Released this month free to Playstation Plus users, the 2013 reboot of the Devil May Cry franchise entitled ‘DMC’ early images looked more like a Eurotrash,  Action revamp of Heavy Rain than a successor to the legendary (the first and third games, at least) action series from Capcom. Developer Ninja Theory promised a modernized reimagining of Devil Hunter Dante and his brother, fan favorite Vergil, alongside updated combat and levels. While neither the revamped Dante nor the predictable family melodrama impress, the combat is frenetic, intuitive and the level design is a near perfectly realized surrealist mind warp.

DMC has been controversial since its announcement – Dante’s redesign drew immediate criticism from long time fans, his signature white hair replaced with a raven mohawk. To prove he really is the same Dante we all know and love, Ninja Theory is expressly preoccupied, in the first half of the game at least, with building Dante up as a total badass. If the fashionably homeless redesign wasn’t enough, the intro sequence is a checklist of teen boy wish fulfilment: Dante’s a booze hound, lives off the grid in a trailer, has threesomes with strippers, exposes himself to a stranger – all in the the first 5 minutes!

It doesn’t work. For most of the game he’s a tragically over choreographed walking Axe Body Spray commercial, more clearly influenced by Fight Club‘s Tyler Durden than Devil May Cry’s Dante. A nihilistic, handsome, sex addicted vagrant, at least Palahnuik understood Durden as the male ego run rampant and satirizes Durden’s self-destructive absurdity as a critique of masculinity. DMC’s Dante is a Durden clone, but while everything from corporatism to Bill O’Reilly to The Real Housewives is satirized, Dante’s behavior is only ever presented as “cool.” In fact, DMC is in love with Dante’s focus tested “edginess” – never impling to players an ounce of awareness (as with Durden who literally fulfills the nihilist wishes of Fight  Club’s Narrator) or even camp (as with the original, demon slaying as performance art Dante). Why is a game so in love with tearing down cultural inanities leaving its own boorish and obvious protagonist untouched?

To Dante’s credit, he does get better. The self possessed and calculating Vergil is overall more interesting, but the stealth best character is Kat. The mousy female lead is a far cry from the powerhouse women of the original series like Trish or Lucia, but her open vulnerability (not hidden behind a “badass” or “evil genius” persona) marks her as the most grounded, tangible character. When Dante finally drops the  act in the final 3 missions, he and Kat form a genuine and remarkable friendship built on mutual respect. Kat’s characterization is a radically different take on ‘strength’ in a game obsessed with ultraviolence. It’s refreshing to see a female character treated so well without being put on a pedestal in such a dude-heavy genre. (Villainess and Joan Rivers look alike Lilith gets special mention for being the only humorous character in the game and providing this review’s title)

But ultraviolence is what we’re all really here for and DMC delivers. Dante receives most of his 8-weapon arsenal in the game’s early missions, giving players plenty of time to develop their reflexes as they switch between weapons mid-combo and rake up SSSADISTIC X 7 combos. Dante’s weapons fall into two categories: ‘Angel’ weapons are quick, long range and tailored to large groups of enemies – ‘Devil’ weapons are slow, singular and deal punishing amounts of damage. The commands for each mirror each other, with L2 commanding Angel weapons and R2 commanding Devil weapons. There’s an instant familiarity to the combos that made complex combos easy to pull off. Additionally, new enemies are introduced at a simple, level-by-level pace, pushing me to experiment with new combos but never punishing me for relying on what I’m comfortable with. As a minor downside, the weapons – an axe, scythe, shuriken, sword and boxing gloves – aren’t nearly as imaginative as Devil May Cry 3’s Electric Succubus Guitar, but are a delight to watch in action.

Combine this with the real star of DMC – the art direction, and even I had to put my snobbery on hold to complete the latter half of the game. Landscapes shiver and morph from area to area, perverting and twisting themselves in real time as you play.  I’m especially enamored by Mission 14’s nightclub level – it’s visual MDMA, incorporating pulsing lights, clubgoers and dancefloors into level’s design. Similarly, the opening carnival level is both sinister and stylish,  covering the screen in shades of black and red, turning the battlefield into a gleefully twisted oil painting. Another impressive favorite – an early boss incorporates the superfluous visual effects of the 24 Hour News Cycle into the level , even breaking into a mid-boss fight helicopter-cam report on Dante, complete with scrolling headlines at the bottom of the screen.

There’s that humor and irreverence from the original series! While much of the game is marred in  derivative ‘grittiness,’ (the screaming dubstep soundtrack is especially egregious) the art direction and level design deliver what Ninja Theory promised us all along – something new, distinct, exciting and humorous. Couple that with the well crafted and enjoyable combat and maybe ignore Dante for the first 2/3 of the game and you have a worth successor to the franchise and a top tier action title.

Grade: B


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