Tuesday, August 16, 2016

DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition

Somehow, the American box art was impossible to find.

Back in January 2013, Capcom released DmC Devil May Cry, a pseudo-reboot of the legendary game series. Developed by Ninja Theory, the game released to heavy controversy between the gaming press and existing Devil May Cry fans. I had written a review of the game while the controversy was still hot and, not completely understanding what it was about, managed to do the one thing a reviewer should never do: I had lost my objectivity. Admittedly, my review was a little antagonistic towards existing fans and I didn’t address a lot of the game’s faults in an attempt to blindly defend it. Months later, I had plenty of time to reflect on what I had written and, feeling embarrassed beyond belief, gradually lost the will to contribute to this blog.

In 2015, Capcom released the Definitive Edition of DmC, but I remained hesitant to play it due to my new feelings about the previous review. However, that changed with the release of the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, at which point internet comments had compared the behavior of the news media to that of Ninja Theory in 2013. I looked into this comparison and realized exactly why older DMC fans had been (perhaps a little excessively) venomous toward DmC: like the claims of misogyny thrown at male Ghostbusters fans, Ninja Theory, more specifically game director Tameem Antoniades, had insulted the existing fans while the games media downplayed legitimate criticisms (boiling them down to “people just don’t like that Dante has black hair”) in an attempt to sell the game.

With this new understanding, I felt it was finally time to confront my past mistake by playing and reviewing DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition. Enough time has passed that the hardcore DMC fans have calmed down and there is now more of an opportunity to provide a more objective viewpoint. Now that I’ve explained my intentions with this review, let’s dive in and see if this was really worth stirring up a controversy over.

[Warning: The rest of this review contains spoilers for both DmC Devil May Cry and Vergil’s Downfall]

At the beginning of DmC Devil May Cry, the demon king Mundus, disguised as a businessman, controls the human world through debt, enslaving the population through a combination of subliminal messaging and the popular Virility soft drink. He is close to opening a portal to the demon realm and completing his domination over the planet, but the existence of Dante, the son of the demon Sparda, is a loose end that could derail his plans. Cut to Dante, suffering from a hangover in a trailer home. A human named Kat shows up at his door to warn him about a Hunter demon sent after him, which then appears and attacks Dante in the parallel demon realm Limbo. After Dante defeats the Hunter, he joins Kat and follows her to the hideout of The Order, a group dedicated to unraveling Mundus’ operation. There, Dante’s past begins to rear its head and he becomes a part of something much bigger than he ever bargained for.

Dante as he appears in this continuity.

In an attempt to put a new spin on the franchise, the story presents a few ideas that seem interesting on paper. These include Dante being part Angel and part Demon, Vergil starting out as an ally but revealing more of his true colors as the game progresses, Mundus controlling humans through debt and a new female companion who uses spray paint and stencils in a poster tube to place spell circles. While a few of these ideas do have a payoff, there are some shortcomings. The state of Mundus at the beginning, for instance, comes off more as a commentary on capitalism due to the plot only grazing the concept of control through debt. I’m not expecting a hack-n-slash game to necessarily have a deep story, but it could have been played for a little more than mere social commentary.

Mundus' presence is unfortunately used as an opportunity
for unnecessary social commentary.

Fairly early into the story, Kat tells Dante that Mundus’ operation relies heavily on the creation and distribution of Virility as well as the Raptor News Network, the latter controlled by the demon Bob Barbas. While it is a little odd that Mundus’ empire is dependent on only two things, they are still ideas which ultimately end up half-baked. For Bob Barbas, one could argue that, similarly to Mundus’ debt control, he exists primarily as a commentary on news media, particularly networks such as Fox News and figures like Bill O’Reilly, rather than an opportunity to explore Mundus’ scheme prior to the events of the game. As for Virility, it comes off weak due to the implication that the brainwashing comes from demon vomit and that killing the Succubus boss instantly makes it not such a big deal anymore. The concept of a mass market drink affecting people is explored a little better in Sunset Overdrive, though that may have the advantage of the Overcharge energy drink playing a major part in that game’s backstory.

While there are shortcomings, the story does at least have its moments where the emotions are played just right. As Dante obtains his powers in certain sections of Limbo, short scenes play where you can see his angel mother, Eva, walking toward him. When Eva finally reaches the screen, she tells Dante about the decisions she had to make out of love in order to protect him. This moment carries some emotional weight and is delivered in a fairly believable way. Another scene is a moment where Kat is about to be captured by a SWAT team and Dante tries to comfort her, only for her to be shot anyway. The significance of this scene also extends to revealing the difference between Dante’s and Vergil’s outlook, though I’ll touch upon the specifics of this a little later.

Though not highly active in the story, Kat
is still a significant character.

Of course, I feel it necessary to discuss one particularly infamous scene in the game. After Kat is captured, Mundus offers her life in exchange for Dante’s, but Dante chooses instead to capture Lilith, who’s carrying Mundus’ child, and use her as a bargaining chip. During the actual exchange, however, Vergil instead makes the controversial move of shooting Lilith in both the head and stomach before driving off with Dante and Kat. The controversy arises from the fact that the protagonists shot a pregnant woman in the stomach, which is wrong no matter who does it, but there are a couple things to note about this scene and a related one near the end of the game. Since Vergil does it, it puts up a bit of a red flag that he only has his own best interests in mind and is willing to put Kat in danger out of his own agenda. This move is also in conflict with Dante, who indicated he didn’t really want to kill Lilith earlier and actually calls out Vergil immediately for making such a rash decision.

In a related scene near the end of the game, Dante and Vergil get close to Mundus. Dante is meant to anger him to get him away from the demon portal so Vergil can destroy it with his Yamato. To accomplish this, Dante brings up the fact that they shot Lilith and killed Mundus’ unborn child (which is also defeated earlier in a boss fight). It seems worth noting, however, that Dante sounded hesitant to bring up the incident, despite agreeing to do so a couple minutes prior to this, as his real reason for killing Mundus, freeing mankind, is a major part of his character arc. Of course, this isn’t enough to anger Mundus, who gives a speech about controlling mankind to prevent chaos and destruction, so he has to lie and say that it was for revenge the whole time, which more fits in with Vergil’s agenda.

This brings me to the next point, which is talking about specific characters. I’ll begin with Dante, who is written a bit differently in this incarnation of the franchise compared to his Classic counterpart. Just taking Dante on his own, it’s easy to see why he might be less popular. He’s not as charismatic as Classic Dante, nor are his cheesy one-liners as easy to get behind, and he seems to have more of a “punk rock” aesthetic, along with an overabundance of swearing, that makes him come off to older fans as trying to be “edgy.” That being said, it’s often ignored that Dante, rather than remain “edgy” throughout, does actually go through a character arc in this game where he goes from not caring about humanity to wanting to protect it from demons like Mundus or even his own brother, Vergil. The duality he seems to have with his brother is hinted at throughout the game, mainly with how Dante seems to care more about Kat’s well-being than Vergil does.

Speaking of Vergil, he claims to fight for the best interest of humanity, but over time Dante, and by extension the player, can see he actually has an ulterior motive. Similar to Classic Vergil, in that he views humans as lesser beings, Vergil does not wish to bring about humanity’s freedom and wishes instead to enslave it, in effect making him not much different from Mundus. His duality with Dante is a major part of the story, especially when we learn he had basically used his own allies as tools to reach his own vision of the future.

Vergil as he appears in this continuity.

As for Kat, she’s more or less a character with the interesting idea of being a modern witch with spells in spray cans that she sprays onto stencils. However, save for when she’s kidnapped, formulates a plan of attack or helps Dante get in and out of Limbo, she doesn’t have too much of an active role to play. There isn’t a whole lot to say about her, except for mentioning how her interactions help highlight the differences between Dante and Vergil.

With all that I’ve said about the story, however, that doesn’t mean that it’s a particularly good story. It doesn’t have the same somewhat upbeat tone of the classic games and it can be very ham-fisted with its messages. As I stated before though, when taken on its own, it feels more like a story with plenty of ideas that could have been executed better despite having its moments. The items I had highlighted were not meant to wholly defend the mediocre storytelling, but rather point out aspects of it that may have been missed on the first go.

The gameplay of DmC Devil May Cry generally follows some of the same beats as the classic games, but adds some twists of its own. For instance, Dante’s backstory of being half angel and half demon is reflected with the addition of Angelic and Demonic weapons, each accessed with either L2 or R2 respectively. They also have their own advantages and disadvantages: Angelic weapons generally aren’t too heavy on damage but excellent for stunning and crowd control while Demonic weapons are high on damage but are generally slower in nature. There is also a dedicated Evade button, the effect of which can be modified with either L2 or R2 and the right upgrades; upgrades can be purchased through upgrade points earned by killing enough demons. The Angel and Demon modes also allow access to an Angel Lift or Demon Pull, which either pulls you towards enemies or vice versa. As with other games in the series, the goal is to use the arsenal of weapons at Dante’s disposal to stylishly kill the various waves of demons which come his way.

In the original release of DmC, combat felt pretty easy even on higher difficulties, including the ease of achieving a SSS style rank during combat, while also adding restrictions such as color-coded enemies that could only be damaged with either Angelic or Demonic weapons. With the Definitive Edition, however, combat has been drastically improved by making it harder to raise or maintain a style ranking as well as making it so any enemy can be damaged with any weapon (however, the colored enemies will now only react, as well as receive additional damage, when hit by specific weapons). With the numerous changes made to combat, detailed in a 20+ page changelog, I had a generally more enjoyable time and found myself better able to string together longer combos, though that doesn’t completely prevent the combat from feeling a little button-mashy at times. Additionally, since I started out on Nephilim difficulty, aka Hard, I found myself actually faced with difficulty in breaking an S rank in combat, especially early on. As a side note, the game also labels the Easy difficulty as Human and Medium as Demon Hunter.

Other changes include the ability to change the input of the Stinger attack so it behaves more like the older games as well as a manual lock-on function. Being able to set the Stinger to a more natural input was a huge help, especially since it made chaining a Trillion Stab much easier to perform as well. As for the lock-on, it’s highly appreciated and useful at times, particularly for being able to view enemy health, but there are moments when it may feel a little hindering (fortunately, the behavior can be toggled between holding the button, like in the older games, or a simple press). It’s also good to know that pressing L3 cycles through targets, but in some situations it doesn’t feel like it scrolls fast enough. Still, I found it easier to take down demons when the option was there than with the automatic lock-on from before.

One key feature of the series is the ability to Devil Trigger, a mode where Dante deals increased damage, which this game alters by making all applicable enemies float in midair (presumably to encourage air juggling). Where in the previous game the Devil Trigger took too long to charge up and expired after only a few seconds, the Definitive Edition makes it feel easier to obtain and last long enough to actually kill two or three demons before the Devil Trigger bar fully drains.

The original behavior of Dante's Devil Trigger.

For fans of the classic continuity, there is also the option of the Hardcore modifier, which rebalances the game to feel more like the original games, including making Style even harder to maintain and altering the Devil Trigger behavior to give Dante a power boost but keep all enemies active. Though I only tried this modifier on one level to see how it worked, I would say it’s worth checking out for those who feel the base game not to be challenging enough. You can even add the new Turbo modifier, which increases the game speed by 20%, and the Must Style modifier, in which enemies do not take damage unless you’re at an S rank or above, if you want to.

When compared with the original games, DmC’s combat definitely pales in comparison to the depth of DMC3 and DMC4, in which Classic Dante could access multiple combat Styles and more easily swap weapons mid-combo; in DMC4, this could all be done on the fly, while in this game weapon switches are awkwardly mapped to the d-pad rather than the shoulder buttons. In addition, the Angel Lift and Demon Pull seem to be an attempt to take Nero’s Devil Bringer arm from DMC4 to the next level, and for the most part feels like a step in the right direction, including incorporating it into platforming segments, but the Devil Bringer was only mapped to one button as opposed to two for Angel Lift and Demon Pull.

Combat also ties into another major aspect of the series, which is the boss fights. Bosses in the Devil May Cry series are typically known for being difficult but rewarding to defeat. In DmC, however, the bosses feel a bit easy in comparison to the original games, especially since some of them can be broken down into simple patterns. Even the final fight against Vergil is a little easy for a final boss after you understand how it works. The Definitive Edition does at least attempt to address this by altering boss patterns and behavior, including elements meant to alleviate some stress such as having it so Vergil no longer requires you to be in Devil Trigger mode to defeat him (though in exchange, his Doppelganger is more aggressive). Since I was playing on Nephilim difficulty, I did actually have a hard time in places, but once I knew what I was doing, and purchased a few upgrades, the fights became more of a breeze, especially around the second half onwards. Despite this, however, the Bob Barbas fight comes off as one of the more creative fights the series has to offer both in terms of visuals and strategy.

The Bob Barbas encounter remains a highlight of the game
in terms of aesthetic and strategy.

One of the better aspects of DmC would be the level design. The bright color palette combined with the game’s general aesthetic creates an environment that’s actually pretty neat to look at. There’s plenty of detail put into both the environment and enemy design, even more so with the Definitive Edition’s 1080p 60fps upgrade. Seemingly at the sacrifice of puzzles, save for a mission near the end consisting entirely of a generator puzzle, the game has more of an emphasis on platforming, encouraging the player to use the Angel Lift and Demon Pull in tandem with each other to get to the next objective or access secret areas; these areas can contain items like Vital Stars or Keys (all of which are Gold in the Definitive Edition) to unlock Secret Mission doors (all of which are Gold in the Definitive Edition). The platforming aspect shows off a good amount of creativity and I, for the most part, enjoyed Secret Missions placing an emphasis on platforming as fast as possible. However, if the game contained at least a couple more puzzles here and there, there may have been a healthier balance of gameplay overall.

This does tie into one of the game’s most interesting design choices, that being the level itself trying to kill you. While in Limbo, the world takes a lot of twists and turns not unlike a dream, including alternate logic such as walking upside down during one segment. At some points, the level itself also becomes an enemy as it does anything it can to impede your progress or try to kill you as you’re going from point A to point B. This combined with written messages in the style of They Live (1988) makes for a very unique setting that may be worth exploring in any future games (at least as far as living levels are concerned).

The music for DmC Devil May Cry was notably created by two bands, Dutch electronic trio Noisia and American aggrotech band Combichrist. Music in a game is always subjective, and DmC’s music is certainly a departure from the more metal-inspired sounds of the older games, but personally I don’t have much of an issue here (to the point where I’ve tried to get both halves of the soundtrack on CD). Both artists bring different styles to the experience and each half of the soundtrack fits in with the situations they’re used in, including a more dubstep-inspired track used for the fight against Mundus. This kind of soundtrack certainly wouldn’t fit with other DMC games, but for the world created by DmC, it feels right at home.

I also felt that, despite the material they have to work with, the voice actors do at least a decent job with their performances. It’s not going to win any awards, but it was enough to make the emotions of each character believable. Praise also goes to the sound effects, if only so I can say that the frequent chainsaw sounds heard from demons is pretty accurate, as well as how weapons feel and sound like they definitely have the right weight to them.

Included in the Definitive Edition are two pieces of DLC from the original release, those being Vergil’s Downfall and the Bloody Palace mode. These will be discussed separately for the sake of completeness.

Vergil’s Downfall takes place after the events of the main DmC campaign and follows Vergil after his defeat at the hands of Dante. This story, which lasts six missions, presents a journey through the mind of Vergil and cements his transition into a person who wishes to enslave humanity. Along the way, he confronts manifestations of Kat and Dante and even saves his own mother just to abandon her. The cutscenes are done in more of a comic book style art form, though the animation isn’t too bad and conveys what’s going on in Vergil’s head. The story as a whole is perhaps better than the main game, if only for putting emphasis on a psychological exploration of the game’s real villain instead of forced sociopolitical commentary, helping it feel closer in tone to the previous continuity.

How cutscenes are animated in Vergil's Downfall.

Gameplay is also an improvement over the main game, as it feels closer in style to the Classic continuity to match the story’s tone. Although Vergil’s armory and moveset aren’t nearly as extensive as Dante’s, there is enough there to feel like you’re really playing as a different character. Though Vergil still has an Angel and Demon mode, these are really used more for altering the behavior of his Yamato as opposed to accessing new weapons. His only other weapon is his Sword Illusions (think the Summoned Swords from DMC3), but these and Yamato are all he really needs. Vergil can also teleport even during a combo, which can definitely give the player a good advantage over enemies through well-timed move cancelling.

An example of combat in Vergil's Downfall.

Additionally, Vergil’s Devil Trigger also behaves differently. Rather than have a DT bar which builds up before draining it in a single use, Vergil’s DT bar is divided into segments which can be filled by striking enemies. The player can then activate special abilities which consume a different number of segments of the DT bar or activate Vergil’s Doppelganger, which continuously drains the bar until either the bar is empty or the Doppelganger is turned off; the behavior of the Doppelganger can also be modified by purchasing upgrades. This system of Devil Trigger works well for Vergil’s playstyle, as it allows additional combos with the Sword Illusions and opens up more possibilities for combat.

Naturally, Vergil’s missions also feature platforming with a form of the Angel Lift and Demon Pull, but he uses the Sword Illusions to do so, which have much longer range than his brother’s counterparts and alleviate some of the stress in making the wrong move. In exchange, a new element is introduced in which Vergil must shoot some platforms with the Sword Illusions to make them solid, though the level design is also clever enough to add in spinning platforms that need to be shot, adding an additional aspect of good timing which feels rewarding.

To help Vergil’s missions feel even more different from his brother’s, Vergil’s Downfall also introduces two additional enemies, the Wisp and the Imprisoner. These two feel more like classic DMC enemies and add a good amount of challenge to enemy encounters. In general, Vergil’s enemy encounters feel more combo focused and while it does feature some shielded enemies from Dante’s campaign, it does not over-rely on them, nor does it feature any color-coded ones. There is also one boss during Vergil’s campaign known as Hollow Vergil. Hollow Vergil’s fight is more or less a remixed version of the Vergil fight from the main game, but at the same time feels like it requires a bit more actual skill to defeat despite remaining relatively easy to defeat.

Vergil confronts a part of himself, Hollow Vergil, in
the only boss fight in Vergil's Downfall.

In short, Vergil’s Downfall is more or less a better representation of DmC Devil May Cry. It retains some of the aesthetic of Dante’s campaign, but the combat feels closer to the Classic games in style and has a more rewarding level of difficulty. Additionally, the story has a tone closer to the Classic games and features hints of a sequel setting up more of a true rivalry between brothers.

The other main DLC included is the Bloody Palace mode, which can now also be played using Vergil. As with previous iterations of Bloody Palace, the player character fights through multiple floors of enemies (101 floors in DmC), with the occasional boss fight, until they reach the end or the timer runs out. It serves as more of a survival mode and encourages multiple playthroughs to figure out the most effective combos and try to improve the player’s score. It’s also good as a way to farm red orbs and upgrade points without having to replay campaign missions. Naturally, Dante and Vergil’s Bloody Palace modes feel and play different from each other, which I would consider a good thing for the sake of variety. It should also be noted that for an additional challenge, the player can choose to stack the Hardcore, Turbo and Must Style modifiers on top of Bloody Palace.

To touch on the initial controversy one last time, and bring this back to the initial inquiry, my new experience tells me this: DmC Devil May Cry is, at the very least, a mediocre game that didn’t deserve the level of controversy stirred from either side. It was not worth insulting the original fanbase over and it was not worth venomously tearing apart by finding things that just weren’t there, despite legitimate criticisms. Basically, it’s not a complete abomination or a franchise killer, but it does show signs that Ninja Theory wasn’t quite competent enough to deliver an experience on par with the older games. Still, the Definitive Edition made definite improvements, covered in an aforementioned massive changelog, and thankfully the controversy died down enough that more objective viewpoints can be made from cooler heads.

As a whole package, DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition is a huge improvement over the original 2013 release. With all of the numerous changes made to the combat, it feels somewhat closer to the original games and was actually more enjoyable to play through, especially the Vergil’s Downfall portion. However, even with all of these changes, the story remains lackluster, despite the addition of a short cutscene to explain how Kat obtains special knowledge of the layout of Mundus’ tower. When compared to the original games, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of DMC3 or DMC4, mainly with regard to combat, but on its own merits, its gameplay is still fairly enjoyable. In the end, I would say it’s a good and enjoyable game, and worth a few replays, but not a great game or a good Devil May Cry game. If you’re curious about DmC Devil May Cry though, your best bet is going for the Definitive Edition.

No comments:

Post a Comment