Devil May Cry first leapt on to the gaming scene 19 years ago. After Capcom rebranded the concept from a Resident Evil sequel to a brand new IP it quickly became a pinnacle moment in action gaming. Fast paced and bombastic combat, it became the father of an action sub genre of its own.
After three successful sequels the Devil Hunter Dante saw his world turned upside down when Ninja Theory took the reigns to bring us a reboot to the franchise, DMC. After tantrums were thrown though that rebranding was dropped and now 11 years after Devil May Cry 4 the original team returns to bring us Devil May Cry 5, but is this really 11 years of growth?
Following on from the events of Devil May Cry 2, this timeline is a mess. The game opens with team Demon Hunters: Dante, Nero, Trish and Lady in the midst of taking down a new and unknown demon, Urizen. Urizen is supposedly a Demon King and has created a gargantuan tree to set its roots down in Red Grave City, feeding on the local populous while he builds his power.
The team is swiftly put down by Urizen and Nero, along with newcomers V and Nico, are sent fleeing from the scene while the fates of Dante, Trish and Lady are left a mystery. Two months later Nero and Nico return to the city to begin their assault again, Nero now armed with Devil Bringer mechanical arms that Nico has created for him.
V and Nico certainly add a new flavour to the franchise but I wouldn’t say it was a flavour I was looking for. V comes across as that pseudo intellectual goth kid that had a superiority complex in college, reading high school level philosophy and passing it off as deep. Meanwhile Nico was a valiant effort at a female character, but has all the shortcomings of one written by straight men. Abrasive, overtly sexualised and has a weird “no homo” moment with another female character who is found naked later in the story. She manages to be endearing a handful of times but the moments are few and far between.
This is unfortunately something that flows through to most of the other characters and also the storytelling. Plot points are glaringly obvious with twists laughably overacted but also strangely never properly discussed amongst the characters. Apart from some slightly genuine flavour dialog between Nico and Nero, nearly every cutscene’s line readings made me pull the Chrissy Teigen face involuntarily.
Across the campaign you’ll play as Nero, eventually Dante and V, who brings a play style that is the furthest departure from what we know. Each one will have specific missions to their story and at certain points you will choose one to play to then follow it up with the other character’s actions during that chapter. Each of the three characters will share health and the Devil Trigger if available, they will also share the currency Red Orbs, but you’ll need to use those to purchase each one’s combat moves separately.
You’ll get about three chapters to familiarise yourself with each character before you begin to jump around between them and are eventually funnelled into the final chapters with really only one of them. This means that you never quite feel like you get long enough with each character in the original campaign, but that obviously will change as you master them to get those sweet, sweet SSS ranks.
In terms of combat, Dante and Nero bring a familiar flavour. Nero has his sword Red Queen that can be throttled for further damage and his gun Blue Rose for quick distance pot shots. The biggest change to Nero is his previously mentioned robotic hand, Devil Bringer, which comes in an array of styles that you will unlock over time, some that turn into a whip, some that jettison you into the air with a damaging concussive blast and so on. You’ll also be able to charge it up to fire off one massive attack or even detonate it to do high damage in close proximity, good for being under demon pile-ons, both of these however will destroy your arm. Thankfully you can carry multiple Devil Bringers and you will find more around the level to refill your “arm”-oury.
The one downside I see to this is that you can’t flick between the arms so you will be stuck with one until you make the decision to sacrifice it. Any arms that you pick up, if you have space in your inventory, will also move to the front of your equipment and push what you have attached behind it.
Dante stepping up to the plate brings a little more variety in his play style. With four guns and weapons to swap between as the game goes on you will be switching between them on the fly to deal out the damage. Each has its obvious strengths and weaknesses and learning how to use each one separately is the most fun. You will also have four styles to select on the D-Pad, Trickster for quick movement, Swordsman for special melee skills, Gunslinger for advanced gun attacks and Royalguard for absorbing hits and redistributing that damage back on enemies.
You will also still have access to your Devil Trigger to take on the Demon form for a limited time that deals higher damage and slowly heals you. With an array of weapons and skills it can be a little too much to choose from but you’ll figure out what really works for you. I will call foul on the weapon that uses your Red Orbs as ammunition. I believe a previous title had something similar but this is the first entry that has microtransactions for Red Orbs so what better way to empty your bank. In its defence, using it can earn you a high level of Red Orbs from defeated enemies but it’s a risk you take.
Lastly there is V, the newest take on the gameplay that the series is know for. V actually takes a back seat in combat, instead commanding demons that you summon. Gryphon, a bird demon, shoots projectiles and Shadow, a panther demon, attacks with shape shifting blade attacks. You will use these in the same manor you would the guns and swords of other characters but you will be able to stand back from the fight. When an enemy’s health depletes, V will then jump into the fray and execute them with his sharpened cane as they stand stunned.
Using your Devil Trigger will summon the monstrous Nightmare that will attack without direction and cause massive damage as your Devil Trigger meter depletes. V was probably the most fun to play as, and I found I was able to hit some of the highest style rankings with him. I am deducting points as during battle you can read some philosophy out loud from your branded leather journal to recharge your Devil Trigger bar—he’s just the worst.
“In a world where Bayonetta and Nier: Automata have perfected fast paced combat, this felt like a step backwards for the most part.”
While each character plays differently they each share a fairly similar combo/button layout so that you can count on them being at least similar. What you do on one character will do something familiar on another.
The combat for the majority of the time is fun and fast paced, something the series is known for. However I found the patterns to achieve certain moves just didn’t feel intuitive and were pretty messy. In a world where Bayonetta and Nier: Automata have perfected fast paced combat, this felt like a step backwards for the most part.
There is also an option to turn on an auto combo which means you essentially just button mashed, however I found I was almost always doing moves I didn’t want at that point in time so I had to turn it off after one level.
Visually Devil May Cry 5 looks great, effects pop and the character models look the best they ever have. Monsters are gross in the best way, however I did notice that the two overtly grotesque female bosses did have perfectly beautiful faces and breasts, cause I guess that is important—Chrissy Teigen face again. The world starts quite interestingly as the city is destroyed around you by the demonic tree digging its roots deeper into the soil. Unfortunately it goes the usual direction Devil May Cry games go and you’ll spend most of the last act in demon flesh tunnels that all look identical, riveting.
You’ll progress through the world in a far too familiar style, moving through corridors maybe seeing one or two enemies before landing in a larger open area. In a turn of events that shock nobody, a magic wall cuts you off until you defeat all the enemies. Once cleared of enemies the area will open up and you will be able to progress to the next room where you will fight another batch of enemies. This speaks of one of the ongoing problems with Devil May Cry 5.
Devil May Cry 5 certainly looks the part of a modern game but the basic mechanics feel archaic when compared to so many games in the now booming genre. Did you play Devil May Cry 4? Then congratulations you’ve essentially played Devil May Cry 5. Moving from fight to fight becomes methodic, the targeting system is unwieldily at times and as a result the camera is also effected.
There is something intrinsically benign about forcing you to stop to pick up an item, watch a cutscene of you pick up the item, receive a splash screen letting you know what the items is and then head to the next room over to use the item and watch another cutscene play out which opens up the next area. This is an old trick that games used to use to hide loading screens and it certainly doesn’t belong here. I also really don’t need the splash screen that can’t be skipped letting me know I’ve picked up another of the same item for the 20th time, I get it, I know what a yellow orb is.
I will say one new mechanical addition to the franchise is the cameo feature. This synchs your chapter with another player or their ghost data so that while you are battling you’ll receive a prompt in the bottom of the screen that you are joined by XxSniperMasterxX who is playing one character while you play as another. This character will be playing out their chapter that corresponds with your own journey. They will be out of reach, through a barrier or over a gap.
It’s a pretty cool idea that I’d like to see fleshed out as it adds to the feeling of teamwork and cooperation. However half the time when it would tell me someone was with me the other character was so obscured that when it asked me at the end of the level whether XxSniperMasterxX was “Stylish” I would just click yes because I never actually saw them.
The Bottom Line...
Devil May Cry 5 certainly provides moments of fun and if you can look past some aspects that belong in the last generation of gaming then you will have a competent action romp with Dante and friends. However I feel like this entry is a step backwards after DMC dared to shake up the formula a little more. Had God of War returned to the scene and given us just the same gameplay as the last entry it never would have been Game of the Year last year, I’m not asking for an entirely new genre from Devil May Cry but perhaps something more than the parts we already have.
Mostly I am left wondering if perhaps in the last decade I’ve out grown the series and what I used to find irreverent I now find irrelevant, or maybe it’s just time for Dante to hang up Ebony & Ivory and Rebellion and leave the genre to the newer and fresher franchises that aren’t resting on their laurels.