Devil May Cry Hands-on (Xbox360)

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DmC Screenshot 1

“So this is the fifth iteration of DmC in the franchise history,” the Capcom representative began while introducing the latest Devil May Cry game to me ahead of my hands-on time with the title at E3 2012.

“This is very much a rebirth and a re-imagination of the DmC story,” he continued.

“So not a reboot,” I rudely interjected.

Without missing a beat, the Capcom rep repeated:

“A re-imagination. A rebirth of the DmC story. It’s not necessarily canon or in chronological order or anything like that. It’s a re-telling of [DmC protagonist] Dante’s story in the early years, the origins of him as a character.”

“OK” I said, satisfied with this answer.

While story has remained an important part of the Devil May Cry series, the games’ signature sword and gunplay enemy juggling gameplay has always been front and centre and its introduction with the original game on PlayStation 2 in 2001 was about as near to an action game revolution as the popularisation of over-the-shoulder aiming and the cover system – just as important, but nowhere near as ubiquitous.

DmC Screenshot 1

Being a big fan of the franchise, I was very excited to finally get to play DmC from Ninja Theory (Heavenly Sword, Enslaved) and see how the studio’s focus on narrative and story in its previous titles had carried over to its latest action game.

(Unfortunately I didn’t catch the name of the British fellow demoing Ninja Theory’s Devil May Cry to me, so please forgive the constant references to ‘the Capcom rep’ – if I find his name, I’ll update the article).

Right off the bat, it’s clear that the combat and gameplay of DmC is just as fast, fluid and satisfying to perform as ever before with a few slight refinements and major additions to keep the action intense. The focus is still on chaining together strings of attacks allowing you to move from a series of intricate sword slashes to firing rounds of explosive gunfire before sweeping your enemy into the air, jumping up to meet it and then smashing it down back into the ground with wince-inducing power.

DmC Screenshot 2

Capcom and Ninja Theory seem to have succeeded in their attempt to allow for ‘accessible depth’ to introduce new players to DmC, while still giving franchise veterans ways to dig even further into the possible suite of attacks and actions to put together mesmerising and elaborate chains of enemy destruction.

Set in the a place called Limbo City, I got to run around an area that looked inspired by real-world European locations with gothic architecture and graffiti splattered all over the walls. In DmC, Dante is being hunted by the demon underworld and have taken control of the world as we know it. The demons are constantly trying to kill Dante in his world by pulling him into ‘limbo,’ which manifests as a warped and continuously transforming environment.

DmC Screenshot 3

I’ve never seen anything quite like the real-time world deformation on display in DmC. Using what the developers call the ‘Malice Mechanic,’ it’s not uncommon to be running down a seemingly innocent archway before the walls collapse in on themselves, bricks break from mortar, pillars contort into obstacles and the very floor beneath you cracks, crumbles and falls away. The demons truly are doing their best to do Dante untold harm and every motion of this transforming world feels controlled by hatred and evil intent.

When the walls aren’t trying to do you in, you’ll need to help Dante survive against waves of hideous creatures and demons, easily done by making use of his Angel and Demon powers. Activated by holding the control’s left trigger, you can at any time pull out Dante’s Angel scythe to do great damage to large groups of enemies with large sweeping attacks, while the Demon axe (activated by holding the right trigger) can do massive damage in a smaller radius, and is quite a bit slower than the scythe.

DmC Screenshot 3

These powers don’t stop there, either, and Dante can use an Angel Lift ability to shoot out a virtuous grapple at an enemy to pull himself towards that creature, as well as a Demon Pull which ejects a demonic attachment out to pull enemies towards yourself. These simple tools alone have enormous potential for gameplay and make chaining together attacks a breeze. After smacking an enemy into the air, you could use Angel Lift to instantly travel up to it before striking it further into the stratosphere. You could use Angel Lift again to continue the chain or send it careening back to earth with Demon Pull.

Bring Dante’s Ebony and Ivory pistols into the mix, and you’ve got almost everything you need to stomp enemies with maximum authority, all while taking advantage of Dante’s lightning quick evasion manoeuvre (both on the ground and in the air) to ensure you yourself aren’t stomped into the ground.

To reward you for your attack chains, DmC will once again include a ranking system but will this time make how you achieve a particular rank (from ‘A’ to ‘D’ to ‘S’ and more) much more transparent than previous games. Essentially, the more varied and extravagant your attack combinations, the better your score will become and the better ranking you’ll achieve in the end. Whether or not you’ll be able to compare your ranking per level or encounter to others online via a leaderboard system is still up in the air, and the Capcom rep wasn’t able to comment.

DmC Screenshot 4

Angel Lift and Demon Pull are also used for environment traversal and to solve basic puzzles. In the demo, I needed to use Angel Lift at a specific location on a ledge to lift myself up to that area, while Demon Pull on another point effectively pulled a platform out for me to which I could then jump across. DmC uses the series’ standard double-jump system to reach higher areas, while an additional ‘dash’ (or Angel Glide) move will get you across larger gaps in the world.

To mix up your combat encounters, some enemies can only be damaged with Angelic or Demonic attacks, so for example, using Demon Pull on a glowing red enemy to stun that creature before opening your shoulders and hacking it to bits will be a required tactic. Add to the fight flying and floating enemies as well as demons of different sizes, strengths and speeds – not to mention the chance to effortlessly chain combos together – and encounters become manic battles for survival.

DmC Screenshot 8

I also couldn’t help but notice just how sharp DmC looked in the build of the game I played – in addition to the incredible ‘Malice Mechanic’ world transformation, the warm glow of sunlight flooded the city streets beautifully and the intricately detailed environment lent a very real sense of place to the game. Enemies, meanwhile, emerge from swirling puddles of inky blackness and burst in explosions of black liquid and body parts once banished.

As expected of a Ninja Theory game, the animations of DmC are exceptionally smooth and detailed, too – sword spins, scythe swipes and axe hacks are imbued with weight and, at the same time, finesse, while Dante himself will at times seem to become overbalanced for a second after a particularly intense flurry of attacks.

DmC Screenshot 5

DmC from Capcom and Ninja Theory is still months away from release, but the gameplay I experienced and the world I explored in the demo at this early stage is already exceptional. My only concern at present is how long encounters last (they could stand to be cut short by a few beats) and the need for a perfect sense of mixing and matching between enemies during these encounters to provide for more of a ‘sandbox’ approach to combat.

There’s still plenty of time before release and we’re sure to hear lots more about DmC in the coming months.

Devil May Cry is out on January 15th 2013 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, while a PC version of the game is planned too. Read over El33tonline’s previous coverage of the game for videos, screenshots, as well as Lisa’s Captivate 2012 coverage.