DmC: Devil May Cry demo impressions: A fresh take on a familiar face

The demo for Capcom’s reboot/reimagining of its beloved Devil May Cry franchise has finally arrived, and I’m trying to remember the last time I was so anxious for a demo to release. It was probably when Konami announced that Metal Gear Solid 2’s demo would be packaged with Zone of the Enders. Regardless, it’s fair to say I’ve been salivating for the chance to finally get my hands on this game that has caused no small amount of analysis, derision and outcry.

Fans were immediately intrigued when, nearly two years ago now, Capcom announced it would partner with British developers Ninja Theory (makers of Heavenly Sword and Enslaved) to make DmC: Devil May Cry. Capcom clearly wanted a decidedly more Western take on the smart-mouthed demon hunter who helped define a new paradigm in hardcore action games more than a decade ago. However, that intrigue and excitement was short-lived once fans took sight of the redesigned Dante who now no longer sported his trademark white hair and strutted about with a markedly more arrogant demeanor than ever before.

Capcom, the fans cried, had destroyed their beloved character. But it wasn’t just hairstyles and fashion sense that sent fans into a fury, typing out angry screeds on various message boards and comment sections. It was Ninja Theory’s decision to build the game using the Unreal Engine that really got fans riled up. Using that engine (as opposed to the MT Framework engine that Devil May Cry 4 and most other recent Capcom games had been built on) meant that the game would, for the first time in series history, not run at 60 frames per second. This, purists cried, would ruin the trademark fluidity and speed for which the series had become known.

I remained skeptical, however. I wasn’t so convinced that a drop in frame rate would ruin the core DMC experience. I’ve been a massive fan of DMC since Day 1. I’ve played every game to completion multiple times (save series black sheep DMC2), and while I’m far from a top-tier player able to pull of absurd maneuvers like jump cancelling and starraves (ignore the jargon if you don’t immediately know what I’m talking about), I can more than hold my own and can play respectably well. I don’t normally feel the need to define or justify my pedigree, but I feel it’s necessary in this case given how much scrutiny and derision the game’s combat has been under from the time fans first laid eyes on it.

So now the gaming public-at-large finally has a chance to get its grubby little mitts on a demo. What’s the verdict?

I love it.

Yes, the combat is still fast and frantic and you have as much freedom to mix up your attacks and style as ever. No, it does not run as smoothly as previous games (even despite claims by the developers the game would still have the “feel of 60 frames per second).

The demo begins at a point I presume to be fairly early in the game’s story. There’s not much context given, but it doesn’t really matter. Dante is immediately thrust into combat and, save for a thin, button prompt tutorial, you’re more or less left to your own devices, free to experiment as much or little as you want.

What immediately surprised me is how fluid the game felt. Obviously a lack of 60 frames per second was going to have an effect, but for the most part that effect here is largely only felt visually. Combat is tuned just a tad slower, but Dante never felt anything less than suitably responsive as I tore through wave after wave of demonic monstrosities, launching baddies into the air, grappling them, and just generally ripping them apart.

The biggest combat adjustment, though, is in learning to switch between angel and demon weapon forms. Weapon swapping has been a significant part of the series for the last two entries, but it takes on a decidedly different feel here. By holding down the left and right triggers, Dante’s sword morphs into the quick but weak angel scythe Osiris and the slow but powerful Arbiter axe. Switching between all three and creating custom combos is the key to survival, and there’s just as much room for on-the-fly improvisation as there’s likely ever been. Combat is fast, frantic and fluid and every bit as much as previous games, for my money.

The combat is also, surprisingly, much more aerially-focused than previous games. Using a combination of the air dash, angel pull and Osiris, Dante can easily stay aloft for extended periods of time. It results in a notably different feel to the combat, but never so much that it feels markedly un-DMC. My only real complaint about the combat is how weak Dante’s trademark dual pistols feel, but otherwise, it all plays pretty great.

Does it allow you to do some of the insanely intricate cancels and combos that top-tier players can pull off? Probably not, but honestly I could care less. If you’re so obsessed with being able to pull off a style of play that only a small fraction of the fanbase can even think of doing, you’re better off sequestering yourself with those two games that DO get it right. Me? I’ll be over here enjoying the game that’s something a breath of fresh air.

That said, as much as I enjoyed the combat (and I really enjoyed it, spending at least a couple of hours going through the demo multiple times), the other big treat here is finally seeing the game up close. The team of artists at Ninja Theory have really brought their A-game and designed a world that is hideous and yet vibrant. With Dante trapped inside a demonic alternate dimension, it’s not just monsters trying to kill him, it’s the environments themselves, with buildings, streets and more shifting and morphing in real time. It’s a stunning effect, and if this is indeed part of what we get for the sacrifice of 60 frames per second, it’s almost worth it. I should note that the PS3 version is slightly inferior to the Xbox 360 version, but it’s really only noticeable because I spent a good couple minutes switching back and forth really trying to notice a difference. The PS3 version has a slight downgrade in the frame rate during cut scenes, but the difference is really almost negligible overall, running at a solid 30 frames per second overall.

This is also one of the most substantial action game demos I’ve played in a while. You get a meaty stretch of combat and platforming areas that provides ample time to stretch your legs and really get a feel for the combat, as well as a major boss fight and three separate secret missions to access and an unlockable harder difficulty that changes up enemy patterns as well as introducing new enemy types. All in all, there’s a solid half hour of content available.

I was already pretty excited for DmC: Devil May Cry, and this demo only made the wait for January 15 that much longer. Ninja Theory has made some solid games in the past, but partnering with Capcom has pushed them to new heights and I can’t wait to see how the final product turns out.