DmC is evidence of all of the worst of Western excess: it is a torrid experience to play through and is bound to leave a sour taste in even the most liberal of people’s mouths. The true shame behind this state of affairs is that the crass, rude and infantile veneer that serves as the game’s exterior presentation mars the experience of the incredibly polished, incredibly capable gameplay mechanics and some wonderful art direction and level design. What could have been a stellar reimagining of the franchise for the current generation fritters away all potential on a litany of four-letter expletives and a supposedly subversive plot that smacks of the incoherent rantings of an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic. Capcom’s brief to Ninja Theory that they sought a Westernisation of the franchise from this joint venture may well, with hindsight, be judged to be a little too broad in scope.
Dante was, as protagonist of the Devil May Cry series, always somewhat of a cad: always cavalier and somewhat caustically sarcastic. In spite of this, the character managed to retain some charm by virtue of a great deal of his dialogue being hideously clichéd to a degree that even the most finely aged Camembert could appreciated and the fact that he was self-aware enough to poke fun at his own ridiculous and sometimes childish antics. The Dante of DmC carries over this caddishness, but in a thoroughly unlikeable way: the lack of any reflection on his part leads to these character flaws merely reinforcing the degree to which the player is bound to find his behaviour intolerable, rather than providing any sense of his being aware of the consequences or sheer irrationality of his actions. The elements of bloodlust and sexual deviance that Ninja Theory have deemed necessary to add to his character do not serve to endear him any either: while Devil May Cry‘s Dante’s interests were also of the violent sort, he never took the sort of sadistic pleasure in following through with violent acts as neo-Dante does – it was merely a means to an end, rather than an enjoyable end in itself. No, it is not about the colour of his hair: Dante truly is just a horrible character in this iteration.
Even though, with story progression, the player is expected to feel greater and greater levels of sympathy towards Dante, the writing around this is of the laziest kind imaginable: his being a completely and utterly despicable person is explained away by his loss of memory at a young age. Given that he does not remember his parents, he would be bound to be a lost soul searching for gratification through wild sex and violence – or so Ninja Theory’s societal logic goes. Upon restoration of the memory of his mother, Dante suddenly becomes far more tender a person: with no real transformative change occurring at all, the player is expected to stomach a complete change in personality. It is simply not good enough.
The narrative of the game follows Dante and sibling freeing mankind from the yoke of, if the paraphrasing will be excused, a fictionalised Coca Cola, Goldman Sachs and Fox News, responsible for pacifying and enslaving mankind from a parallel dimension known as Limbo. The age-old “capitalism and consumerism are enslaving man” trope is a poor one to run with, if only due to its tendency to appeal, in the crass way it is portrayed in DmC, to disenfranchised teenagers above all else. The fact that Ninja Theory are particularly proud of the writing of this element of the story is somewhat damning of what is still considering good story in video games. It does nothing that has not been done before, and adds nothing new to the table to surpass those which it emulates.
Credit, and much credit, however, should be given for the non-written narrative elements of the game. The art direction around Limbo and its “real-world” counterpart is fantastic and does a good job of demarcating different-but-complementary worlds, giving each their own identity but appreciating their similarities. The use of colour is fantastic, with a wide palette being in use at all points throughout the game. The use of words which appear in large print in Limbo on the sides of shipping containers and walls and the like is also executed wonderfully, even if it is a mere borrowed item from They Live. There is much beautiful about DmC, but the majority of the narrative is not to be included in this.
A slight re-prioritisation was undertaken by Ninja Theory for DmC when compared to previous entries in the franchise, with more attention being paid to platforming over combat. The introduction of demonic and angelic weapons allows for two different platforming-aids: one which allows the player to pull things towards them and one which allows the player to bring themselves to platforms. Both are wonderfully executed, and the necessity to combine them both in places in a short space of time makes for a compelling experience. The large areas where the player is expected to swing from platform to platform are wonderfully designed and allow for ample amounts of exploration.
Combat is also bolstered by the introduction of the angelic and demonic weapons: while options available to the player for combining weapons were hardly scant in previous iterations of the series, the combination of the normal sword, two angelic weapons, two demonic weapons and three firearms, with all being able to be used together in play through the use of d-pad buttons in combat for quick switching, the possibilities for insane combo attacks are incredibly numerous in nature. The combat is also as responsive as it has always been and rewards the player aptly for good play, even if the much sought-after SSS-rank is much easier to achieve this time around. The skill trees for each weapon have been enhanced in DmC, and much more player customisation is possible.
Purely in gameplay terms, there is nothing wrong with DmC: it plays as one would expect of the genre, if with a little more platforming. Where the disappointment comes is upon the realisation that the beauty of the game stops as soon direct player control does. There is no charm here, no substance behind the awesome levels of style on display. For an attempt at satire, as the narrative of this game is, there is no conceivable way to elaborate on how hamfisted Ninja Theory’s approach had been. Fox and Coke are far too easy as targets, and this is indicative of the game as a whole: very little imagination shows through as of the development team’s, and that is a shame. If not bogged down with the legacy of Devil May Cry, there was a lot of potential in the gameplay.
I’m sorry Dante: Ninja Theory weren’t the ones to fill your dark soul with light.