Interactive storytelling. It is a holy grail in gaming (“a,” not “the”). The ability to put a player into a world and have them go about, doing what they want to do, and have a story—the story you want to tell—come out of it. It is difficult to say the least.
In the end, many games don’t push for interactive storytelling. Rather, developers wedge story in-between levels, showing players a bit of story that explains why the player must progress from point A to point B. Once this task is accomplished, another cutscene appears explaining precisely why they have to go to point C.
On the whole, I find this type of thing disappointing, but if the story itself is well told and the gameplay moments between it exciting, the lack of true interactive storytelling is something I can get passed. DmC: Devil may Cry, the reboot of the franchise, doesn’t quite get there on either score, but on the latter it is awfully close.
In terms of the tale, we find our hero, Dante, in the present day. He likes booze and women and cursing. He gets that he is different and constantly sucked into this “Limbo” place where demons are out to get him and that he’s got something of a weird past, but once a mysterious girl leads Dante to a mysterious guy, Dante grows interested in his past. Unfortunately, Dante’s past is discovered in the dullest of cutscenes and the characters, including Dante, are just not interesting. As for Dante’s present and the tale of world domination, it is the sort of common present-day fantasy dystopia with foolish villain and an ever-present demon horde infecting everything.
There is some sort of brilliant commentary that could be written into a game about the evils of soda, big corporations, and the mass media, but DmC doesn’t offer that. Instead, it takes what could be great elements and a sort of genius conspiracy theory and takes it four steps too far so that it is no longer comedy or even parody, but simply videogame foolishness.
The game carries with it an “M” rating, something that was going to happen simply due to the amount of blood spilt in the title. It seems as though developer Ninja Theory figured that as long as it was going to get an “M,” Dante may as well curse throughout.
The dialogue isn’t strongly written and it isn’t delivered with much enthusiasm, so we’re left with a whole bunch of four letter words dropped in for what appears to be the sake of having four letter words. One particularly bad moment of dialogue features Dante yelling a four letter expletive to a boss who then says it back to Dante who then says it back to her. The serve and volley of f-bombs stops there, but even so, by the time the battle starts you’ll be cringing.
I said above that brilliant gameplay could salvage a title with a horrific story, and DmC almost gets there. Almost. What could be utterly fantastic, however, is severely hampered by the linearity of level design, the camera angles, and not being handed full control of what Dante does.
In DmC, Dante is repeatedly sucked from the real world into Limbo, a place where demons appear and are out to get him. But, Limbo is more than just a static place, it’s alive and changing – it too is actively engaged in killing Dante.
I think that, as a concept, that’s just brilliant. It represents the potential for an incredible amount of fun as things change and paths get altered and Dante is forced into a corner. In actuality though, Limbo doesn’t function as well as it ought. You will experience moments in the game where the width of paths shrink, forcing Dante forward at a rapid clip. Nice idea, but if you were a living city and you wanted to kill this guy, why would you move two buildings (or walls or whatever) together slowly, wouldn’t you just bring them together instantly to kill your target? Limbo only works in videogame ways – always offering Dante an exit and never quite being dastardly enough to kill him in the oh-so-obvious ways it should. In the end, Limbo is little more than a slightly shifting funhouse distortion of the real world and it could have been much better than that.
What bothers me more than Limbo’s actions is its linearity. If I were a shifting world and I didn’t have the power to kill my enemy but only move around some platforms and walls, you can bet that I’d make a ton of wrong turns and dead ends that my enemy could travel down. DmC‘s Limbo doesn’t often do that, you’ll sometimes take a wrong turn but not too often – the game very much allows you to travel in a straight line.
So then, what’s the good I was talking about?
The action in DmC doesn’t function like many an action title, it’s more of a fighter, requiring you to learn various combo moves. Once you do, your ability to battle a dozen different enemies at once, whipping them and yourself around the screen as you switch between four weapons with fluidity is astoundingly great. Seriously, it’s incredibly fun. Even when you’re not great with the combos, you still feel the power Dante wields and a sense of satisfaction at seeing your enemies vanquished.
The fighting makes up for all the hokey dialogue, most of the poor characters, and much of the mundane level design. Sadly however, the developers shot themselves in the foot here as well, offering bad camera angles and having one’s set of double revolvers auto-aim… where the game wants them to auto-aim. See a living camera eye up above you that you desperately want to shoot (or are required to shoot) and that is within range? Yes, well, Ninja Theory has decided that they would rather you jump on a bunch of platforms to get up to the camera so you can grab it with a chain because that looks cooler, so your auto-aim guns won’t auto-aim there. That is just plain awful.
Put another way, it is one (really not good) thing to eliminate my control of the story, it is quite another to eliminate my control during gameplay. The above isn’t the only example of a moment where DmC stops you from doing that which you should be able to do (and are able to do at other points), but it is one of the most egregious.
Those who love the game despite its shortcoming will enjoy the search for hidden keys that unlock secret missions, but those who are less interested in all the extras will find the search less than compelling. However, those secret missions do require lots of killing and are a great training exercise (plus giving you pieces to help up your vitality).
Most regular missions are relatively short and score you on your style, speed, and ability to find hidden objects. Score well enough and you unlock points to upgrade your weapons and abilities. It is all relatively standard stuff in terms of how it works, but some of the moves Dante can learn are exceptionally power.
My last criticism of the title is the load time, which feels excessive, particularly when it occurs mid-level.
The look of DmC: Devil may Cry is well considered and does help place the player into the heart of what is going on within levels. The fighting is a lot of fun as well. However, the shortcomings of the game truly hamper it and stop it from being great. It is a good reboot to a generally fun franchise, but it should have been more. It is an enjoyable time, but it should have been more. That really is the takeaway — it should have been more.
DmC: Devil may Cry is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language.
This game can also be found on: PC and Xbox 360.