Devil May Cry 5 has hit, but is it a crowd pleaser or a crowd teaser?
Back in the distant past, when video games were still things that you mostly went to an arcade to play for 20 cents a throw, there was a kind of purity built right into them. These games had to get your attention quickly, throw you into the action, toss ludicrous challenges at you then spit you out to try again. If there was a story, it was a simple one. Hero slays monsters to find treasure. Aliens attack Earth. Hungry yellow blob flees ghosts in maze. Nobody especially cared, as long as the fun was there.
Decades later we’re in a world where video game stories have become “lore”, where backstories and tie-ins and sequels all combine in an attempt to be epic – sometimes at the expense of actual gameplay. Then there are those games where the story is so complex, dense and obscure you don’t stand a chance of processing it. The Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy games are famous for this, but the latest instalment in the Devil May Cry series almost seems to be trying to outdo them all.
But here’s the good news – the story doesn’t matter. At all. You’ll admire the technical execution of the game’s many cutscenes, in fact if you just let them function as eye candy, occasional comic relief and a welcome break from the meat of the game, the combat – the core around which every Devil May Cry game lives or dies.
In other words, this is crowd-pleasing pop music in video game form. “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” chants the crowd, and Devil May Cry 5 doesn’t need to be told twice. It delivers the goods, the attitude, the one-liners and the impossibly immaculate hair that the series is famous for, then turns it up to 11. At one point, the ever-unflustered Nero slams his blade into the ground and addresses nearby demons. “Who brought the marshmallows? ‘Cause I’m bringin’ the fire!” Lightly toasted demonic insects for all, then! After a rocky fourth instalment (made by English developer Ninja Theory, who’ve since found acclaim with Hellblade) it’s safe to say that this sillier-than-usual DMC puts it very much back in business – and back in the skilled hands of a revitalised Capcom, who’ve been on a roll lately.
This time around, the MT Framework engine that’s been a mainstay of Capcom’s games for years has been dumped in favour of the RE Engine, created for Resident Evil 7 but clearly an incredibly versatile piece of tech. The payoff is right there on the screen with every single player-controlled moment – rock-solid 60fps gameplay that feels tight and fluid, arcade-quality gameplay running right there on your console.
You control one of three different characters – series regulars Nero or Dante, or new character V. Wielding swords, pistols and robotic appendages, the trio fight their way through a laundry list of demons (all introduced with suitably stylish on-screen titles like “Demonic Insect”) on a quest to eventually beat the demon at the heart of it all. As you’d expect, each character has their unique abilities and strengths, and the challenge is for you to take down the demons not just successfully, but stylishly. Yes, that’s actually a thing here – you’re constantly being rated as you fight, and at the end of each mission you’re given a result card that sums up your demon-hunting prowess with a rank. The coveted S rank is what you’re after for every mission, and it’s no easy task – which is where the game’s arcade-like replayability comes from.
It’s all wonderfully silly, loud, obnoxious fun, from the deliberately cheesy dialogue (van driver and part-time engineer Nico is a treat with her laconic Southern drawl) to the butter-smooth combat gameplay. There’s a slightly more forgiving mode on offer, too, for those new to the series, though seasoned DMC veterans will head straight for the hard modes and get right to work on those ranks.
Despite the vaguely ongoing backstory, this is not a game for anyone looking for character development, fine writing and plot twists. Devil May Cry 5 exists as a fun, visceral framework to serve its true purpose – the gameplay. If your idea of a fun way to wind down at the end of the day includes blowing up demon faces with the explosive attachment on your robotic arm while cracking one-liners and looking damn good while doing it, then this is very much the game for you.
Devil May Cry 5 is available now for PS4 and Xbox One.