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DMC: Devil May Cry review: Love's keen sting


There is a fine, bleached line between "trying too hard" and "confident in your own skin." The two descriptors can look disturbingly similar: Some people use hair dye, awkward yet fashionable clothing and violent curse words as a mask for their insecurities, while for others these are outward expressions of the very personality quirks that the first group attempts to hide.

At first glance, it's difficult to tell which category DMC: Devil May Cry belongs to. In the marketing leading up to DMC's launch, publisher Capcom released videos of a naked Dante sailing through the air, manly bits covered by slices of pizza, and infused its material with metal songs and f-bombs. It had reason to put forth such a ridiculous effort following backlash from the game's radical style shift: Dante's hair black rather than white-blonde, his body decked out with new clothes and his personality given a modern twist.

With such a rabid fanbase, the only thing that could redeem DMC from reactionary internet infamy was to turn that unique, new styling into an homage to a beloved series. To be confident in its skin and own all of its style choices unapologetically, while still retaining the crux of the series, the combat.

DMC does this in spades – er, scythes.

Gallery: DmC: Devil May Cry (11/1/12) | 10 Photos

DMC's world is as much a funhouse mirror of our own reality as the game itself is to its previous installments. It's a neon, urban landscape ruled over, in secret, by demons bent on controlling the human race through hypnotic soft drinks and manipulative news networks. Limbo, the demon world that exists on top of this reality, crushes and cracks the city as Dante travels through it, creating a distorted yet beautiful playground for battle.

Dante, a Nephilim (the product of an angel and demon's unholy union), is humankind's only chance at freedom from demonic enslavement, since he has the ability to enter Limbo and to use abilities from both sides of Heaven's and Hell's armies. Dante discovers his past and uncovers new abilities gradually throughout the game. He starts with a sword, Rebellion, but by the end of the campaign has an arsenal of projectiles, grappling whips, melee weapons and guns to rival a military-grade Ikea, and he is forced to become proficient with all of them.

Enemies progress naturally as Dante's skills increase, teaching you to layer his abilities as new, stronger demons step up, some with weapon-specific vulnerabilities. Stringing together combos with varying weapons becomes a fast-paced puzzle for each new enemy lineup, and Dante gets style points for the cleverest combos. Dante has everything from his sword Rebellion to an angelic scythe and shurikens, a demonic axe and fists, and a handful of guns to boot. On top of this, he has angelic and demonic abilities that grant him superhuman speed, strength and healing, and his aligned swords transform into grappling whips that allow for aerial travel. All of these weapons and abilities can be unleashed and combined on the fly, making DMC a game about defeating hordes of enemies in style (and with sarcasm), a mechanic that doesn't once become boring or feel detrimentally repetitive.

The sheer amount of weapons and their individual levels of engagement ensure that fighting in DMC is always a pleasure. For the player, at least. (Getting stomped by a raging metal demon can't feel too great for Dante, even though he takes it in stride.) It helps that the demons attack in the same pattern throughout the game. Battles begin with enemies sprouting out of the ground, with the major threats introduced in mini-cutscenes. It's not always the same type of enemy spawning at the same time – the game mixes and matches, at times throwing two or three big baddies into the fray alongside hordes of lesser pawns. Dante's strategy must be flexible to defeat the more sadistic combinations, such as the Witch, who has a litany of telepathic powers, and the Tyrant, who relies on charging and bodyslamming his prey. That's after defeating a few rounds of lesser demons, all of which run, fly or shoot projectiles.

Much of DMC's consistent intrigue stems from the accessibility of each of Dante's items. There are massive platforming areas and exploration options to break up the fight scenes, but when all of these mechanics are combined is when they truly excel. In one section, Dante is tasked with clearing a safe path for a car to traverse as Limbo breaks into reality, uprooting buildings, roads and vehicles along the way. The catch? The car is launched into the air for most of the journey, as Dante's companions attempt to escape while Limbo crashes in around them. In order to save them, Dante has to combine swinging maneuvers that transition directly into mini-battles with demon hordes on broken platforms. The game's visual cues make this a seamless endeavor, allowing Dante to swing from hook to hook, exploit enemy weaknesses and even topple entire buildings in rapid succession, all without missing a beat.

It's a delight to quickly swap angel and demon attacks on a whim, and a lot of that is thanks to solid game design and button layout decisions. That said, I left DMC with clear favorites in my arsenal, for clear reasons. Rebellion, Dante's classic sword, remains my steadfast favorite, allowing for powerful blows and rapid maneuvers. Dante's angel blades, Osiris and Aquila, are quickfire weapons with long combo possibilities, but they dole out low damage. Meanwhile, the demon weapons Arbiter and Eryx dish out crazy amounts of damage, but they're slow. As beautiful as the animation is, I dread when Dante reaches behind him for Arbiter, because the ceremonial speeds at which he swings the axe will leave him completely vulnerable for a good half-second. There is no interrupting a motion once it's been decided, and while it makes sense for Dante to be a stubborn person, it's annoying that he can't switch to a faster attack or even evade the moment a new enemy prepares to strike.

The final fight is frustrating for a few of these reasons, but also because it imbues a note of subtlety not present in previous action sequences. There are no glowing weak points denoting the proper course of action, as is the case throughout the rest of the game. This is Dante's coming-of-age moment and the shift in strategy makes sense, but it can be jarring for a player not searching for subtle cues (that I won't spoil here).

But Dante isn't a subtle guy, and neither is DMC. It's fast, hard and raunchy, so much so that any small inconsistencies are swallowed up by the next fight, new weapon or new ability. Its story seems crafted specifically for me, or at least for a market in which I am the target consumer. It pokes fun at the real-world machinations of bogus news networks, stars a confident, swagger-laden hunk with supernatural abilities, and leaves a wide array of weapons at the player's disposal. Each of these aspects on its own is a reason to get behind a game, but by far the most important one – for a Devil May Cry reboot especially – is the fighting. DMC does action extraordinarily well and manages to make Dante look like the epitome of cool with every move, and it's wonderful to see this feat in motion. Over and over and over again.

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of DMC: Devil May Cry, provided by Capcom.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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