The Year of the Brawler Part II: Devil May Cry
We should define what we're talking about when we're discussing brawlers. I guess classically, Anarchy Reigns would be considered a "beat em' up," while something like Devil May Cry is referred to as a "hack and slash." The difference between the two could just as well be what the law would define as simple assault, and aggravated assault - did you use your hands or use a weapon? To complicate things even more the industry has decided that the God of War games are classified as "action/adventure," as are the two Darksiders games. (though I would allow that Darksiders is more of a brawl-crawl....) For the sake of clarity we're throwing a large blanket over the entire genre and defining these games as brawlers.
It's an elementary term - and for a game as meticulously complex as DMC is concerned, it's a primitive description at best - but what we're talking about is basically third person action games where the main focus is on armed, and unarmed, physical combat.
Beat em' with your hands, beat em' with a pole if you need to, but for all intents and purposes, be a brawler above all else. And baby, nobody brawls like the new Devil May Cry's Dante - the nephilim kid whose recent hair cut has caused more panty twists then back when Elvis joined the army.
I think the separation between player and character gets more blurred in a game like DMC. I can only describe Ninja Theory's Devil May Cry reboot as pure poetry, both in aesthetics and writing, so I think the removal of the player's investment in being Dante, and in turn, controlling Dante as if he were an automaton is still key. DMC is very much for players - not role-players.
That being said, Ninja Theory has created a seductive world to play around in. This game is drop dead gorgeous. That it handles every bit as good as it looks can only be described as a marvel of modern game engineering.
What Ninja Theory accomplished in this reboot is what every reboot needs to set it sights on - fixing what was broken before. And if we're talking Devil May Cry 4...? Then we're talking about a very broken record. Anyone who suffered through DMC4's industrial/metal/crap song "Shall Never Surrender" (may God deafen us with this song in hell if we ever cross him) can only kneel before the industrial throne of Combichrist and thank them for finally changing the song on the one-track Devil May Cry playlist. The soundtrack in DMC inspires goosebumps, as it does fist pumps. The final battle stands out as some of the best use of music in the medium. Two demigods square off in a lightning storm to the sound of literal thunder, and the thunder of double bass drums and electric guitar. It's the most supreme, epic moment, in a game already bursting with epic moments.
One of my biggest gripes with the series is that, in the past, the enemies in Devil May Cry were hit-sponges. Much like Gears of Wars Locusts these guys couldn't be finished off until their reserves of hit-points were depleted. Sometimes a force of three enemies could take whole blocks of minutes to finally defeat. Coming from a game like Ninja Gaiden Sigma - where there almost always was a quick method of executing an enemy, it becomes a real drag to get mired down in a hit-point match where there is no quick finish. Thanks to a more powerful move spread, and that Ninja Theory finally allows the player to upgrade his equipment and move set much quicker this time around, there's plenty of ways to get rid of stubborn demons. In fact, the bad guys in Devil May Cry don't feel like time-consuming pests anymore. They feel like rides in an amusement park - you want to ride each and every last one till they're finished. Often spectacularly.
Ninja Theory kept the same basic premise of classic Devil May Cry's combat, they just cranked it up to 11 this time around. Dante doesn't have a defense game. He doesn't block or parry like Ryu Hayabusa or Kratos - everything's about being on offense. If that doesn't sound interesting then you need to see this cat in action. Fights can get as widespread, or as vertical as you're willing to take them. Depending on how sharp your game and your mind are, you can spend an entire skirmish off the ground, flying from demon to demon, whirling like a dervish - sometimes upside down - pulling yourself up higher, or pulling enemies up into the air with you. Some of my more thrilling moments in this game were when I took Dante out over the edge of the fighting arena, with nothing but the abyss below me, and kept the battle going, knowing that if my focus flickered for even a second I'd plunge to my doom.
There are five different hand weapons this time around. Dante's sword. Two demon weapons - which do all the heavy-hitting. And two angel weapons - which are quicker and more refined. Ninja Theory makes sure that every single hand weapon, or gun, is readily available during a skirmish. You're going to have to get athletic with your game controllers folks, plan on using every button, every trigger, and every directional pad, in every conceivable pattern, to harness the finesse and power of this fighting system. Once you do, however, prepare for the greatest performance of pure skill, hand-eye coordination, and aesthetic bliss of any game this generation.
It'll be interesting to see how far the better DMC players are going to take this combat system on Youtube in the coming years. The possibilities of strung-together attacks are only limited by a player's imagination and skill-set - they certainly seem endless.
28 Days Later and Sunshine scribe Alex Garland retools the tales of the brothers Sparda. The story's a definite highlight in video game writing. There's plenty of satire and social commentary - depending on your level of political fervency - in this story to keep things cheeky and light. Sure, DMC takes some shots at Fox News and the energy drink craze, but it's done in humor, and for the most part doesn't feel as preachy as it does creative. The Raptor News network (Ninja Theory went all out promoting DMC - check out the "official" Raptor News site, complete with Virility energy drink advertisements) portion of the game also sports one of the craziest, coolest boss battles in the series.
Who knew that The Factor and the classic Tron arcade game could be combined into one of the most memorable Boss encounters of the franchise? Maybe even the medium?
The really outstanding thing about DMC is the sheer amount of creative energy dedicated to every single facet of this video game. Not content with owning the patent on one of the best combat systems in the genre, Ninja Theory created a gorgeous, completely twisted, game environment. Installed enough exotic moments, (the upside-down battle in the subway station comes instantly to mind, where enemies can be batted UP into the passing trains overhead for a quick dispatch) to keep players constantly on their toes. Filled it with characters who's art direction rivals the work in Rocksteady's Arkham games. Scored the campaign with enough thumping metal and industrial cuts to have you rethinking the volume priorities of your home theater sound system. Lastly, they created a great story with plenty of narrative set pieces and a terrific conclusion.
Put all this together and you have one of the best action games ever created.
Ninja Theory's DMC is gourmet gaming. It's an action game that reaffirms why the brawler is still one of my favorite genres in the medium. The best brawlers displays tons of talent. Not just on the design end, but they also give the player the opportunity to show off some of their own. DMC allows both.