DmC: Devil May Cry Preview (PS3)

Confession time: I’ve never really ‘got’ Devil May Cry. On paper and in my head I know exactly why people love these games with their combination of satisfying combo-heavy hack, slash and juggle gameplay and hand-wringing, over-the-top Japanese plotting, but they’ve never really clicked as must-have for me.

I have plenty of experience with the series – I’ve played every entry to completion and even reviewed a couple of them – but they’ve never really appealed to me as must-haves. As such, the controversy and fan anger over the series being handed off to British developer Ninja Theory – known for Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – doesn’t really wash with me.

As a massive fan of several other Japanese franchises, I can sense why that might be – there’s plenty of Japanese-created series I’d not necessarily like to see handed off to Westerners – but my affinity for the characters isn’t enough that I can get myself angry in this particular instance. If you’re looking for a preview from that perspective, you might want to look elsewhere.

With that said, let me come right out front and centre with a declaration – I like this new Dante. He’s a snappy, smart-ass asshole – thus that sort of trendy-scene-kid look he’s got going on – and quips his way through the levels I play with a smarm and self-importance that it’s hard not to admire. He’s likable, though, hunted and persecuted when, really, he hasn’t really done all that much wrong.

He’s got this look and sense about him that makes him feel like he belongs in some sort of cheesed-up grindhouse movie, exaggerated significantly but in a way that doesn’t diminish him as a character. After a good 30 minutes with him, I come away with the sense that I’d be completely happy to spend the entire game with his middle finger raising, sycophantic self.

The world he inhabits is a strange mix of what you know, the real world, alongside a twisted, deformed underworld that Dante is warped to. One level is suggested to be a more literal mirror to the other world – it’s an upside down city, where a dictatorial mayor screams that Dante is an evil freak and a sexual deviant though static-filled TV screens that flicker with Orwellian imagery, including the command to ‘Obey’.

The atmosphere is laid on thick, and it feels good. It’s a world I can believe, and the taunting of Dante gives me the desire to smash this guy’s face in that is vital for a decent antagonist to evoke. The writing is ‘there’, and the presentation only enhances it.

Ninja Theory has always been good at that stuff, mind – just look at Heavenly Sword and Enslaved, two games that have intensely memorable characters and story beats mingled with gameplay that, to be honest, feels a little middling. So what about that? Can you still pull off those Devil May Cry combos?

I was certainly doing combos of a sort, though I’ll be honest and admit my time with the game wasn’t really enough to string together some of the impressive and insane stuff possible after extended time with other entries in this series. Dante comes equipped with a variety of weapons filling obvious tropes, but what’s of most interest from the demo I played is the way the game plays with the concept of the duality of heaven and hell, good and evil, angelic and demonic.

Dante has a set of regular moves mapped to the face buttons of the controller, but pulling one of the two triggers augments that. The left trigger gives moves a white hue, signifying its good alignment. These moves tend to be a little faster and often have properties more than hurting. The right trigger does the opposite, offering heavy, devastating, damaging moves.

The implications are obvious – what might be a long-range slashing attack with the right trigger becomes a whip-like attack that draws the enemy closer with the left trigger, used to extend combos and set up new ones.

This extends to the environment, too – travelling the upside-down city, Dante often needs to traverse platforms. The left trigger allows him to use that whip-like weapon like a hookshot is used in Zelda, dragging him across otherwise impassable gaps. Other areas may require a less sensitive touch, such as a gigantic gauntlet summoned when holding the right trigger and pressing circle, used to smash through weakened walls.

The end result is at a base level a lot more moves at your disposal – good for stringing combos together – as well as environmental puzzles, as mentioned above, and certain types of enemies who can only be defeated with moves of a certain alignment. It’s all very bread-and-butter, and works just fine – and using the triggers certainly makes even defeating weaker enemies more entertaining than hammering on Square and finishing the combo with Triangle.

Pulling off combos does feel a little too easy – the game seems generous, and I was able to reach combo numbers the game would grade with an A by simply vaulting the enemy into the air and shooting them with Ebony and Ivory, juggling them for ages. That’s sort of cheating – but proper combos seemed possible and it really felt satisfying and rewarding when I did pull them off.

I may not necessarily be the best person to talk about its relation to the rest of the series – but as a stand-alone thing, I really like the look and feel of DmC. I’m watching it with interest – and you probably should too.

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