rumours of Dante turning gay, with the foregone conclusion that the Japanese humour and gameplay would eventually take a nosedive. But it took me just a few minutes with the preview copy to realise that the negative reception could simply be attributed to fans apprehensive or just resistant to change.
For starters, Dante isn't remotely gay. In reality, the rumour precipitated from a cutscene that was taken in the wrong context. While his sexuality hasn't changed, he looks younger and way more Caucasian than the previous games, which looked right in place in an anime. The anti-hero from the past games makes way for a brash, anti-authoritarian Dante who's more interested in going about his hedonistic and rebellious lifestyle than ridding mankind of the demonic scourge. The brash Rajinikanth-esque flair of the series is replaced with a setting that deftly imbues the modern and the arcane in an uncannily plausible manner.
Aerial juggling is even more elaborate this time around
To put this into perspective, DmC is pretty much like John Carpenter's They Live, albeit with demons instead of aliens hidden within the society and controlling humanity through economy, government and the media. The prime baddie Mundus returns in a more manipulative corporate avatar, and not surprisingly, he wants Dante dead.
The preview begins with Dante being pulled into Limbo City—a nightmarish reflection of the world. Limbo City is a living, breathing entity hell-bent on consuming our man. This twisted version of the world contorts and shifts around you and conjures spatial puzzles reminiscent of Silent Hill, but only more sinister. Dante is pursued by a towering monstrosity dubbed as the Hunter. As the oversized demon assassin rends the scenery around you, the same damage shows up in the real world.
This is where you meet one of the primary characters in the game, a powerful spirit medium by the name of Kat. She acts as your guide in Limbo City as well as the real world, and opens up portals to the hellish land whenever the story calls for it. Apart from Mundus, you also have Vergil making a return. This time, he seems to be on the good side, trying to convince Dante to join his quest to liberate humans from the demon influence.
The moment you get in the thick of the battle, it becomes apparent that DmC has done a good job at retaining the original's gameplay finesse. Engaging enemies locks out the area just like the last game. You can't proceed until you have routed every single hellspawn in the vicinity. The game's graphics are slick thanks to Unreal Engine 3. The engine uses its entire range of pixel shader goodness to render the twisted surrealism of Limbo City. Thankfully, the game stands out with its psychedelic visual style and doesn't take the same shiny route that most Unreal Engine-powered games usually take.
Hell hath no fury like a nephilim scorned!
The animations are fluid and Dante retains the deep combat echanics that made the past games such great fun. Although there are tonnes of combos for each weapon, remembering them is easy because they all are contextual and common across the various swords, axes, sickles and guns that constitute Dante's arsenal. While they all start out fast, their powerful finishing attacks tend to throw Dante off balance. Achieving graceful flourishes, therefore, requires one to carefully weave the moves into flowing combos. Those familiar with DMC 3 will recognise Dante's traditional weapons such as Rebellion and the guns Ebony & Ivory.
Ninja Theory has added a whole new dimension to the gameplay by giving Dante demon and angel powers. These represent weapons imbued with either demonic or angelic attacks assigned to either of the index triggers. This allows players to seamlessly weave in these moves to string together even more elaborate combos. The angel and demon business doesn't simply serve as a combat variety, though; it has much deeper gameplay ramifications. The enemies are equally challenging, and they posed a great deal of challenge in the normal mode. The harder difficulty really forced me to concentrate and be efficient with my moves to survive. Challenge-wise, DmC lives up to the original's legacy.
Slower, heavier demonic weapons such as the Arbiter axe or the Eryx gauntlets are crucial to break open enemy armour, whereas the faster angelic weapons are required when speed and reach is more important. Certain elemental enemies use ice and fire against you, which in turn can only be defeated by using angelic and demonic powers, respectively. DmC also borrows grappling elements from the last game, with the angelic grapple launching you towards enemies, whereas the demonic one tends to pull enemies towards you, and is also instrumental in stunning or stripping foes of their shields.
Each weapon is unique and carefully balanced to suit a specific purpose
The game's strong art direction is apparent in the abundant platforming segments, which include massive environs with floating structures that dynamically transform into challenging spatial puzzles. Combine this with Kat's ability to transform entire levels with her mysterious spherical device and you have truly surreal levels exhibiting great verticality and design flair. Some elaborate platforming segments will have you thinking on your feet to use the right angelic/demonic grappling moves, as you hurtle from one platform to another, sometimes even pulling entire structures towards you. These segments are more a welcome break from the hack and slash encounters than being frustrating jumping puzzles. The level design and art also feature a lot of variety in each sequence.
The boss enemies are reminiscent of DMC 3's twisted designs and are envisioned well enough to reward skill. Succubus is one of the boss enemies I encountered in the preview. She's a grotesque blob of pus and boils, with many legs that swipe away wildly, along with her ability to puke acid. The battle takes place across many destructible platforms, with Dante grappling between each while trying to bring her down to the ground level for the final showdown. It was reassuring to know that Ninja Theory decided against ruining the franchise with Quick Time Events. This is a nod to its old school roots and a sign that the DmC franchise seems to be headed in the general direction of awesomeness.
Given Ninja Theory's past record, gamers were wary of how the reboot would turn out. However, after having tried out seven-odd levels in the preview, I can say that the franchise seems to be headed on the right path. It has retained its quirky sense of humour, while giving a modern context and setting to the Dante vs Demons saga. I especially like how the demonic influence on the city depicted through economic, government and media suppression also works out as an allegorical nod towards the current state of the world. Despite all these subtle narrative refinements, at the end of the day, it retains the excellent gameplay depth that should make it a favourite with hardcore gamers. I personally believe this westernised reboot should be able to win over fans of the franchise.
The animations are fluid and combat looks lifelike