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1/21/2013

Reflections: DmC: Devil May Cry


Never imagined that a game that I was initially so venomously against would end up being such an amazing experience. I'm of course talking about the recent Devil May Cry reboot, titled DmC. I was among the skeptical naysayers, and I have to admit initial trailers and information on the game really did rub me the wrong way. The new Dante seemed like a terrible character, and the direction of this reboot was concerning. However, many of those fears and concerns were put to rest when I had a go at the public demo. I talked about my thoughts on the demo in an earlier post, but long story short, it got me very excited for the finished game. I picked up the game on release and completed it in just two sittings over the weekend, not that it was short, the game is a good 10-12 hours long which is an appropriate length for an action game, just that it was so very hard to put down. I couldn't leave my seat, I was compelled to keep going until the credits rolled.

Going to go off on a little tangent here and talk about Devil May Cry in general for a bit, and what it means to me. The original Devil May Cry was the brain child of the very talented Hideki Kamiya, and if you've followed him and his work over the years, you will realize that he is the kind of person who exercises his full vision with any new IP he creates, and moves on to the next one instead of milking sequels. That is one thing I've always admired and respected about him, and that is why the original Devil May Cry was such a special experience to me. 


At the time it did things no other action game did, in particular the combat system was sublime and revolutionary, really laying down the groundwork for other similar action titles. It introduced an awesome character who really epitomized cool, mind you the game wasn't narration heavy but there was enough there to make him a very like-able and recognizable character. The game design was very interesting too, and I loved how smartly the combat was designed around it, not to mention a nicely varied structure and very cool bosses. Everything about that game clicked, and when Kamiya made peace with and moved on, the IP then fell into hands of other people, with each trying to recapture the original magic, albeit with mixed results. Devil May Cry 2 is the proverbial black sheep, Devil May Cry 3 has its passionate fan-base but to me it showed that having far too many mechanics and ideas doesn't exactly mean much when the game design isn't complementing it, and Devil May Cry 4 proved that the series didn't know what it was anymore. 

It suddenly dawned upon me that maybe the reboot was very much long overdue. Hideki Kamiya did everything he wanted to do with Devil May Cry with that first game, to him it was obviously a very self-contained video game that wasn't meant to leave anything to be desired, which is why subsequent sequels (or prequels) felt so out of place and disjointed. Instead of forcing more depth and connections into Kamiya's original vision, perhaps it was time to respectfully put that to rest and start anew. What DmC does is finally give the IP much needed identity, respecting the idea that Kamiya's original self-contained vision never really needed more layers. DmC redefines the IP in a positive light, in a way that honors what we've come to cherish about it.


In so many ways, DmC does for Devil May Cry what Lords of Shadow did for Castlevania, going back to the true fundamentals of the IP and reconstructing it in a manner that feels new and refreshing, and yet fundamentally familiar enough to justify the namesake. You're probably aware of the fan backlash that DmC is facing all over the internet land, but little do those fans realize that DmC is the most Devil May Cry game since the original title.

DmC as an overall package simply shines on all fronts. The visual style, music, art direction, narration, and above all, gameplay, all simply shine on an individual level and come together to form one amazing and slick package, one that very well may be among the best (if not the best) action games of this console generation. To me personally, this is easily the best Devil May Cry ever made, my favorite since the original game, so much so that it leaves all predecessors feel very dated.


The new Dante initially appeared un-likeable and pretencious in trailers and such, but once you play the game you'l appreciate just how well defined and developed he is, almost as if the trailers deliberately wanted you to misjudge him,  just like how he is misjudged in his game-world. Similar to how DmC itself is an attempt to help forge a new identity for the IP, the Dante in this game goes through an interesting development to establish just who he really is. One thing you'l  realize is that underneath the apparent pretentious demeanor lies a very compelling and meaningful character. In fact, this is the most believable Dante has ever really been as a character, with the game portraying his coming of age and self-discovery. The story itself is very well written and presented, with compelling characters backed by some very cool and well delivered dialogue. In terms of production values and presentation, Devil May Cry has never been better. 

Visually and artistically, DmC is a work of art and makes its predecessors look bland by comparison. The amount of artistic flair is eye watering, with a staggering amount of attention to detail. The coolest aspect is obviously the rich environments, which are constantly morphing and evolving. From a gameplay standpoint I was very pleased by the level design, for the first time since the original game I experienced levels that were not solely focused on combat, instead they also offered intelligent and clever platforming action. The grappling hook mechanic is put to great use in the game, creating some cool platforming sections.


Obviously the most important aspect of Devil May Cry is its combat system, and I was pleased by the ingenious and superb combat system Ninja Theory engineered for DmC, despite their track record. Several weapons are comfortably mapped on the controller and mixing up several weapons feels so very natural and sublime. Furthermore, you have three distinct categories of weapons, with the game smartly designed to complement this interesting dynamic. It feels so very accessible and offers tremendous freedom and depth.

If I can be the crying devil's advocate here, there are a couple things still that won't sit well with contemporary fans. For one thing, this isn't the technical combat centered scorefest that fans are probably used to, if anything the game is rather lenient in how it awards you for style. That said, it's still a deliciously layered combat engine that has plenty of scope for mastery. DmC takes a similar route to games like God of War where it's more driven by a strong and compelling narrative. The core fundamentals will certainly please fans, but the experience may not be consistent with what they're used to. 


I admire DmC for what it did, the same way I admired what Lords of Shadow did for Castlevania. Fans will always be divided, but as a big fan of Devil May Cry (and Castlevania), I must say these reboots have their heart in the right place. 

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