There is a demon, and I’m going to kill it. With style. I’ll shoot and slash and somersault, chaining together increasingly outlandish combos while listening to electro-metal where I only catch the odd word like ‘sword’ or ‘death’. Every part of this will feel a little bit magical, and I say that as someone who usually listens to hippies sing about flawed modern power structures and the importance of letting people choose their own lifestyles.
Such is the spell of Devil May Cry 5.
The first thing I did in Devil May Cry The Fifth was watch an optional six minute long backstory cutscene. I’ve played all of Three and some of Four, and it’s not just because that was many years ago that I can barely remember what happened. I don’t think the cutscene cleared much up, but I also don’t think it needed to.
Every Devil May Cry is about a demon that had two babbies, and about how those babbies wind up fighting each other while other demons try to take over the earth. The plot of every game is ridiculous, nonsensical, and full of people that turn into swords. This is no exception, but we’ve got better things to talk about than the plot.
Let’s start with those swords, because they are important and numerous, and because one of them is actually two halves of a motorcycle. From hell. Most things in Devil May Cry are from hell.
The first sword you get is not a motorcycle, but you can rev its handle to engulf the blade in flame. (Most things in Devil May Cry can be engulfed in flame.) It’s wielded by Nero, a blando-angry man who is salty about losing his arm in the last game. He shouldn’t be, because he now also has an array of awesome robo-arms that actually overshadow the whole flaming sword deal. We’re talking arms that turn into ridable rocket-fists. Arms that fire lasers. Arms that stop time.
But gosh, is he angry. You can feel it in every sword swing and robo-punch, every gunshot and snarl. Nero is a man who will skewer three demons in a single dash, stab them half a million times, then knock one of them skywards for a more intimate slicing session. He’ll clasp their faces from afar with his his robo-arm (the robo-arm is also a robo-grappling hook), reel them in, and cleave ’em in twain. He’ll plug them with revolver shots, soften them up with some more slashing, then ignite his sword mid-combo to wreathe every nearby enemy in fire. He is both faster and furiouser than the cars wot are famous for being so.
V is more sedate. He’s the second character you play as, an enigmatic poser who looks distractingly similar to Kylo Ren. He has his pet demons do his fighting for him, and you’re plonked into his shoes after the first few missions.
At first I welcomed the change of pace, but it wasn’t long before that pace grew tiresome. He’s got a talking bird (very much the Jar Jar of May Cry) who does ranged attacks, a silent panther who swats at things up close, and occasionally a massive golem that either crushes things or makes them explode.
It’s a novel combat style that too easily dissolves into button mashing. You want to constantly attack with every demon at your disposal, which makes chaining abilities and combos too much of a headache to bother with. Unlike with the other characters, they don’t even feel necessary – and I was playing on the harder of the two initial difficulty modes. You do have to teleport in to polish off enemies with V’s dainty cane-sword, but for the most part you just hang back while your crow jabbers lightning. It’s too passive, and lacks the tension of a close-up brawl. He does get to turn his panther into a shadow puddle that he glides around on outside of fights, though, so I can’t complain too much.
I also can’t complain because it isn’t long before you get a choice of who to play, and not long after that before Dante steps up to the plate. Dante. The original devil with permission to sob, and the man with the motorcycle swords. He is far and away the most fun.
That’s largely due to his massive arsenal. You don’t unlock everything at once, but by the end of the game Dante packs three different guns, four melee weapons and a hat that fires XP. One of those melee weapons is a boot/glove combo with separate move sets, catering for fans of both punching and kicking. It would be a lot to deal with even if you weren’t also thinking about four different stances, flowing between teleports and blocks and gun-tricks and snazzy sword attacks. Let’s not even talk about the charge-up meter that temporarily turns him into a devil. Or the separate meter that turns him into a devilier devil.
It’s a carnage carousel that’s easy to fall off of, a deluge of options that can easily sweep you away. A silly number of upgrades means that past a certain point, whichever buttons you press will make something special happen – though you still need to pay attention. I can’t deny Dante’s fiddliness, or that I haven’t let out Nero-worthy howls as I’ve accidentally swapped to the wrong weapon. I want that, though. I want the space for mistakes to build towards mastery, for clumsy staccato slashes to turn into elegant dances of death.
As with all games devilly and tearful, the punishment for failure isn’t necessarily a game-over screen. It’s more likely to be a man screaming “DISMAL” at you, and a big D slapped on your screen at the end of each fight and mission. Demons will still die if all you do is bumble between basic attacks, but you won’t get to feel nearly as smug. If you do actually die, a clever respawn system lets you sacrifice XP for another go, though the cost of using it more than twice in a row is wince-worthy.
(Unless you’ve been playing well enough to earn diamonds, which are tucked away in missions and handed out if you earn an S-rank at the end. Rather more dubiously, you can also buy them with real money, if you so choose. Maybe that merits further discussion, but for now just, like, obviously don’t.)
I’ve already chewed through nearly all my word ration, and I’ve used most of them on talk about the combat being varied and fun. This is fine. In my eyes, if a Devil May Cry game has fun, varied combat, then it has succeeded as a Devil May Cry game.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s also weird, full of surprises, stupendously daft and often laugh out-loud funny – though not always for the intended reasons. The voice acting is hokey as hell, and the story beats absurd. It’s all a bit ‘go deal with the wibbly thing’, but again, this is fine. Apart from the sexist semi-fridging of two female characters who happen to lose all their clothes before you manage to rescue them. That bit is gross and bad.
I’ve talked a lot about swords, but I should say something about the monsters on the other end of them. They’re ghastly from the off, when you have to wade through scuttling hell-beetles mashed up with human flesh. Those are followed by goat-wizards and bone-armadillos, and the flow of fresh horrors rarely lets up. Apart from the many annoying scissor-ghosts and the one dreadful boss fight, they are all an absolute pleasure to stab, shoot, or robo-punch.
There was a demon. I’ve killed it. I’d like to kill some more.