The demo for the redundantly named DmC: Devil May Cry finally popped up on Xbox Live and PSN this week. If youíre a long time follower of my blog youíll remember that Iíve said that I wonít make any concrete assessments of DmC until I can physically play the game myself. Considering the need for a hands-on was something I wanted over two years ago, itís pretty easy to say that Ninja Theory sure wasnít in any sort of rush to try and quell the complaints of skeptics. Because of said skeptics the DmC demo has turned into one of the most anticipated demo releases I can think of in recent memory, both for the fact that optimists want to see it excel and skeptics want to see if it falls flat on its face.
So, does DmCís demo indicate a potential instant-classic or an incoming flop? Truth be told, itís somewhere in-between.
Let me take a moment to say that Iím probably going to sound like a negative Nancy while writing up this impressions piece. The Devil May Cry franchise is one of my personal favorite franchises and I tend to be the harshest on the franchises I care about the most, especially when such a dramatic overhaul happens such as in the case of DmC. Allow me to preface everything next by saying that after I was done playing this demo a part of me really wanted to enjoy DmC, however bits from my time definitely held me back from actually doing that.
Change for the sake of change
Iím okay with changes if it makes that particular thing better because of said changes. For example, the Iron Man movies were instantly made better by skipping the whole ďIron Man is Tony Starkís bodyguardĒ angle because it was a nice chunk of common sense thinking plus everybody important already knew Stark was Iron Man anyway. However, change simply for the sake of saying ďweíve changed itĒ is something Iím not exactly cool with.†
Let me get some of the ancillary stuff out of the way first. Visually, the game itself doesnít look bad at all. In fact it looks quite good in the graphics department. Itís definitely colorful and thereís plenty of detail to everything around. I was particularly fond of how the transition from the ďnormal worldĒ to Limbo looked visually and it was in fact probably the most visually striking part of the demo to me.
The whole ď60 FPS versus 30 FPSĒ debate is something I was never fully into, and to be honest DmC felt ďsmooth enoughĒ for me. In these regards I had no problems with DmC and would mark it as a plus. Though if you personally asked me Iíd probably still take Devil May Cry 4ís overall visual style, its not a slam on the new game but itís just a personal preference thing.
The DmC demo also gives us a small taste of the dynamic environments that Ninja Theory and Capcom were talking about, which was supposedly the justification for switching from the MT Framework engine over to the Unreal engine (which sparked the whole frames-per-second issue). To be perfectly honest only the final church segment really impressed me in terms of these dynamic environments, and even that was just a slightly new spin on a rather old trick. Everything else in the demo consists of either a floor falling out from under you or walls closing in on you, things weíve all seen before. Iím imagining Ninja Theory is saving their best tricks for the full game, obviously, but itís hard to get excited for that when all they show off are fancy versions of old tricks.
To echo things Iíve said in the past, Iím still not especially fond of Danteís revamped look. Itís not that I dislike it because itís different than his previous looks, but rather I dislike it because itís a pretty bland and boring design in general. New Dante still looking like a giant Mary Sue for Ninja Theory's own Tameem Antoniades doesn't help either. Itís the same reason Iím not especially fond of the looks of characters like Nathan Drake, Commander Shepard, or original Infamous 2 Cole. Maybe itís just me, but characters that are supposed to look more like Ďeveryday real peopleí just donít click with me Ė especially if they exist in a world thatís full of outlandish concepts, or is half-demon/half-angel.
Continuing with some side bits of the demo, I need to take a moment to talk about the voice acting I heard. This was something that particularly surprised me considering Ninja Theoryís history with game presentation; the voice acting (at least in the demo) was mostly awful and the lines the characters are delivering arenít anything great either. The best way I can describe it is by saying it was like watching one of those bad episodes of The X-Files where Mulder and Scully sit around talking for most of the episode. Almost all of the voice acting in DmCís demo was super monotone and had little to no emotion behind it, Katís voice actress the lone exception.
I know itís just a demo and you canít extrapolate too much from it, but Dante was simply boring in this demo Ė like ďIím going to compare him to Devil May Cry 2 DanteĒ level boring. And it wasnít necessarily just Dante, Vergil and some of the side characters the demo previews also had the same ďsounds like theyíre reading their lines for the first timeĒ sound in their voices. This caught me a bit off guard considering this was all coming from the studio that presented the awesomeness of Heavenly Swordís King Bohan. I was talking about this to fellow Dtoider/FNF Supreme Overloard Trev and we both kind of agreed that if this demo is set early in the game thereís a chance that the Dante we see in this demo simply hasnít been emotionally ramped up yet. This might explain why Dante and companyís voice acting was as boring as a cardboard sandwich.
Part of the reason the dialogue itself seems surprisingly below my expectations might be a result of DmC being the first game thatís script was written in-house by Ninja Theory. I did a little bit of digging before writing this and apparently the scripts for Heavenly Sword and Enslaved were both outsourced by Ninja Theory, meaning the credit for some of that nice dialogue I guess should be going to other people. It doesnít necessarily mean that DmCs story and script will be bad, but it just kind of shifts my frame of reference a bit in regards to what I expect from the studio since apparently some of their best work wasn't actually done by them.
The gameplay in DmCís demo is the area that triggered the most mixed emotion from me. The gameplay does look plenty flashy and with practice you can definitely learn to chain some good combos, however I feel as if the controls themselves are rather counter-intuitive and are a slight step backwards from previous Devil May Cry games. The primary issue I had, and this is what ultimately made me decide in the end I didn't care that much for the demo, was that I was struggling due to trying to play DmC like it was a Devil May Cry game.
If you want to take that previous sentence as a red flag, so be it, itís just my opinion on it.
The hard lock-on system that the previous titles used appears to be gone and in its place is a soft lock on system. While the soft-lock system works decently for the most part, I already lament the loss of the old fashioned Legend of Zelda styled z-lock system. During my time with the demo I had a few occasions where Dante would break away from the target I was intending to attack in order to start swinging & shooting at a target that managed to jump between myself and my intended enemy (this was especially an issue when aerial enemies came into play). While these issues of mine werenít overly frequent, the fact that the soft-lock system was unreliable with only small amounts of enemies nearby makes me worry about how troublesome the soft-lock system could get if the full game throws larger groups at you. Unfortunately the demo mostly throws grunt-level enemies at you as well, so itís kind of hard to gauge how well the soft-lock system works when it comes to prioritizing important/larger enemies.
Beyond guaranteeing that Dante would attack whom I want him to attack, the hard-lock system was also a good form of camera control that I missed on a few occasions during the demo. Locking onto enemies would traditionally center that enemy on your screen, which was something that was nice to have for spotting enemies that were previously off-camera.††
I know it sounds like Iím complaining because something is gone from the old games, but for me during the demo I did have occasions where I had trouble pin-pointing enemies that were off screen, this happened primarily when the camera would get a little too close to the action and would severely limit my knowledge of my surroundings. Iím complaining about the lack of a solid lock-on system not because itís a change from the old games, itís a change that can impede the flow of the gameplay.
Activating your demon or angel weapons is done by holding down either LT or RT (I demoed on 360, just for reference), and you have to maintain holding the button down for the duration of how long you wish to use that weapon. Why this couldnít have been something you could toggle on/off similar to how switching weapons in previous games worked is beyond me. This setup caused my fingers to be full of unhappy thoughts when I started to attempt even slightly more complicated maneuvers. For example; if I want to use my angel weapon on an opponent I have to hold LT while hitting melee to use that weapon. Then if I want to quickly fly over to a different enemy I have to let go of LT and then hit RT+X to fling the next enemy my way, then hit LT again to return to angel weapon devastation. It felt like my index fingers were doing more work than they should have to for something that could be done fairly simple in, for example, Devil May Cry 4. I can see how this setup could potentially be viewed as a more versatile system than stuff we've seen in the past since all weapons are slightly more accessible, however I donít see it providing enough of an improvement over the previous setup to justify the over complication of the controls.
Some other formerly basic functions seem to have been changed up a little too. The remnants of what was known as ďTrickster StyleĒ have been broken up into a couple of separate functions that span across a couple of buttons now. The ground based evade is now performed by hitting RB, which can now be performed in the air now too apparently. The former ďSky StarĒ horizontal air-dash is now performed by holding LT and hitting the A button.† Again Iím going to nitpick a bit, but I fail to see a logical reason why these had to be broken up into separate button combos when they could have just been all mapped to one context sensitive button. Obviously thereís differences between Danteís air-evade and his full horizontal air-dash, however odds are that players will never use the latter when in combat and will take the air-evade as a more combat ready option. It seems slightly more efficient to just have RB perform an air-evade when in combat and the air-dash when out of combat. Like I said, its nitpicky, but this is something that was another simple one-button-press that had to get a little overdone for no solid reason outside of being able to say Ďitís differentí.
Launching enemies airborne in previous DMC games required you holding back on the left joystick while hitting the melee button and being locked onto an enemy (it sounds more complicated than it actually is). Partially because there is no hard lock-on system in this game, that obviously had to get redone a bit and now Danteís launch ability is mapped to the B button (circle, for PS3). Iím not entirely sure if Iím a fan of one glorified melee attack being its own button, but again for the sake of the lack of a lock-on system and the higher emphasis on air combat Iím okay with it and it works. Plus considering the demoís seeming penchant of making you press at least two buttons for simple actions Iím happy I didnít have to press at least two buttons to do it. Tapping B launches enemies into the air, holding B launches enemies into the air and Dante follows them up into the air with them (just like in the classic games), hitting B while in mid-air has Dante perform his helm-breaker maneuver.†
Now is where I get to the difficulty of the demo. Demos usually seem scaled down a bit in terms of difficulty, probably just to hook people in a tad easier, so Iím applying a similar logic here. However, considering the game sports multiple difficulties Iím also going to make an assumption that Ninja Theory wants us to have at least some kind of approximation of what the difficulty of the final game will be. It's either that or they're just planning a big bait and switch, which you can't rule out since Capcom is involved too.
On my first play through of the demo I did think the game felt a tad easy for a Devil May Cry game. It wasnít offensively easy or anything that would cause me to be alarmed, but the demo did feel a tad lax to me. My second play through of the demo, however, did make me feel a tad concerned about the difficulty of the game. I pretty much ran through the first level of the demo on Son of Sparda difficulty and the only times I ever took damage were when I was fighting against the games controls itself. And even when I did fumble with some of the game mechanics it would take a small bit of time before I was actually in any sort of danger since the enemies you face are pretty passive and telegraph their attacks a solid second or two before they actually attack.
There is a second level to the demo as well and it consists of fighting some weird larvae woman who curses every three words and looks kind of like one of the brain bugs from Starship Troopers. It wasn't a bad battle at all but it wasn't anything remarkable, it was effectively a ďbeat the shit out of it until it diesĒ boss and while there was a very basic pattern to the boss it didn't feel on the same tier as some of the bosses from DMCs past. Perhaps I was a bit jaded by this point because I was already fairly turned off by the demo.
Oh and while I complained about the dialogue being bland and the voice acting being wooden earlier in this blog, I feel like I should make a point to talk about the dialogue that pops up for the boss battle segment of the demo because it's particularly awful. I'm not going to go quote for quote on this, but the exchange between Dante and Brain Bug Lady is effectively a bunch of Jerry Springer curse word salvos tossed back and forth and there isn't a single glimmer of witty well written dialogue. Even with the intentionally cheesy dialogue from previous DMC games in my mind, the dialogue in the DmC demo is pathetically juvenile and tries so hard to be edgy and cool that it comes off as a desperate plea of ďlook at us and how edgy we areĒ.
In summary (since I know must of you probably scrolled down by now, losers)
DmC is a game that I really do want to like. Sure there were a few other facepalm moments here and there, Voldo-styled bondage Sparda was extremely laugh out loud worthy in its awfulness, but I honestly like a lot of the ideas that are going into the game. I just think the decision making and execution of those ideas are a bit off. Based off the demo (which obviously leaves a bit of wiggle room since its not a full game) DmC feels decent to good, but not what I would call great.
And as a little extra...
Trev sent me this video whilst we were discussing DmC. It's about the new version of Dante and the flaws he has as a character and in terms of the character he's effectively replacing. Whether or not you agree is up to you, I thought I'd just mention it because it does a pretty decent job of putting together a respectable list of issues with the new take on the character, and it should shut up some of the people who still think people don't like him just because his hair is black.