Release date: March 8th, 2019
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed,) PS4, PC
After not being terribly impressed with the first 3 games in the Devil May Cry series that were released throughout the early 2000s, 2008’s Devil May Cry 4 turned the tables for me and made me into a big fan. DMC4 improved all of the elements that I felt were holding back the series from being truly great and it became one of my favorite games of last generation as a whole. After DMC4, however, the series went into a bit of a tumultuous period, with no sequels planned or talked about for many years, and the next release related to the series came in the form of the very divisive 2013 reboot, simply titled DMC.
With the poor reception that the reboot received, most series fans like myself figured the series might be put to rest indefinitely, and we waited for yet another 5 years until we heard anything else about the franchise, with a release announcement at E3 2018, showing off DMC5, which was set to release almost 11 years after DMC4 was released, and promised to go back to the original series timeline, ignoring the reboot, and bringing back the previous series producer, Hideaki Itsuno.
Needless to say, most fans were absolutely ecstatic to see the series returning to its roots, but I was also somewhat skeptical at first, since Capcom also claimed that Resident Evil 7 would also return to the “roots” of the series, but was a miserable failure in that respect, through my eyes. Now that I’ve finally spent dozens of hours with DMC5 and finished multiple modes and difficulties, let’s see if they made good on their promise to return to form for the series.
Diving into DMC5 immediately felt like returning home, in the best way possible. The game starts you out with DMC4 protagonist Nero, showcasing his new mechanical arm to replace the one he loses in the series lore, which you’ll also quickly learn is related to a brand new game mechanic introduced for Nero that changes the gameplay to its core. Since he is missing an arm, he can now use over a dozen types of new mechanical arms, each having their own new attacks and special abilities to help mix up your combat skills and style to your liking. He can acquire these arms by picking them up during missions or also buying them from the in-game shop from the new mechanic/merchant, Nico. This takes Nero to a new level of fun, combat ability, and customization than he even came close to in DMC4.
After a few missions, you’re also introduced to a brand new character to the series, the secretive and dark magician simply named “V” and he is one of the biggest additions to the game, featuring an entirely different play-style from Nero or Dante, where he commands 3 demon companions that attack your enemies from afar, and once the enemies are weakened, you have to physically close in with V to finish them off with his cane. This is an extremely fun and welcome variety to the DMC play-style and makes for some of the most fun and stylish moments in the whole game. After learning V’s controls, you’ll start to realize the amazing potential for basically making every encounter into a 4-person battle royale to take on your enemies instead of the solo play of Nero or Dante.
Later in the game, you’ll also get to play as the series veteran, the legendary demon hunter himself, Dante. Dante features a plethora of weaponry to use, with weapons actively swappable during combat with the push of a button, being able to switch between around a dozen different weapons, all which have their own attacks, style, and variety of uses. This makes Dante by far the most flashy and show-off of all the characters, which is very fitting of his character’s personality overall, and he’s able to string together giant combos that feature constant weapon swapping and movement, making for a satisfying experience if you can master the complexity of his abilities.
On top of the character variety itself, there’s a few other interesting features introduced in DMC5, including that you can replay certain levels with each different character, each with their own path and different battles within that stage, and within those levels, for the purpose of the story, while you’re playing with one character, you can look off in the distance or on the other side of a wall and see the other character running through the stage and fighting their own unique battles.
When this happens, the game also uses your previous recordings of battles with that other character and plays them back, beat for beat, as the battle you see in the background. On top of this, if you activate the network feature, you can actually play these levels with the other character battles being controlled by a live player on your network of choice, as a sort of “co-op” mode, and there’s even one battle where you actively play in the same fight with another player at the same time, and it’s one of the most exciting battles in the whole game.
All the details of how the characters play ultimately falls back upon what is probably the most important part of the equation, which would be the controls, and how well they let you actually control all these abilities, characters, and attacks. I can safely say that the controls here are some of the tightest and most responsive game controls you’ll experience in modern times. You feel fully in control of every movement, attack, and dodge once you finally grasp all the systems and get used to how they work. This is essential in a game where style and variety are such central pillars of the game experience, and it does not disappoint.
The game also runs at a nearly-locked 60 frames per second across all versions, keeping the action as smooth as possible throughout the whole experience, which also contributes to everything feeling very snappy and responsive when it comes to controls and how the game feels.
Another element worth mentioning in any DMC game is that the difficulty level here is still rather high for a modern game. Though it feels a bit easier to succeed overall than DMC3 or DMC4, once you get past the “Normal” difficulty (named Devil Hunter here,) thing will start to escalate pretty quickly and you’ll start to see similar levels of difficulty to the previous games, and it presents some challenges that are easily on par with the previous entries, even if it does ease you in just a little bit more than before in the beginning.
As if the game doesn’t mention the word and drive home the point enough; if I had to use one word to describe DMC5 in its entirety and describe the focus of what the game is, it would simply be: Stylish. This is a word you’ll find constantly used in the literature and HUD of the game from start to finish, as has always been a staple descriptor of the series, but this is easily the most stylish entry that we’ve seen yet. Everything from the tiny details of the visuals down to the music, character personalities, combat system, cinematic camera framing, and anything else you can think of, just oozes style from every possible angle.
DMC5 embraces the ridiculous history and lore of the series itself and does not take itself seriously most of the time, making everything into an over-the-top and fun ride from start to finish, and delivers in every way at keeping its tongue in its cheek, making tons of references to previous events and elements of the series that will make series fans chuckle at every turn, and keeping a consistent style of character personalities even for those unfamiliar with the previous games.
Even though it doesn’t take itself too seriously, DMC5 does move the series’ story forward in a few major ways, bringing back some characters and relatives of characters from the past, and even though story isn’t really a focus here, the storytelling masterfully combines some pretty dramatic and strong moments together with the silly style the series is known for, never letting the story beats go on too long without a snappy quip or joke from one of the characters. It’s like watching the most ridiculous action movie you’ve ever seen that’s completely aware that it’s ridiculous and is constantly reminding you of it, but never going so far as to be super obvious by using something like breaking the 4th wall or shoving it in your face.
The level design here is pretty standard DMC fare, having a fairly linear level structure that leads you from one fight to the next, but with some of the most gorgeous and well-rendered scenery of any game I’ve played recently, so even the areas between the fights are just a joy to explore. There’s also plenty of secrets and collectibles hidden within these levels, leaving a satisfying feeling of being rewarded for your exploration between each of the fights as well.
The amazing visuals don’t just stop at the environments, since DMC5 was made in Capcom’s recent creation, the RE Engine (also used in RE7 and RE2 remake) and it makes for some stunningly realistic character models, textures, weapons, effects, lighting, and just about everything else you can think of, but what sets DMC5 apart from the other RE Engine games is the fact that it also brings in a level of fantasy or over-the-top elements into this engine, where the previous games mostly focused on realism for everything. This mix between the realism the engine is built for with the more fantasy-oriented art style is a thing to behold, making it a visual treat the whole way through.
Along with the great visuals also comes the presentation in general, and from the menus and HUDs all the way down to the subtle animations of characters, everything keeps the super stylish feel and immerses you in the world and characters at every turn. Everything follows a consistent art style and atmosphere, and the whole package is better for it, making everything feel like a complete experience instead of just some levels and elements thrown together, and feels more like a labor of love from the developers that they spent a lot of time on and poured their heart and soul into.
On the audio front, 5 is also at the top of its class, without question. The sound effects are extremely punchy, loud, and pronounced, fitting and accentuating the style of the game completely, and the soundtrack is one of the most memorable and enjoyable that I’ve heard in recent memory. The audio mix balances the battle and movement sounds with the voices and music very well and often pans and re-balances them depending on what’s going on in the game. You’ll also hear a few great remixes or updates of music tracks from the older DMC games used to great effect in the story, and the effect is fantastic.
DMC5 is hands down one of the best hack & slash action games ever made and something that series fans cannot afford to miss. It brings back everything that made the previous games great and improves on every one of those elements, also setting a new standard for which other similar games should be judged, as far as I’m concerned. As Itsuno himself said during the initial announcement, DMC is definitely back.
If you enjoy these kinds of action games, even if you didn’t care for the previous DMC games, this one may change your mind, and I can recommend this to just about anyone. One play-through of the campaign will last you at least 10-12 hours, and the style of the game and the series has always been more about escalating your skills to play the higher difficulties, not just one simple play-through.
As a small word of warning, the difficulty can get a little higher than most similar modern action games, so you have to be ready to learn and persevere in order to succeed, but if you can at least commit to that, this will probably be one of the best gaming experiences you have this year.