Developed by Ninja Theory, the incredibly tight knit and capable team that would go on to bring us Hellblade, very few people would have been aware of just how skilled a team was working on this remake. Visually, DMC was stunning, taking advantage of the Unreal 3 Engine about as well it possibly could have. As we now know from Hellblade, character models are Ninja Theory’s speciality and DMC was no exception. Dante and Virgil appeared convincing as biological brothers and facial animation and lip sync was hard to look away from at the time. Suffice it to say, DMC: Devil May Cry has aged very well indeed and having played through it again through sheer force of nostalgia, I’m happy to report that it still holds up as an utterly fantastic feast for the senses.
As we play through the game, our brains are treated to a perfectly blended cocktail of music by Noisia and Combichrist as well as fantastic world design. While it may appear to take place in our contemporary world, look a little closer and you’ll see a fictional world with a modern aesthetic. Buildings are modern yet Gothic with weeping angels of stone atop them and Dante’s new world appears to be designed by the demons themselves, reminiscent of the great tower in Devil May Cry 3. Ninja Theory saw an opportunity to lovingly craft a new convincing world with the utmost focus on artistic direction. As we discover more about Dante’s past, his memories come back to him in the form of exquisite artworks, which undoubtedly started life as late stage concept art phases.
It’s no coincidence the world looks to be designed by the demons themselves either. As we learn very early on, the world’s economies are controlled through debt with the Demon King, Mundus at the head of it all. This allowed Ninja Theory to make some strong statements about the state of our real world and the corruption that lies in politics and corporate interests. The news media in DMC is run by a demon, pushing propaganda that keeps demon-kind safe and concealed. While ordinary humans are kept lazy and under control by the game’s equivalent of Coca Cola – a drink called Virility. It turns out the secret ingredient for Virility comes from a demonic succubus that dwells under the Virility factory.
Even as a hardcore fan of the original franchise, I loved this new direction for Devil May Cry. It made it more intelligent and personal. It made it more relate-able as it played on the widely discussed conspiracy theories of our contemporary world. Even Dante’s brother, Virgil, seeks to undermine demon-kind by setting up an activist group that is blatantly based on Anonymous. Even the presence of human demon collaborators added a kind of Blade feel to the game.
If we take a minute to look back on the world in which Dante lived before Ninja Theory got involved, it was – if we’re being totally honest with ourselves – a bit of a mess. When Dante’s origins story was told in Devil May Cry 3, the world appeared to be decimated by a demon uprising. They appeared to be showing up for the first time, destroying the world. Yet Dante was already a badass ready to mess up the demons alongside almost parody perversions of his female sidekicks. I loved to play those games and the deep combat systems they offered up, but the context in which all that fun was found never really added up. Ninja Theory’s solution to this was the concept of Limbo.
In one swift move, the idea of Limbo allowed Ninja Theory to insert demons into a representation of a modern world. Instead of them… well, just being there and society moving on regardless. It also made for some spectacular set pieces that resembled Inception mixed into a fever dream. One particular level set in a nightclub morphed and moved around to spectacular effect, creating an honestly unforgettable level. It’s the thing that made me go back to the game as I missed the total feast for the eyes accompanied by dynamically changing moody bass beats. It was perfection.
By this point in the game, the player is expected to have a good grip on the combat system in DMC. Another utterly unique part of the game resulting from Ninja Theory’s skilled team. If I were to describe the intricacies of the combat, we’d be here for a very long time. Although, the first time I played God of War, I remember being impressed by the fluidity and variety on offer with Kratos’ signature chain swords. DMC offers up an even higher level of complexity for hardcore combo hunters like myself to get into. Most combos are extended and serve tactical purpose with a pause in button pressing.
What impressed me massively is that the controller layout allows the player to switch weapons during that pause. The result is the second half of that weapon’s combo after being preceded with the first half of your previous weapon. Combined with pull moves that elevate you towards the enemy, there’s never a blank space between your weapon and the enemy. This makes DMC’s combat the most varied and player satisfaction driven system I have ever played in a hack and slash. I do not say that lightly and the feeling of choreographing my own complex fight scenes to such a high level of varied control never really left me. It’s why I went back.
The loading screens in the game are a perfect example of what kind of combat to expect. Here's a video from YouTube, courtesy of channel, GameBill Studio
Lastly, the ending was a perfect cliffhanger for future instalments. Years before I ever saw the brilliant Devilman Crybaby, I would see a similar theme in the end of DMC. The wider world of humanity finally seeing all of demon-kind under which they have been subjected all their lives. We see a montage of social media posts bad mouthing the demons and desperate found footage tapes of fighting in the streets. All hell has literally broken loose. Among it all – a final disagreement between Dante and his brother, setting the stage for the rivalry that Devil May Cry 3 established. The irony of the once close brothers, one mostly angel from mother Eva, the other mostly devil from father Sparda now fighting each other has an almost Chinese classical tragedy feel to it. It was the one familial core theme of Devil May Cry that needed to stick around and Ninja Theory hit us with it so perfectly, right at the last second of the game. We should have expected nothing less with Alex Garland on the team as Story Superviser. Just to jog your memory, this is the man who would made the critically acclaimed films Ex-Machina, 28 Days Later and Sunshine.
If you’re a Devil May Cry faithful fan who skipped out on this because Dante’s hair was black or thought he just looked like a moody teenager – well, it’s never too late to go back. As someone who adored Devil May Cry right from its inception, I can assure you – you will be nothing but absolutely satisfied with the work Ninja Theory did way back in 2013. It’s just a shame that the franchise now lies dormant, not just from underwhelming sales of this masterpiece but also because Ninja Theory split from Capcom to do their own thing with Hellblade. While I am eternally grateful for that spectacular experience, it is a shame to think the Devil May Cry licence now sits in a neglected digital file in the Capcom offices. If we see Dante again, there’s no way of knowing if he’ll be the scrappy boy with a good heart I came to love from the new franchise or another iteration altogether.
I never got into Bayonetta… so I will soon. Although, after my time with DMC, I have to ask myself – will it be as good? I worry that, no, it will not. If that doesn’t tell you just how good the massively under-appreciated DMC really was, I don’t know what will.