The pre-boss battle refresh. Refill those precious resources, take stock of your arsenal, buy some upgrades, save your progress, take a deep breath and head into battle. In Devil May Cry 5 this ritual is often represented by a payphone, one of those things that we used to see all over the place before the arrival of mobile phones that let you play a round of Snake. Even if all you’re doing is checking in on your stats, these moments are presented with style and manic energy.
Put a coin into the slot, listen to some snappy dialogue, and then watch a little action or comedic sequence as your character witnesses the upgrade station – a van emblazoned with a neon Devil May Cry logo, driven by the colourful Nico – crash into the scene with all the ‘nuance’ of a Japanese game show. This is Devil May Cry 5. Over the top in a way that’s relentlessly entertaining.
Around half-way through the campaign Dante steals or ‘borrows’ a fallen demon’s bad-ass motorcycle, to both ride and split in two to create ‘dual-blade chainsaw bike-swords’. Because, reasons.
With the release of the excellent Resident Evil 2 remake earlier this year, we’ve been reminded that old-school Capcom is a space that’s well worth revisiting on modern hardware. Especially when you factor in the truly impressive technical and visual capabilities of the studio’s RE Engine. Although a sequel and narrative follow-up to a long-running series, Devil May Cry 5 remains true to the series’ roots as a fast-paced action game - where skill, reaction-time, and over-the-top combos coupled with weapons remains the core of what makes up the Devil May Cry experience. Which is both good and, well, sometimes not so good.
Make no mistake Devil May Cry 5 is often exhilarating to play. Complementing the intricate combat – as you alternate between the three playable characters Nero, V, and Dante – are some of the most well executed real-time cinematics seen to date. Not only in the art direction, style and excess department, as seen every time you come across a pre-boss payphone, but also when it comes to the exceptional character detail. It’s so good that you’ll often wonder if it’s all pre-rendered material. The elaborate animation, action choreography, overall editing and cinematography, are incredible. Devil May Cry 5 is a showcase for just how far technology has come, visually speaking, since the first game made its debut all those years ago on PlayStation 2.
Of course, it helps that Devil May Cry 5 features some of the most outlandish and stylish storytelling you’re likely to see in 2019. If you’ve never played a game in the series, the early moments can come across as borderline incomprehensible, but even for a tale as surprisingly off-beat as Devil May Cry 5’s – the characters all feel and behave and react in a larger-than-life way befitting a cinematic action game. This translates to the structure and ambition of the core combat, which splits its lengthy story and 20 missions across three playable heroes – Nero, V, and Dante. Each with their own weapons, move sets, and combat style. And looks too, with Nero being the scrappy and full of attitude youngster, V a cross between Criss Angel and Prince, and Dante the scoundrel with white hair and a perpetual smirk.
Nero wields an ever-changing magical mechanical arm, V commands both a spectral panther and demon-bird to carry out melee attacks and to fire projectiles and cast lightning from afar, and Dante, well, he’s a sword and gun guy. With the ability to shapeshift into demon-form. He’s old school like that. There’s so much combat variety on offer it’s a shame then that the traditional and somewhat dated level design rarely offers more than a simple linear path to follow broken up by closed-off arenas to do battle and rack up combo scores. Paired with a story that jumps around a bit in time, the repetition of some of the levels from a visual standpoint, begins to make it all feel a little repetitive.
The problem isn’t that it’s too linear, it’s just that the balance is off. The combat variety across the three main characters bleeds into the storytelling and the relationships depicted across the lengthy story and wonderfully insane cinematics. With skill progression and hidden challenge stages to discover there’s reason to go back and tackle higher difficulties or certain missions from a different perspective. But there are diminishing returns when trade-in surprising story-beats and character moments for lacklustre level design and not enough variety in the locations you do battle. As a pure Devil May Cry action game, this makes it a bit of a fans-only affair when it comes to longevity. For everyone else though, there’s value in seeing Capcom go back to the over-the-top well that is Devil May Cry and deliver one of the most stylish games we’ve played in a while.