DmC: Devil May Cry hands-on – Why it’s an improvement on the old series whether you like it or not

Rebooting a franchise is an issue of context. At its core, the job is to isolate the essence of the original work and then figure out how to recreate it in new surroundings. The job is to refresh what matters by losing what doesn’t and replacing it with something better.

In DmC, the importance of context goes a bit deeper than that. Because while Ninja Theory are certainly doing all of the above and succeeding with unapologetic gusto, the varying reactions to their efforts have hinged on context too.

DmC Devil May CryWhen creative director Tameem Antoniades said that the new Dante is the version that would appear in an American movie adaptation, fans immediately read his comments through the lens of Paul Anderson’s vacuous Resident Evil films.

When Capcom producer Alex Jones told the hestitant that they’d understand when they played it, it was perceived by some as evasion or cockiness. Both reactions were desperately, desperately misguided.

Because to put it bluntly, you can only really understand how genuine those “Just play it” sentiments were if you have played DmC. And Antoniades wasn’t talking about the kind of movie adaptation that games usually get. He was talking about a hypothetical good one. He was talking about a vital, believable, mature Devil May Cry movie by Christopher Nolan. And thus, it should be no surprise that after playing a good few hours of it, comparing DmC to the original series is now very much like considering a lycro-clad Adam West after watching Batman Begins. Because DmC is not only doing everything right, but it’s currently providing such an improvement on its roots as to make this reboot appear even more necessary than it already was.

But before we get into all of that, let’s deal with the fans’ big worry. Combat. Can a western developer with long-held grand artistic ambitions but so far only close-but-not-quite gameplay execution really deliver a successful follow-up to one of Japan’s most respected, complex and demanding action series? On current evidence, yes. Basically.

Things have changed. Controls and focus have been tweaked. But DmC’s core attraction is as cool, empowering and rewarding as it ever has been. And it’s probably a bit more immediately fun. “Accessible” is the word, but good accessible rather than “this can be played with one thumb and two closed eyes” accessible. Dante still has access to every launcher, juggle, air-combo and evasion you want him to. And the game will still demand that he uses each and every one of them damn creatively. But each trick and tool now falls much more immediately to hand.