DmC: Devil May Cry was problematic for fans of the franchise; while the series' trademark action was still instantly visible, the presentation was remarkably different. The brash, angelic Dante had been replaced with a teenaged Gothic Punk rocker, the beautiful churches and buildings now turned into a post apocalyptic wasteland where Fox News parodies played on gigantic screens.
However, developer Ninja Theory (Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West) has taken the franchise forward, bringing Devil May Cry into the 21st century while still maintaining the stylish action the series is known for, even at the price of its distinctive flavor.
First and foremost, as matters the most with any videogame, the gameplay is amazing. The series has always emphasized seamlessly tying together combos to unveil beautifully vicious carnage and DmC is no exception. While it takes a little too long to acquire a complete arsenal, once you are fully armed, the bloodshed is gorgeous.
The ideal strategy is, as always, to launch enemies into the air and perform inter-weapon combos of mass destruction, which both looks beautiful and scores heavily for the series' addictive points system.
Although the default difficulty isn't quite as immediately punishing as Dante's Awakening, the game does well to introduce tougher enemies towards the end. As always, there are five difficulty levels and only the truly dedicated will be able to finish the last two.
The lack of a proper targeting system is a shame and the camera cannot always support the lightning-fast action, but neither complaint makes the game unplayable.
However, while the action is fairly stylish, it lacks the epical scale of something like Ninja Blade and the boss fights are particularly underwhelming. That having been said, the fights with smaller enemies are glorious and the game plays far more smoothly than any of its competitors.
In fact, the seamless combination of serene angelic weapons with the more blunt demonic ones is an accomplishment in and of itself. No other action game says "slick" like Devil May Cry and Ninja Theory should be commended for maintaining the series' supremacy.
The real concern for this particular installment, however, was Ninja Theory's aesthetic makeover. Luckily, the famed developer has crafted a great new home for the series. Dante's life begins mired with alcohol, lechery and debauchery; this reimagining is really far more believable than any other for the character.
However, following the entrance of a mysterious psychic in his life, things quickly escalate. In many ways, it is the classic "boy meets girl and finds meaning in life" story, but it is superbly voice-acted and beautifully drawn. Dante's half angel/half demon ancestry is more centrally explored and his relationship with his brother Vergil is now more fully realized.
The prolonged cinematic sequences also feel less cumbersome than before, mostly because the story moves forward rather quickly and does not force players to revisit areas, a common problem in previous installments.
However, embracing the increasingly popular post-apocalyptic setting has come at cost the game some visual flair. The series, once known for its visually striking juxtaposition of Victorian structures and religious imagery with deformed demons and bloodshed, now seems somewhat similar to many First Person Shooters.
It should also be noted that between both console versions, the Xbox 360 runs more smoothly while the PS3 version suffering from some frame rate issues. This will hopefully be corrected with some upgrades but, until then, the game's fluidity is hurt on the latter console.
Ninja Theory was tasked with bringing a classic franchise into the modern world without compromising what made the series great and the developer has succeeded. While the setting will feel familiar to fans of the medium, it's certainly an evolution for the series itself and the developer should be commended for proving that great storytelling does not have to impede breakneck action.
On the easier difficulty, the main campaign can be finished in less than ten hours but it is time spent well. Besides, for those that dare to challenge the higher difficulties, the game will become considerably longer since much time will be spent praying for survival, although Dante is a demon so ... not sure how that works out.
DmC: Devil May Cry is out for release now on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with a PC version due January 25.