Devil May Cry 5 Review

March 7, 2019
REVIEWS
PS4
Also on: PC, Xbox One

Heaven and hell. Night and day. New and old. Never the twain shall meet. They’re opposites. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Well, Devil May Cry 5 makes it clear that Capcom doesn’t agree. The latest entry in the series is a continuation of a franchise and a reboot at the same time. A game to be championed by existing fans and embraced by new ones. It’s a bold, risky, move, but one more often than not that pays dividends.

Set several years after the events of Devil May Cry 4, the latest entry in the series continues the story of Nero. Now a professional demon hunter — complete with a trademark ‘Devil May Cry’ neon sign —  he’s still cocky and headstrong, but he’s also relatable. What’s more, he feels new — lacking the baggage of Dante whilst still being an established character and that’s important to making this game work.

Clearly accustomed to taking out whatever fresh hell stands in his way with a series of sword and gun-based combos, Nero still manages to feel incredibly original. This is, in part thanks to his new Cody Rhodes-inspired look and partly thanks to Nico — a weaponsmith tasked with designing Nero’s Devil Breaker robotic arms. A new addition to his arsenal, these interchangeable and weaponised prosthetics change up combat a great deal, with their variety allowing for increased experimentation from the very beginning. That experimentation is encouraged too, with new variations unlocking as the game progresses, increasing the approaches you can have to any fight. Try stopping an enemy in its tracks with a time freezing projectile, careering around on a Devil Breaker hoverboard causing havoc, or simply tearing into them with a strong flurry — those are just a few of my suggestions. You’ll find your own way and a favourite loadout, with refills scattered around the environment if you burn through what you take into battle.

Smug.

It’s not just the Devil Breaker either, combat continues to evolve. New to the series, V is a character whose style is unlike any other playable character in Devil May Cry. Instead of a barrage of close quarters combat, this gothic Adam Driver takes a step back from the action, only swooping in for the killing blow. The rest of the time he attacks with Familiars — demons that he can set on opponents to do his bidding: Griffon, a mystical bird of prey with lightning abilities strikes from range, Shadow — a Panther demon — can deliver huge damage up close, and Nightmare — a giant golem-like creature serving as V’s Devil Trigger special move — can simply destroy anything in his path. Playing as V is akin to playing as a powerful passenger, but using him felt surprisingly great.

As the game jumps around a disjointed timeline, switching between Nero, V, and eventually Dante, it keeps you on your toes and you’ll be grateful for it. The change in approach keeps things lively, and stops the game from stagnating. You can pick favourites when the story intersects, but you’ll never feel disappointed with who you’ve chosen. My preference was V. His style was so different that I wanted to see more, but it made me appreciate my approach when I was forced to switch back. It’s clever in that way. Plus, as with all Devil May Cry games, DMC5 is designed to be played over and over again to increase your rank or face the challenge of a new difficulty. Offering more choice only helps with that replayability.

Goth.

It’s in playing with specific characters that the largest of the game’s network features manifests too. With a branching story featuring multiple colliding paths, it makes sense that the other characters would appear as you played, right? And they do! However, rather than a conventional AI appearance the game’s Cameo system allows other players to appear as you fight your way through. Think of it like Journey, but with less interaction and more blood. Essentially, you could play a level as Nero and see a V or Dante slashing demons in the background. If you do, that’ll be another player. It’s subtle, has no effect on your game aside from providing a cool visual, and is probably unnecessary, but the implementation was flawless and added to the experience.

Introducing these interlocking paths early on meant that the story could develop slowly too. DMC5 would often show two sides of the same encounter, giving a more rounded look at the fight against the demon king Urizen and the scourge of the Qliphoth that has taken root across the city. However, running the same (or very similar) areas with multiple characters when required did become frustrating; a feeling that was particularly prominent in the game’s later sections where I simply became bored of all the blood and gore. If you’ve seen one bone bridge and one elevator made of blood you’ve seen them all, y’know? I found the much more tame environments of the game’s first half more interesting. Having the London-inspired backdrop of Redgrave become overwhelmed by a demonic plague presented some amazing visuals. For instance, famous locales Leicester Square and London Underground stations become battlegrounds, with nods to the city’s varied architecture being caught in the crossfire.

All the environments look incredible, even in their destroyed states. It’s something that can be said for the vast majority of this game too. Each of the areas felt real and lived in, a stark contrast to the excessive nature of the late game hellscapes. It’s the little details that do it: chipped tiles, posters, dilapidated signage; true signs of polish that you don’t always see in a game that is designed to be played at one hundred miles per hour. The most satisfying detail was seeing Nero’s bullet casings drop to the floor and hit with a satisfying chime.

Style.

The way characters look has had an upgrade too. They look more real, the voice acting is better — although I could do with not hearing the same battle cries over and over — and they move gracefully, with their clothes and hair taking on the effects of the motion. This level of polish and structure plays into the more mature, self-serious, feeling Devil May Cry 5 has managed to conjure. I mean, it’s still a hugely ridiculous, over-the-top, blood and gore goth quest, but it made it easier to buy into.

It’s not just the characters’ looks that have had a change for the better either. The way the story plays out is a marked improvement over previous titles as well. Motivations are realistic, understandable and have surprising depth. The overarching story is clear cut too, but with little winks and nods there for those who know DMC like the back of their hand. Old habits die hard however, and outside of the three protagonists characterisation is lacking. For the amount of time you spend with Nico, she is severely underutilised. Thankfully she goes beyond the typical oversexualised Devil May Cry female sidekick, but is still held back by unnecessary flirting and innuendo. At least her crude jokes and jabs at other characters add to her providing a fantastic comedic contrast to everyone else’s B-movie seriousness. Her mid-mission upgrade cutscenes never failed to bring a smile to my face. Attempts are made to tie her into the wider series narrative, but they feel too little too late.

Sparkly.

Essentially, Capcom has trimmed the fat in a way that makes sense and improved the experience across the board. Each character has a clear contained story arc that fits into the main narrative, and the fact that they combine and overlap gives them extra weight.

This is particularly prevalent in Dante’s case. The devil’s favourite demon hunter is, surprise surprise, the one who knits this story together. The way the game builds to you finally getting to play as the series’ key man is great too. It makes him feel like a huge deal, building him up as this all-powerful demon killing machine before finally giving you the payoff you deserve. Taking control of Dante for the first time is cathartic. It feels like this is what you’ve been waiting for. He’s objectively the best playing character in the game but thanks to the variety of the other characters’ abilities, the game doesn’t do Nero or V a disservice either.

Londoner dream of having this much space on the Tube.

Playing as Dante is feeling like you can take on the world. It’s a thrill and the power fantasy only grows as your skills increase, the death metal kicks in, and your arsenal of weapons becomes more ridiculous. At one point I was cleaving demons in half with a motorcycle — that’s the level we’re at here, folks. Leaving Dante’s first playable appearance until the second half of the game is another one of the risks that Capcom has dared to take, but it produces a well rounded experience overall. Dante is massively overpowered, there’s no denying that. Utilising everything he has to offer is a reward to the player and avoids the developer having to revert to the trope of the hero losing all his powers. No spoilers here, but series favourite weapons make a return too, so you’ll have plenty to play with and smile about. Each weapon and ability, regardless of who you’re playing as, gets a detailed description as well. Again, great for introducing new fans or reacclimating old ones.

You’ll get the best out of these weapons during larger enemy encounters and the massive boss fights. Using some of Dante’s more inventive equipment makes tearing these guys down a joy, but that’s not to say Dante gets all the fun. Nero and V are just as capable of a good scrap with a huge beast as their mate with the red coat. Switching up your style to counter their moves before cleaving them in the face feels great, whoever you’re playing as. However, I would’ve appreciated more challenge than just dodging attacks and moving in for the kill. There are elements of this to be found throughout, with one boss encounter in particular playing like Shadow of the Colossus lite, so it’s a little disappointing that the majority are traditional bigger, more evil bad guys with bigger health bars. That’s great for grinding out an S rank, but doesn’t necessarily make for a memorable boss battle.

Don't ask what's happening, just enjoy it.

That line between tradition and innovation is at the core of Devil May Cry 5. From bringing it back in house and having Hideaki Itsuno retake the reins, to making sure it did more than was expected of it. But not too much. And that’s the thing — even with all the updates, high polish and creative new additions, at times it still feels ever so slightly dated. And that, alas, is the game’s only major flaw. Capcom has succeeded in what they wanted to do. However, I think the fear of failing — of derailing the franchise for another six years — has stopped the developer from pushing further, something that this game shows that it has the capacity to do.

What Devil May Cry 5 has done is given an old franchise a new lease of life. Delivering a classic character action game at a time when the industry at large is telling them not to is a huge risk, but in sticking to their guns (and swords, and bikes and robot arms) and figuring out what is at the core of Devil May Cry they’ve managed to refresh the game for series veterans and provide an easy point for new fans to jump in.

Devil May Cry 5 was always going to be a turning point for the franchise one way or another. It’s certainly not without its flaws. It’s throwback feel will be just what some people want, but as the game evolves elsewhere those elements feel occasionally out of place. Pacing issues sour the game’s second half too, but the way this game looks and sounds, the way combat feels, and how the story is told are all stellar.

This is how you do a reboot without actually doing a reboot. This is exactly what Devil May Cry needed.

8
Devil May Cry 5 is a wonderfully ridiculous game that rightfully returns the series to the spotlight. In many ways it feels very safe, but by willing to take a few risks and do more than satiate an existing fanbase, Capcom has injected new life into this once dormant franchise with a stylish and worthwhile addition.

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Ant Barlow

Started with the PlayStation, now I'm here... with a PlayStation. Once skipped school to play the Metal Gear Solid demo repeatedly. I love stories big and small. Trophy hunter. Recent VR convert. Probably a hipster.