Review copy provided by Capcom. Reviewed on PC.
It’s easy to forget now how many times Capcom has been written off. It wasn’t so long ago: Street Fighter V launched to an underwhelming reception and fan backlash, the Resident Evil series was on the backburner, and beloved franchises like Mega Man seemed dead. It’s already rare that any developer returns from those relative doldrums to the highest peaks of critical and commercial relevance, but I can’t think of a comeback as phenomenal as Capcom’s. Riding high off the critically acclaimed return of Mega Man, smash success of Monster Hunter World and the survival horror franchise’s rebirth with Resident Evil 7 and the remake of Resident Evil 2, Capcom’s renaissance continues with the spectacular Devil May Cry 5. There are no two ways about it: DMC5 is a masterwork of pure high-octane action euphoria. Dante is back, and it’s never felt better.
Expectations couldn’t be higher for director Hideaki Itsuno’s first entry in the legendary cult action series in more than eleven years. While 2013’s spin-off DmC: Devil May Cry was critically acclaimed, fans were split over the changes to one of gaming’s most iconic protagonists, Dante, and the streamlined combat system that series newcomers Ninja Theory brought to the title, and it was the first Devil May Cry to be developed by a studio outside Capcom. But this time, Capcom and Itsuno are back in the driver’s seat and carrying the full burden of expectation to pick up where 2008’s Devil May Cry 4 left off.
GAMEPLAY Broken Devils And Fallen Angels
Controls and Mechanics
The combat in any game rarely feels as satisfying or as uncompromising as in DMC5. However, the game does as much as it can to acclimate newcomers without making concessions to today’s casual hack-n-slash formula. While the controls may feel antiquated at first, they are perfectly suited to deliver the level of flexibility and versatility Devil May Cry demands. The amount of brutal combos, flashy special moves and hot-swapping weapons produces an almost endless number of possibilities in combat. Dante can switch from his modular nunchucks, the Cerberus, to his Devil Sword and on to a new weapon for the series, the Cavaliere, a giant motorcycle split in two and fashioned into dual blades.
Try shooting an Empusa straight in the air with your blade, following it up in the air to juggle it with a few sword slashes and gunshots, charging Nero’s blade meter only to slam down back on the ground with an explosive Exceed combo. The possibilities are endless, and when you perfectly nail the specific timing required for each step in a complex combo chain, it’s incredibly rewarding. But make no mistake: this game does not accommodate players unwilling to take time to learn its many mechanics, and it will be a tough sell to those newcomers to the action genre.
Ease of Play and Adaptability
It is a game which makes huge demands of the player and provides huge rewards when they succeed. You cannot bend DMC5 to your will, it will bend you. And it may even break you. Newcomers to the series might be intimidated and even frustrated by the maze of systems and input patterns required to achieve an S rank or higher in DMC5’s combat ranking system, which evaluates and ranks players based on their combo execution, damage delivered, and damage taken as they play. When you get a perfect SSS ranking, it’s a moment of joy matched only by the frustration of getting sideswiped and dropping down to a dismal D. But this staple of the series provides the useful function of letting new players see in real time how they are adapting to the game’s mechanics and it gives them a positive feedback mechanism when they get it right.
Three main characters, Dante, Nero, and V, mean three unique play styles in DMC5, and these don’t disappoint. Especially intriguing is newcomer V, whose style differs radically from anything the series has offered before. He is a summoner who lacks his own demonic power but has the ability to bring forth demons to fight on his behalf. The electric Griffon acts as a ranged attack and the shapeshifting panther Shadow fills the role of melee, while the mammoth Nightmare can be summoned after V has built up enough power, and crushes everything in its path.
While V’s indirect control may prove controversial to long-time series fans, I found it provided a refreshing new spin on character action combat. Even more delightful was Dante, who is an absolute joy to control and experience. He is incredibly versatile, with a large variety of weapons and stances to switch between mid-combo. His Devil Trigger transformations have a satisfying weight and power as they rampage through enemies.
The only slight disappointment was Nero’s gameplay. While still great fun, he lacks Dante’s versatility or V’s innovation, and as a result, his sections of the game can feel less exciting. Luckily, the game is hugely replayable, with a new difficulty unlocking on each playthrough. Some have said the real Devil May Cry 5 begins on the second playthrough when characters can unlock new abilities that change the feel of gameplay, especially for Nero, and make the experience feel fresh again.
Another sore spot is the game’s level design. While many areas are visual treats, they often feel narrow and overly-linear, lacking enough branching pathways and hidden goodies to encourage exploration. When a later mission remedies this by offering several alternate routes to explore, it’s a welcome change that even the character himself comments on, but it comes too late and is over too soon. Too many areas in the game are ruins, smashed bridges, or grotesque organs of the Qlipoth which start to blend together with their fleshy blood-red walls.
STORY “We’ve Known Each Other A Long Time…”
Five years after the events of Devil May Cry 4, the mysterious V shows up at Dante’s Devil May Cry demon-hunting agency with a deceptively simple request: take down a powerful demon before it takes the rest of us down. V is a strange character: leather-studded and donning a stylish, ornate cane, he looks something like a skinny Adam Driver reimagined as a poetry-loving mall goth.
The mystery of V’s origins and the nature of his request provides much of DMC5’s dramatic tension. A demon named Urizen has taken over Red Grave City, and its devilish spawn, a massive and strangely beautiful structure called the Qlipoth tree, has unleashed a literal hell on Earth, bridging the demonic underworld with Earth’s surface. Dante’s strength is as nothing to Urizen, who swats our hero like a fly. It is left to plucky young demon hunter Nero to pick up the pieces and stop the demonic takeover from becoming absolute.
Much of the focus here is on Nero’s story, who has teamed up with Nico, a charming and scantily-clad chain-smoking redneck with a flair for weaponsmithing. It’s all thoroughly ridiculous and over-the-top in classic Devil May Cry fashion, with a breakneck pace along the fifteen or so hours the campaign takes to run its (completely linear) course. I grew to appreciate the development of series veterans like Nero and built a growing bond with newcomers like Nico. And even V, who couldn’t be edgier if he was a dodecahedron covered in razor blades, draws you in with his mystery, if not his somewhat one-note personality (and Capcom, don’t think no one noticed that V’s gryphon companion is basically just Iago from Aladdin).
Narrative and Execution
DMC5’s heavy emphasis on its story may seem jarring at first. The game is loaded with immaculately choreographed and motion captured cutscenes with top-tier voiceovers from series veterans Reuben Langdon (Dante), Johnny Yong Bosch (Nero), and newcomers like Faye Kingslee (Nico) and Brian Hanford (V). Their performances are each excellent, balancing gravitas in the game’s touching later moments with the franchise’s notorious sense of humor. But humor is certainly toned down here in favor of relentless action punctuated by high melodrama.
Sound And Visuals Pull my Devil Trigger
Devil May Cry 5’s sound design is impressive, but not without issue. Swords land with a satisfying slash and crunch and guns bang with recoil and crack as they should. Demonic bugs skitter and crack, while masked spectres clack their scissors together ominously. It’s all very well done, and audio ducks at the right moments to provide a balance between music, speech, and effects.
SSScore and Soundtrack
Music is a more mixed bag. At times, it is very good. Nico’s van rings with catchy acoustic and electric slide guitar. Restrained string quartets weep at emotional flashpoints. And hectic combat swarms with digital buzzsaw synths that sound at times like a swarm of digital bees descending on a funhouse carnival– and that’s some of the music I like the most! The soundtrack fails when it swaps electronic drums and punky guitars for generic deathcore screams. In particular, Dante’s theme “Subhuman” is a dreadful bellowing earsore. Nero’s theme “Devil Trigger” is better, although its campy lyrics and generic drum and bass beat still fail to really impress. The game’s music is most grating when these themes come back in. On the other hand, some moments in the last few chapters feature gorgeous choir and orchestral arrangements that excite and delight in equal measure.
Graphics and Performance
This is a visually stunning game. It’s almost difficult to comprehend between the breakneck pace of combat, but the technical magic behind Capcom’s phenomenal RE Engine really shows its true potential here, delivering an excellent image at 4K (upscaled from 1800p on PS4 Pro, the console I played) and a mostly locked 60fps. This level of performance is incredibly impressive when games that don’t look half this good fail to keep stable at half the refresh rate, and I didn’t encounter a single bug in my playthrough, although the inability to pause the game during cutscenes is a baffling oversight.
Character models are remarkable. Each individual pore and strand of hair, each wrinkle in the leather jackets, each crease and rubber imprint in the boots are all rendered out in extraordinary detail. Library bookshelves smash apart and drop books to the floor as they are hit and moved around, demonstrating that keen eye for detail Capcom recently showcased to such great effect in Resident Evil 2. And I can’t recall a game I’ve played with a more impressive set of animations. Blink twice and you might miss them at the speed they move, but if you stop and focus, you will find each twirl of Dante’s blade or leap with V’s cane animated to perfection. It really doesn’t get any better than this: it is an absolute graphical showcase, especially on a 4K display with HDR.
Price and Value
There has been some doubt over whether a ten to fifteen-hour game like Devil May Cry 5 merits its full retail price. It seems like a ridiculous question when you reach the end of this campaign and see what’s on offer here: it is worth it in every way. It is important to support games like DMC5 in an industry where the future of major single-player releases has been called into question. Many have commented that DMC5 feels like a game ripped from the PlayStation 2 era and polished with modern technical panache. This isn’t entirely true: the game features a fairly egregious example of microtransactions that can upgrade any character to full strength as soon as you acquire them, for instance.
But the core of the game certainly does have that classic feeling: uncompromised, ambitious, unique, and bursting at the seams with creativity. Perhaps more than any developer working today, Capcom has proved that they mean business: in sprawling multiplayer games like Monster Hunter World, in directed, linear single-player experiences with Resident Evil 2 and now Devil May Cry 5. This is a developer at the top of their game. I can only repeat the three words said recently by the head of Capcom’s USA division, Kiichiro Urata, and provide them with my own endorsement. It’s beyond any doubt: Capcom is back.
Spiel Times’ Caleb Wysor played a review copy of Devil May Cry 5 on PlayStation 4.