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Review: DmC – Devil May Cry

Capcom farms out yet another beloved franchise, this time to a pretentious, head-in-ass maker of artgames masquerading as a Triple-A shop.

My favorite moment in DmC came during the credits. Not only was the game over, but listed among the long roll of names that toiled on this misfire was the senior producer for Capcom, a guy named – I kid you not – Alex Jones.

A coincidence, to be sure. But to understand just how perfect this particular coincidence is for this particular game, one needs to first understand this: DmC’s narrative is what happens when you staff a writer’s room with trust fund hipsters holding useless creative writing degrees, freshly displaced from closed-down Occupy camps.

At least, that’s how it seems. For DmC is a game where the king of all demons is literally using spiked energy drinks and a (not even) thinly veiled Fox News stand-in to control humans. Oh, and if that doesn’t work, the hellspawn have got billboards and signs and screens everywhere, bearing such subtle subliminal messages as “CONSUME,” “OBESITY,” “PRODUCE MORE,” and “SUBMIT TO DEBT.”

Among awful video game stories, DmC is in the god tier.

And this is before we even get to Ninja Theory’s bumbling reimagining of main character Dante as a sixteen-year-old acne-faced teenager who thinks everything is, like, such bullshit. Make no mistake – among awful video game stories, DmC is in the god tier. And, you know, it’s not that there aren’t any promising bits: If Ninja Theory had dropped the “EXTREEEEEEEEEME DEW-FUELED LIBERAL ANGST” sideshow in favor of more fully exploring the strange half-demon, half-angel lineage of Dante and his brother Vergil, we’d be left with a fairly rote but enjoyable tale of family tensions and war between heaven and hell.

Instead, we’re left with a game that opens with a hammy monologue by the demon king and his sex puppet, followed by a cutscene where Dante goes to what I think is the club from the opening scene in the first Blade movie. Here, he picks up two demon chicks. They proceed to go down on him in the back of a car, and they bang in Dante’s trailer (because home ownership is just, like, the man’s way of putting you in a box and making you a fucking slave).

Oh, and during all of this, there’s a song by the band Combichrist blaring. There are also strobe effects and MTV-style edits.

Please note that the above could have been at least tolerable with old Dante, a character that had something close to a sense of humor about himself. But with new Dante, it’s clear that we are meant to take everything he does seriously, even when what he’s doing is two demon Ke$has at the same time while a Combichrist song plays. We’re supposed to admire this guy, even though he has all the charisma of a newbie Internet libertarian who just read Fight Club for the first time.

Ninja Theory’s Dante has all the charisma of an Internet libertarian who just read Fight Club.

Rebooting or reimagining a series isn’t always an awful thing, so long as the developer both respects and understands the source material. Ninja Theory is not that developer. Under the leadership of Tameem Antoniades, Ninja Theory not only failed to capture what made both Devil May Cry and its protagonist so beloved in the first place, but actually antagonized fans for their negative reactions to preview content. Consider the following exchange between Tameem and Venturebeat contributor Jon Porter, chronicled in the latter’s “article” about how great and noble it is when game developers go out of their way to bite the hand that feeds:

“So, how do you feel about the fan reaction to DMC?”

Tameem looked at me a moment and took a drag of his cigarette. Then without blinking, and without pausing to exhale the smoke from his mouth he said, “I don’t care.”

As anyone with eyes to read can see, Tameem is quite clearly an insufferable prick, but the spirit of his reaction isn’t prima facie unwarranted. For example, if Tomonobu Itagaki had given this response in an interview about Devil’s Third, it would be appropriate, because Itagaki brought the world Ninja Gaiden 2, a game that holds up uncannily well almost 5 years after its release.

The trouble is that Tameem isn’t a master of the artform like Itagaki. He’s a guy who has shipped two moderately successful action games that were sort of enjoyable in spite of being full of themselves. Tameem isn’t a Mikami or Kamiya. For that matter, Ninja Theory isn’t Platinum Games or OG Team Ninja. NT is more akin to what thatgamecompany would be, if that developer had a larger budget and even the slightest idea about half-competent game design.

To be sure, video game stories sucking shit through a straw is nothing new, and as the medium’s laughable, misguided flirtation with eternally unappeasable social justice warriors continues, we’re going to see more of this heavy handed garbage using liberal politics as some sort of poorly executed allegory for superhumanism.

Heavy handed garbage using liberal politics as a (poorly executed) allegory for superhumanism.

The tragedy here is that unlike the vast, vast majority of games trying too hard to “mean” something, DmC isn’t entirely incompetent in its mechanics. That is to say, it isn’t a categorically bad action game. Mechanically, it can’t touch anything put out by Platinum or Team Ninja, but it does function fairly well as a simple brawler game where you can use the same 3 combos over and over until the credits roll. DmC isn’t the next generation of Devil May Cry; it’s a sort of half-retarded third cousin to its predecessors.

A half-retarded third cousin to its predecessors. Rent it for a week and never play it again.

And you know what? Even that dubious praise keeps you in the top third of retail release quality. This, really, is the shame – though the absolute measure of any video game is and must be how awesome it makes the player feel, primarily through mechanics, DmC’s story and presentation and characters are so awful, so middle-schooler-takes-a-first-trip-to-Hot-Topic, that any prospective player must be more than forgiven for immediately dismissing it after the opening cutscene.

No, it’s not a very good Devil May Cry game by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a fairly strong entry in the “pay $8 to rent for a week and never touch it again” category. And that’s okay. I don’t know how you support a modern games studio on that kind of business model (you don’t, so maybe Ninja Theory will go under soon and this franchise can be handed off to someone half competent), but for the consumer, $8 for a brainless 8-10 hour hacky-slashy is a fair proposition, I suppose.

Verdict:

Rent it or forget it. Either way, the stupid thing bombed through the floor and most likely killed the franchise for the forseeable future, especially since Capcom has led the charge in the current, distasteful industry trend of placing unreasonable sales projections upon the backs of franchises that have no chance in hell of meeting them.

 Grade: C –

Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: 360, PS3, PC

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