The new "DmC: Devil May Cry" uses most of the same key ingredients as the original series, but the final product is just better somehow.
So while the hero is still a demon-angel hybrid named Dante, the journey he takes us on is not down the road we’ve traveled before.
Face it: The story sketched out in the original was so overly complicated that it was largely incoherent, and that game’s setting — a generically ominous island and castle in the middle of nowhere — was derivative and boring. Plus, it really doesn’t help that the original four-game series was released in no semblance of chronological order. (In case you’re wondering, chronologically the games should probably be "Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening," "Devil May Cry," "Devil May Cry 4" and "Devil May Cry 2." That makes me want to cry. Leave the timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly stuff to The Doctor.)
The new "DmC," on the other hand, makes actual sense.
Meanwhile, the game has something to say beyond just telling us a story: That we, humanity, are asleep at the wheel, conditioned to obey politicians and pundits, programmed to acquiesce to inner demons telling us to "consume" in conflict with our own self-interest — and that we must wake up from our slothful ignorance. That such messages are conveyed through a Rush Limbaugh clone and "They Live"-style background images only deepens my appreciation for the developers’ efforts. (OK, OK, let's not pretend the message here is particularly deep. It's stuff that's certainly been said before. But the fact that the developer worked to put such a message in a hack-and-slash action-adventure game? Mind-blowing.)
But it is.
If anything, Ninja Theory has improved on the combat mechanics that earned the original its cult-like following, while preserving the core experience integral to Dante’s character.
So, yes, our hero still knocks scythe-armed monsters into the air with his sword, Rebellion, and "juggles" his helpless enemies in the air with a constant barrage from his guns Ebony and Ivory. Brutal combinations of attacks continue to earn players visceral feedback in the form of a "stylish" ranking flashed on-screen, from "Dirty!" (the lowest rank) all the way up the scale to "SSSensational!!!"
This simple system makes it easy to bring the pain during battle. But don't let that fool you into thinking "DmC" will be easy. The elevated difficulty level that has long been a hallmark of the series is still part and parcel of the game — even if you play on "Human," the easiest difficulty level.
Ninja Theory has also kept around some combat/traversal mechanics introduced in 2008’s "Devil May Cry 4" that allow Dante to pull objects and enemies toward himself — or to launch himself at enemies or through the air. This addition, plus the complete abandonment of "Resident Evil"-style item collection and puzzle solving, transforms "DmC" into a full-fledged action-adventure game — something I wish the series had been all along.
Probably the best change, though, in my opinion is that the in-your-face arena battle setup of the previous games is gone.
Don’t get me wrong; players still get trapped in rooms for near-constant arena battles, but the developers almost always set it up unobtrusively. No longer do cheesy red "demonic" barriers coalesce into place in dramatic fashion every time you step into a room. God, I hated those things. My problem wasn’t that I would be stuck in the room until I’d slain all the monsters that were about to emerge. My problem was that the game would so constantly waste my time with the annoyingly repetitive animation.
Ultimately, this is the "Devil May Cry" I’ve always longed to play. I know it’s a reboot, and that term may tarnish your expectations, but I’m telling you — fans of the series and newcomers alike — it’s a game worth playing.
"DmC: Devil May Cry"
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3. PC version to be released on Jan. 25, 2013. Reviewed on Xbox 360 using a copy sent by the publisher.
Rating: M for mature.
Recommendation: Don’t let the term "reboot" dissuade you. Responsive controls, complex combat and excellent storytelling culminate in an excellent experience, whether as a purchase or a rental.
(Updated slightly because I couldn't resist.)