Monday, February 24, 2014

DmC - Devil May Cry

This article is about the 2013 reboot of the franchise. I have played all games in the original series - most of them a lot in fact. I wasn't very enthusiastic about the reboot but after reading some reviews it sounded like it might not be that bad after all. Then it wound up in PS+ instant game collection which was my cue to grab it and give it a spin. I'm sensing a pattern here... Honestly this article is almost not worth it to write. I've said almost everything before (here and here, and probably elsewhere too).

The game has gone through a lot of westernization - especially Dante. He now looks like an emo rock star, and his vocabulary has been expanded to cover clever words like "fuck". Now he's also the archetypal reluctant hero type who grows to the occasion. Wow. Such original. Amazingly enough they've managed to retain at least a small sliver of the original Dante's charm. On the plus side, the game's plot is more sensible and in all its cheesiness pretty fine. Demons are controlling the human world through media and with pacifying energy drinks. Throw in a sexy girl sidekick who gets to play damsel in distress and we have pretty much everything that's needed for a good old 'murican hero flick. It's a rather obvious social commentary, especially aimed at news propaganda. The outrageousness of all the lies in the in-game news broadcasts made me chuckle a few times. I guess that's something, right?

A lot of negative things could be said about the game's fiction but let's just skip that and move on to actually playing the game. The core gameplay of the original series is surprisingly intact and - I dare say - even better at times. Most importantly, the core dynamic is there: Dante has tools for everything the game throws at you; the question is, can you utilize them? The developers are stating this rather boldly too: the game has a difficulty where even a single point of damage kills Dante. I didn't get that far, but I haven't entirely abandoned this game yet - I might go for another playthrough at some point on a harder difficulty. Like its predecessors, it's entirely possible to play the game through in one sitting, especially after the initial playthrough. This is another thing that is advantageous to games such as DmC. If the first playthrough is effing long, it's hard to bother with a second one.

The series has always been one where mastery of the battle mechanics is the driving motivator. By the end of the game, the player has become proficient with their weapons and fairly knowledgeable about different enemies in the game. Then they get to do it again with harder enemies. The series has also always rewarded diversity: the player is awarded style points for alternating between attacks and combos. Good controls are a cornerstone for both of these drivers - and DmC hits that nail right on its head. For once I don't even feel a need to bash camera controls. The game features a free camera without target locking which should be a recipe for disaster but turns out it's not. Fast-moving enemies cause problems with this kind of setup, but DmC doesn't actually have any. All enemies also have appropriate sound cues when they are about to attack, which makes even off-camera attacks avoidable.

There's another really important game usability point on DmC. Dante is effectively wielding three weapon sets at once: in normal mode, he uses a sword and one gun or another; in angel mode he uses an angel weapon; and in demon mode he uses a demon weapon. The important point is the way you switch between these. Holding the left trigger puts Dante into angel mode while the right trigger puts him into devil mode. As soon as they're released he is back in normal mode. This is simple yet brilliant, because the alternative - one that was experienced with Vergil in DMC3 special edition - is using the same buttons to cycle through the three. There is a huge cognitive problem with cycling: the context changes. Pressing the left trigger can give you any of the three weapons depending on which one you are holding right now. It doesn't sound too complicated on paper, but it's really easy to get confused when switching weapons in a hurry. The DmC way of dealing with three modes has no such issues because the left trigger always puts Dante into angel mode.

That's pretty much all I really have to say about DmC. It's an enjoyable game and does a lot of things right. Probably Dante is a bit too powerful in this game because the devs have gone overboard with a lot of things. I think it's actually entirely possible to finish battles in the game without ever touching ground. Dante can pull himself to enemies and he can pull enemies to himself, and use combos that keep both him and the target in the air. Then again, it feels cool to do so, especially when you are able to pull five plus enemies into the air with you and keep them all there. Boss fights are surprisingly rare in this game, and I'm not sure what to think about that. I feel like there could have been more. At least the ones in the game all feel different from each other.

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