With a new hairdo and a hint of anarchy, Dante returns under the commanding hand of Ninja Theory. Has Capcom’s gamble sending the world’s coolest demon hunter to the UK paid off, or is it a Faustian pact set to haunt them for eternity?
Mere minutes into DmC and by some miracle a white wig floats onto Dante’s head – a simple salute to the demon slayer of the past? Or perhaps another hand gesture entirely to the naysayers who bemoaned Ninja Theory’s new-look Dante? But really, what did some people think we were losing? A one-dimension “badass” with a pair of guns and a billowing trench coat who considered slaughtering droves of demons a “party”? A hilarious caricature, perhaps, but nothing more.
In DmC, he’s not quite this “cool” yet. Nor do I see him ever becoming that sort of “cool” again, truth be told. Take a bout of pre-battle banter between himself and an early game boss, for example, which consists of little more than an exchange of “fuck you”s rather than any silly, mocking quips – it’s something that makes a childish argument about who smells the worst seem more mature.
But it fits. Here, he’s a hormonal and hedonistic youth ambling through life by boozing and bonking. Although, by today’s standards, that’s probably someone’s definition of cool too. This rather meaningless existence gets thrown aside when he is chased down by a Hunter demon under the command of the “Big Bad”, Mundus, and receives help in his struggle from Kat, a member of The Order who are fighting against the commanding demon’s control over the city.
Although reluctant to help at first, a brief pep talk from The Order’s leader, Virgil, gets Dante to change his mind and leave his adolescence behind for a few lessons in maturity and responsibility – The Order’s quest to defeat Mundus, and learning a few things about his life, gives him purpose.
I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with LIGHT!
And while in his rebellious youth he’s not shy of a flourish or two, especially in terms of getting his coat on (once again), there’s nothing quite as elaborate as surfing on a missile or playing billiards in mid-air with a bullet as a cue. I’d hesitate to say it’s all for good, though, as the opening missions do pile on the cutscenes and exposition a little too heavily.
Nevertheless, it does mean you get to see more of the human inside the Nephilim – and at this point any emotion is better than Dante’s quaking voice in Devil May Cry 1. With Ninja Theory’s stylish storytelling techniques too, it’s rarely as overbearing or detrimental to the elegant action as it could have been in less capable hands.
I’ll get to that elegant action soon, but first something must be said for the British dev’s world-building style too. DmC’s world is both modern and timeless: a vibrant clash of both technology and tradition that can really run wild in Limbo – the mystical middle ground Dante is regularly dragged to in each mission to fight back against his demonic pursuers.
It’s a world that bends, contorts and cracks apart in a bizarre yet dazzling spectacle. One that, under the control of Mundus, is actively involved in hunting Dante down with beady eyed cameras, constantly readjusting pathways and hazardous death traps. In here, advertisements reveal their true message, corporations drop their welcoming pretence and everything’s just a little messed up. SUBMIT TO DEBT, screams one billboard. Elsewhere, KILL DANTE is scrawled into the ground. The floors and walls are consumed by vile, black decay and lost souls wail horrifically and hope for freedom.
Dante’s repeated trips through this twisted reality give Ninja Theory so much breathing space to design wild and obscure environments to battle through. You won’t just be juggling enemies in cobbled streets or fiery hell dimensions, but also inverted towers underwater, psychedelic funfairs, and in one barmy episode, a techno-fuelled soundscape. That these vastly different locations feel at once part of a cohesive whole is testament to Ninja Theory’s world-building creativity, something we’ve seen before with Enslaved and its beautiful dystopia.
And that same inventiveness in environments is also present in Dante’s missions. DmC is certainly just as focused on combat as its predecessors, but Ninja Theory aren’t afraid of slowing down the pace for the purpose of story or taking a breather from all the hacking and slashing for an experimental set piece.