- Developer - Ninja Theory
- Publisher - Capcom
- Platforms - PlayStation 3 [tested], Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
- Release date - 15 January
- Price - £39.99
DmC: Devil May Cry
Hack and slash games have always bordered on the incomprehensible. Enemies appear by the three-dozen, you mash buttons to pull off combos and the levels - big and impressive though they are - are generally flashy, gaudy things with bright colours and mad architecture.
Bayonetta is a good example of a bad hack and slasher. A promising set-up with a gorgeous aesthetic, it nevertheless gets lost amongst absurd mini-games, myriad plot twists and an ever-lengthening Move List. Once you've been introduced to ten or so enemy types, it moves the goalposts time and again, until you're fighting so many different things that, rather than target their weak points with smart attacks, you just vaguely mash the pad until everything's dead.
DmC: Devil May Cry is not that. A superbly tight, consistent hack and slash game, it excels in taking a small number of components and mixing them into increasingly testing scenarios. Contrary to its smug leading man and its trashy rock soundtrack, DmC is a smart and nuanced game that knows where to use restraint - its story, too, is superbly self-contained.
An ostensible reboot of 2001's Devil May Cry, DmC eschews that games' serious, gothic overtones in favour of Robert Rodriguez-esque pulp horror. You play an updated, younger version of Dante, now with cropped brunette hair and the sexual appetite of a footballer. In the opening levels of the game, he's recruited by The Order, an underground resistance organisation battling demon forces on Earth.
The group's main target is the demon king Mundus, who is hypnotising humanity via poisoned soft drinks and mass propaganda. His main weapon, though, is debt. Disguised as the CEO of a credit company, Mundus sparked the 2008 economic crisis in order to strengthen his grip on the world.
That stuff feels a bit laboured, but a few of DmC's satirical nudges work really well. Take Bob Barbus, the anchor of Mundus' Raptor News Network and an obvious parody of Bill O' Reilly. Revealed in his true demon form, he yells at Dante that "we'll kill you! And when we do, we'll do it live!" in reference to O' Reilly's notorious meltdown on Inside Edition. It's a dumb joke, but in a series - and by and large a genre - that's typically bogged down in breathy melodrama and MacGuffins, lines like that are incredibly refreshing.
And there are plenty more like it in DmC. Barbus aside, all the main bosses are wonderfully foul-mouthed, an early battle with a Succubus resulting in a torrent of threats and swearing that Malcolm Tucker would be proud of. The game keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek and even the swaggering, attitudinal Dante becomes somewhat likeable. With the defeated Succubus clinging to a rock above a giant meat grinder, Dante quips "you know what your problem is? You're too clingy" before hacking the creature's fingers off. It's absolute nonsense, but it's also quite funny.
The writing isn't uniformly brilliant, though, and starts to drag towards the game's finale. What begins as an excellently tight set-up, where we're introduced to the main characters, the villain and what we need to do to stop him, becomes less and less comprehensible as the game goes on. The plot never loses track of itself, or wanders into gaseous Bayonetta territory, but a lot of the levels feel padded out with unnecessary side characters and diversions.
Finnius is the worst of these. A demon "scholar" who stops you on the way to Raptor News headquarters so you can retrieve his missing mechanical eye, he's simply there to provide more unnecessary exposition and backstory, and slows DmC's narrative momentum to a crawl. The climactic section in Mundus' HQ is syrupy, too, and instead of Dante and his brother Vergil confronting the big man out right, you have to go through several prolonged and sideways levels before reaching the boss fight.
There's nothing wrong with that as such, since it gives you more space to experience DmC's combat. But when the game has done an excellent job of foregrounding and streamlining the plot, padded sections like these feel artificial.
Then again, this is still a Devil May Cry game and the series has always been unapologetically combat orientated.
The fighting in DmC is superb, resisting typical hack and slash tendencies, and limiting itself to a just handful of weapons and enemies. There is still plenty to choose from - a big heavy axe called Arbiter, a quick scythe named Osiris; Ebony and Ivory, Dante's trademark pistols; his longsword, Rebellion - but the game does an excellent job of getting you to use all of the weapons, rather than just giving you lots of things that you'll never find the time for.
The Eryx are a great example. A pair of enormous metal gauntlets that glow bright red, they're used to punch stampeding enemies called Tyrants into the air, something which no other weapon can do. Then there are the Aquila, lightning quick shurikens that are uniquely helpful against fast enemies called Rages.
Rather than filling your inventory with unnecessary power-ups and items, DmC just gives you the tools for the job and forces you to rotate between them to fight off a dozen or so different bad guys. Rather than just piling on lots of enemy fodder, the combat feels lean and logical, and combines awkward groups of enemies that require a lot of thinking.
A fight between you, a Witch and a Death Knight for instance, involves attacking the Witch with Osiris, slugging the Knight with Arbiter and dodging her quick attacks while countering his slow ones. Unlike other games in its genre which generally require pad mashing, DmC lets you be methodical and rewards you with a higher mission score for it.
DmC: Devil May Cry is a great game. A few niggles about the plot coming unstuck and the combat sometimes feeling more frustrating than challenging aside, this is a confident, well-written and enjoyable action game that will surprise hack and slash veterans. It's let down by a generic heavy metal soundtrack and some functional characters, but the visual design is, in places at least, astounding: The zenithal fight with Bob Barbus is particularly noteworthy as he attacks you with brightly coloured television waves and news graphics.
A surprising and energetic reboot of a tired franchise, DmC: Devil May Cry is also the most distinctive hack and slash game in years. It doesn't just reinvent Devil May Cry - it shows that hack and slashers needn't always rely on more enemies, more weapons and more combos to be enjoyable. Tight, contained but still uproarious and beserk, DmC: Devil May Cry is a blast.
- Gameplay - 9/10: Frustrating at times but extremely intelligent and lean. A total change of tack for a hack-and-slash game
- Sound - 7/10: A great voice cast is let down by generic monster noises and a very bland soundtrack
- Graphics - 8/10: Some brilliant and colourful party pieces, but also a lot of repetitive corridors and similar looking enemies
- Writing - 7/10: A surprisingly smart and punchy script that knows what it wants to do. The plot comes loose in the latter half of the game
- Replay value - 8/10: Plenty of side-missions, collectibles and difficulty settings to work back on. The campaign benefits from short length
- Overall - 8/10: A lively and surprising reimagining of a jaded franchise and a bloated genre. Highly recommended
Read what our review scores mean here.