Ninja Theory's DmC leaves me full of hope
Everyone! You can stop holding your breath: DmC has the series' signature scoring system. You mix up your moves while avoiding damage and an on-screen meter ticks steadily upwards, rewarding you with a grade for your overall prowess. I only managed to get mine up to S, which the game decrees to be Savage.
Savage? You can tell Ninja Theory is a UK developer.
And a UK developer is one of the things I was originally most worried about for DmC. To be blunt, I was incredibly sceptical about this reboot of the series: I didn't trust the developer to have the technical know-how to produce such a combat-focused action game, I didn't particularly like the look of the new Dante and I wasn't convinced about actual gameplay from what I'd seen up until this point.
I may have been a bit hasty in my judgement.
Actually going hands-on with the game left me feeling remarkably upbeat. Certain ideas behind the combat work well, though take a little getting used to for series veterans. Devil May Cry was always a game about placement and control of 3D space, and certain moves - such a Dante thrusting forward with his sword - were excellent ways to close the gap between you and your foes.
That move is nowhere to be seen in this demo, though you could feasibly unlock it later in the game, but instead Dante had excess to two triggers, known in the game as angel and devil. These allow you to grab enemies and, depending on whether you choose the former or the latter, pull yourself towards enemies or pull the enemies towards you. It's a clever (and, in my opinion, quite ingenious) way of changing the core fundamentals of the series' combat while simultaneously replacing them with moves that feel equally as viable, and hopefully that will ring true of the final game.
These triggers also affect your sword and your moveset; activating the devil trigger gives you a stronger, slower scythe-like moveset, whereas the angelic flavour gives you faster, more area-focused attacks. Some enemies will also be more susceptible to various attacks. You didn't really have to make much use of this during the demo, but I'm told that later levels will introduce new enemy types that can only be hurt with certain attacks, which should give you something to think about instead of just mashing the attack button.
Our revamped Dante is also brash and self-assured, and reminds me very much of the younger character we saw in Devil May Cry 3. He's a rare game hero in that his wry smile and buoyant swagger suggests a protagonist that's actually, heaven forbid, enjoying himself.
And I was enjoying myself, too, flinging Dante around the kind of gothic architecture that the series lives and breathes. Devil May Cry has always been a series in love with both cathedrals and nightclubs, though an additional key theme with Ninja Theory's rejiggered aesthetic appears to be surveillance, with CCTV cameras transforming into demonic eyeballs and pulling Dante into limbo - a sort of parallel reality where the action in this demo took place, the environment scattered with ethereal silhouettes of people living in the real world.
CCTV cameras? You can really tell that Ninja Theory is a UK developer.
Despite the changes, there's plenty of throwbacks to the previous games, with the main antagonist appearing to be Mundus, Dante's sword and guns are still called Rebellion and Ebony & Ivory and the E3 demo of the game also revealed a boss fight against a certain Vergil. Let's just hope they've not spent too much time studying Devil May Cry 2 and 4.
This new Devil May Cry demo is a bit of a refreshing treat, then, and serves as an excellent start to E3 2012. I'm still not convinced Ninja Theory will be able to make a suite of weapons as perfect as Devil May Cry 3's Agni & Rudra, Cerberus and Bahamut, but this current snapshot of the game gets me surprisingly excited. I've always thought that Ninja Theory has produced good games but has the potential to make something really special, and while I won't be fully convinced until I've got the finished product in my hands I'm really hoping that DmC will be it.
Devil May Cry will be released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in January 2013