DMC: Devil May Cry is devilishly stylish, angelically designed, and ridiculous in every sense of the word. It traps you in a warped world where gravity has no meaning and where soft drinks are manufactured by giant, ancient, pupae. Where security cameras become disembodied eyes, and where architecture bends and twists as if folded by an origami artist. And it is populated with every manner of broken-doll-faced, slashing, gnashing modernised demons within and outside of the realm of imagination. It feels like angst incarnate, and it is glorious.
Unfortunately, it’s set up on the back of a mediocre story that attempts, and fails, to deliver a strong message about the degree of control over our modern lives. A suave businessman demon named Mundus has conquered the world’s leaders through debt. He spies on humans through CCTV networks, controls their thoughts through the media, and keeps them docile on a diet of heavily-advertised sodas. When not farming human souls for the consumption of demonkind, he reclines with girlfriend/wife Lilith, a monstrous woman more artificially tucked and stretched than the mother from Brazil (the obvious metaphor for society’s emphasis on looks does not go unnoticed). The attempt at a morale is valiant, and relatively rare in gaming, but the story eventually falls back on good ol’ demon killing and an uninteresting terrorist group as its main crutch plot points. It’s not as if cautionary tales of establishment power are new or original; DMC just seems to be lazy in its attempts to highlight an already saturated theme.
The task of freeing humanity falls upon the half-angel half-demon Dante, a booze-infused and rock-skulled punk who spends his days “killing demons and getting laid”, as he puts it. He’s found by his brother, a computer genius named Virgil, and a young witch named Kat, who has the ability to see and create portals to the demonic realm of Limbo. The story remains fairly straightforward, with simple objectives about how to weaken and ultimately destroy Mundus providing context to an entirely linear story. The writing is excellent, sprinkled with witty and sarcastic one-liners from Dante. Yet the voice acting, which is rushed at best and dry at worst, turns an otherwise simple-but-engaging script into something hard to take seriously (or hard to take humorously, for that matter). It’s not terrible, but when such excellent lines are delivered to barely half of their potential, it can be hard not to wince.
That being said, Dante’s obnoxious yet likable nature helps to contribute to DMC’s overall sense of style. Every move is flashy, most of them literally so, and environments are some of the most dementedly beautiful seen in gaming. The world itself wants to kill you, and it makes this known. Huge neon letters flashing “Kill Dante” or “Destroy” will appear around arenas as a sort of cheerleader encouragement to the demons surrounding you. Floating bits and pieces emanate from buildings sometimes more twisted than those of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Everything is highlighted by a grinding soundtrack that alternates between intense techno and heavy (and I mean heavy) metal. One of the best levels puts this music at the forefront, surrounding the player with walls of digitized airwaves and silhouettes of nightclub goers and strippers. The gothic style of previous Devil May Cry titles has been trashed to make way for a bold, modern, rebellious aesthetic that overloads the senses and makes demon slaying feel genuinely “cool.”
The slaying itself occupies 90% of DMC’s core gameplay (outside of some simple yet satisfying platforming). Each of the five main weapons (plus the three different types of firearm) feels so distinct that skills learned with one cannot easily be translated to another. Two weapons are “angel,” fast, wide, and perfect for crowd control. Two others are “demon”, centralized, sluggish, and used to deliver high damage to small areas or individual enemies. The all-around default sword, aptly named “Rebellion,” serves as a simple compliment to its brighter, more specialized counterparts. Stringing together attacks into combinations is fluid and satisfying, especially because the game keeps track of points and letter-grades you in real-time. Beautiful combos are simple to pull off with responsive controls (even combos that involve quickly switching between weapons), and the constant blue-red-black-yellow hues of every battle make them a sight to behold. It’s too bad the upgrade tree becomes almost complete after just one playthrough. Seeking out new moves and improvements would’ve made for the perfect motivation to explore DMC’s wealth of modes, difficulty levels, and replayable content.
Everything tends to fall apart in the last few missions, as DMC’s sense of flippant action starts to diminish and we’re met with a final boss fight that feels more like a QTE than the cinematic, epic, and visually creative bosses that come before. But by that time, you’ll be on such a DMC-high that you won’t care if the last hour or so flounders. You’ve chopped, sliced, and clubbed your way through a beautiful world that knows exactly when to introduce a new enemy, and exactly when to introduce a new weapon. Maybe you didn’t get laid, but you sure as hell killed demons.