Capcom’s Devil May Cry series has been punching demons in the face since the distant time known as 2001. To put that into perspective, it’s very possible you were being assaulted by Train’s Drops of Jupiter or listening to peak Destiny’s Child at the time when Dante first exploded onto the hack and slash scene. It is one of the few series that doesn’t really have a weak entry (as long as you shut your eyes really tight and pretend Devil May Cry 2 doesn’t exist), and the series as a whole has helped shape and define the hack and slash genre as we know it. Devil May Cry 5 continues the solid tradition set by its forebears, delivering the high-octane balls-to-the-walls action that has made the series a force to be reckoned with for the past eighteen years. While one of its three playable characters perhaps shines a little brighter than his compatriots, DMC5 is a sleek and sexy beast with more style and attitude than a box set of Queer Eye.
DMC5 opens with a setup that feels fairly familiar, with our favourite red trench coat-wearing demon hunter taking on a new demon threat known as Urizen. Urizen is taking advantage of a tree that grows in the underworld known as the Qliphoth to feed his power. This robust perennial that happens to have sprouted in spectacular fashion in the middle of Red Grave city also harvests human blood to grow its fruit, which naturally is creating a fair share of chaos. We are quickly reintroduced to Devil May Cry 4’s protagonist Nero, who follows after Dante to give him backup against his fight with Urizen. We are also introduced to the mysterious new guy V, who looks like a mixture of Kylo Ren and the frontman of My Chemical Romance and enjoys poetry. It’s an odd group to be sure, but with the first fight against Urizen going horrendously wrong they’ll have to band together to defeat the demonic tree that’s strangling the city and feeding Urizen’s power to well over 9000.
The notion of taking on an all-powerful supernatural entity threatening the very fate of humanity is hardly novel, but DMC5 packs enough interesting twists and turns to keep the narrative ticking along. Alongside the main quest of destroying the Qliphoth tree and killing Urizen, the mystery of the true identity of V and some interesting questions surrounding Nero help the story reinvigorate the momentum that it occasionally loses. At the end of the day, it’s signature Devil May Cry storytelling that manages to mix some slightly comedic melodrama with unflappable bravado to good effect. There are definitely some plot oddities and inconsistencies that might require a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief to stomach though.
But we’re not here to watch Days of Our Lives, we’re here to fight, and with three different playable characters with vastly different styles to master, there is no paucity of quality donnybrooks to be had in DMC5. The beginning of the game mostly involves taking control of Nero, who along with a sword and shotgun has his patented Devil Breaker created by his talented partner Nico (who also is more than willing to drive a van full of useful gadgets into the very mouth of Hell itself as long as you call her first on a payphone). The Devil Breaker comes in several disposable forms, and most of the variety in Nero’s moveset originates with effective use of the Devil Breaker. There’s one that turns into a deadly whip, one that you can ride around on like a rocket-propelled hoverboard while doing gnarly tricks and even a Megaman-inspired blaster that’s good at range. When locked on to an enemy the Devil Bringer also acts as a handy way of grabbing enemies from a distance so you can continue to re-educate them at sword point.
Each Devil Breaker also has a powerful ultimate that is bound to do something cool before self-destructing. A Devil Breaker will also break if you are hit by an enemy while using its normal ability, so there’s a good risk versus reward for the abilities and they can’t simply be spammed with reckless abandon. You can carry a number of detachable Devil Bringers, but unfortunately you can’t switch freely between them, which is a design choice that’s a little confounding. Instead, you’ll have to break the one you have and move on to the next in your arsenal. I would have simply preferred some free switching, rather than just making do with the one you have or sabotaging it to get to the next one.
Time to break out the hedge trimmer
Like a boss
…if you aren’t wearing a weaponised fedora and chopping enemies in twain while dual-wielding two halves of a demonic motorcycle are you really fighting at all?
Mysterious bibliophile V also has a combat role, but given his physical weakness he has a panther called Shadow and a deadly raven called Griffon to do most of his fighting for him at a distance. He’ll also periodically call in a giant Golem-esque creature called Nightmare, and he can even ride on Nightmare’s back to directly control him. V’s arsenal is fairly limited and while novel in concept is definitely the weaker of the three characters, with V’s sections serving as somewhat of a palette cleanser between proper fights.
Towards the latter half of the game you’ll get your sweaty palms on legendary demon hunter Dante. Dante’s arsenal is by far the most varied of the three, and right up until the end you will be unlocking new weapons and abilities for the Son of Sparda that are as weirdly insane as they are brutally effective. I mean, if you aren’t wearing a weaponised fedora and chopping enemies in twain while dual-wielding two halves of a demonic motorcycle are you really fighting at all? Unlike Nero, you can freely switch between a number of guns and melee weapons and it’s easy to rack up insane combos with a little creativity. In fact, Dante’s combat is so good that he more or less ends up stealing the show, and returning to the other two characters after giving Dante a spin can be a bit of a downer. It’s not that Nero and V don’t have their charm, but Dante’s combat style is pure triple-smoked double-distilled awesome.
Bolstering the action are some fantastic production values, and on the Xbox One X the game purrs like a kitten rendered in 4K at 60 fps. I actually have no way of verifying these numbers and can only go off developer’s claims, but the game is buttery smooth and looks fantastic. Lighting and particle effects amplify the chaos, and attack animations are all lovingly detailed and incredibly varied. The action cutscenes are also a thing of beauty, each one expertly choreographed, executed and animated in that inimitable DMC style. Furthering the audiovisual assault, the accompanying soundtrack slaps (in the parlance of the youths), with plenty of heavy guitar riffs and fluttering double-kicks to match the action.
A gripe I do have with the game is that the highest difficulty available at the outset is a little on the easy side. Most veterans or hack and slash aficionados will have little trouble finishing their first playthrough in around twelve hours and it’s not until you’ve finished the first run that you’ll be able to access the Son of Sparda difficulty. This difficulty significantly increases enemy aggression and health, plus remixes enemy types to create more challenging scenarios. It’s a good thing in that you’ll likely have purchased all the abilities you need to surmount the new challenge in your first run, and Nero also gets some fancy new abilities which bolster his not-as-good-as-Dante’s arsenal, but I’d rather have my mettle tested the first time round. The game is also aggressively linear, with very little existing outside of the beaten path. A lot of the puzzle busy work of the DMCs of yore has also been removed, and a part of me misses the lock and key with weird name door porn that was an essential part of earlier titles.
Dual-wielding a demonic motorcycle for fun and profit
Melbourne hipster mode activated
DMC5 is a beautifully produced hack and slash game that proves that Capcom still has their finger on the pulse with the series. It’s got frenetic action in spades, a mostly compelling if slightly silly narrative and an effortless style that is quintessential Devil May Cry. Dante flirts dangerously (as is his wont) with overshadowing the other playable characters, and there is likely to be those that take umbrage with the linear level design, but for anyone looking to slake their thirst for combo-based stylish hack and slash violence, DMC5 is hard to pass up.
Reviewed on Xbox One X | Review code supplied by publisher