“DMC 5” opens with Dante locked in battle with a demon named Urizen when Nero tries to help. Having already lost an arm to the demon, Nero is eager to take revenge but is rebuffed by Dante who tells him to skedaddle. Soon thereafter, a demonic tree sprouts in the middle of a city supported by roots that entangle and destroy much of its infrastructure. With Dante missing, Nero and V., a mysterious guy whom Nero encounters before trying and failing to best Urizen, hatch a plan to free Dante from the underworld by destroying the roots that are sustaining the demonic tree.
Over the course of the game’s twenty chapters, the relationship among the three men is illuminated, but I suspect that more people look to Devil May Cry for cosplay ideas than for its story line. Since this is a game about handsome men who square off against insect- and reptilelike demons, the story beats don’t go out of their way to provide much other than context, quips, and zany interludes like Dante dancing in the style of Michael Jackson after he gets a hat. (A couple of weeks ago, I’m sure I would have chuckled at the scene but in the wake of the revelations brought by “Leaving Neverland” it felt slightly unnerving.)
The Devil May Cry series has always tried to entice players to be more style conscientious. In these hack n’ slash games, simply defeating a demon offers little reason to get happy. Fumbling to victory all but guarantees that one’s performance will meet with a sour judgment when the game hands out a final letter grade at the end of each chapter. To fend off a dreaded D ranking, one must learn to make extensive and varied use of the game’s combat systems and not get hit. Logically, this type of game often feels better when it’s replayed, after having a chance to acquire and learn different moves the first time around.
On Twitter last year, Devil May Cry’s creator Hideki Kamiya drew a bit of attention after he wondered if DMC could do with a shaking up. “I’m just throwing some ideas out there,” Kamiya tweeted, “but I think it’s about time DMC got a game design revision. Looking at current global trends and the amazing graphics in recent Capcom games, the next DMC game could do with a full model change, like the new God of War. Instead of being an anime-style hack 'n' slash, maybe Capcom will turn DMC5 into a realistic, cinematic action game . . .?” Though “DMC 5” certainly benefits from Capcom’s robust RE Engine (which also powered the recent remake of “Resident Evil 2”) it doesn’t try to reset expectations. Take away the bells and whistles of RE Engine and there is little here that one can’t imagine being done on the last generation of consoles.
Though “DMC 5” doesn’t attempt to rewire one’s perception of what an action game can be, it delivers a satisfying variety of different combat systems. Nero has a great range of prosthetic arms to use, such as Mega Man’s blaster. And it’s neat to see the poetic cliche that is V.-- so young (looking), beautiful, and sickly — go from reading aloud the poetry of William Blake while commanding a griffon and a panther to soften his enemies to delivering a crushing final blow with his cane. When Dante shows back up, the game’s combat mechanics expand even more with additional moves (or fighting stances) tied to the control pad. With his multiple swords, guns, and special attacks, Dante is the undisputed virtuoso of the bunch, but really all of the characters are fun to play.
Lighting effects and detailed backgrounds notwithstanding, the environments in “DMC 5” aren’t that memorable. Fighting a demon in a cavernous underground train tunnel is pretty much the same as fighting one in a large chamber of the underworld. “DMC 5’s” vision of the demonic realm is pretty tame — a dark place with lots of purplish accents. More memorable for me are the doorways spread throughout the game that can only be opened if you have a parasitic hatchling in your possession. Because really, who wants to walk from point A to B with a parasitic hatchling wiggling at your side?
“Devil May Cry 5” is, for better or worse, potent screen candy. It’s not very nourishing but it may satisfy a special craving.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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