Tameem Antoniades is relieved to put DMC into the hands of the press at last--maybe now we'll stop banging on about how Dante looks and start on whether he's any fun to play. "Ironically, Dante's hair is black and mine's turning white now," says the Ninja Theory chief, referring to months of being denounced by fans for supposedly remaking the white-haired Devil May Cry star in his own image.
And we would stop banging on about it, if Dante weren't naked as a nudist jaybird as we find him at the start of DMC. He's sleeping off a heavy night in a grungy trailer strewn with pizza boxes and someone's girly underthings. But gratuitous this (non-graphic) nudity is not, says Ninja Theory. It's an allegory for Devil May Cry's fresh start, of course, in which its protagonist has been figuratively and literally stripped down, then rebuilt and reclothed from scratch. Therefore, you'll spot young Dante in an introductory fight cinematic, doing a slow-motion dive into his free-falling outfit, adult-rated anatomy slyly concealed with props (pizza slice, baseball bat).
Demonic forces have brought a grudge match to Dante's front door, turning the pleasure pier on which he lives into a nightmarish limbo dimension, a twisted version of the real world with a sneering layer of satire, where neon arcade signs read "Spend Money" and "Gluttony's Good," and omnipresent security cameras house twitchy red eyeballs. Only Dante can see (and shoot and skewer) the denizens of limbo, though the impact of certain actions crosses back into the real world; when Dante and his hunter demon adversary tear down a Ferris wheel, it's sent crashing and rolling down the pier in the land of the living as well.
But nakedness and hellish backdrop aside, how does it play? Very nicely, in fact. The action doesn't cleave quite as close to Devil May Cry 4's as claimed (if it did, why bother with a reboot?), but it's emphatically a Devil May Cry game, with the essentials firmly in place. There are scores and combos and grades to beat the band, and paths locked off with supernatural obstacles until you clobber all the demonic nasties in the area.
Dante is armed with his canonical twin handguns and sword, but also an angelic and a demonic weapon (an ethereal scythe and a fiery axe in our hands-on), tied respectively to the left and right triggers. The face buttons call up a familiar set of moves--shoot, stab, launch--but, in combination with a trigger, also bring the corresponding special weapon into play.
With an angel weapon active, Dante can grapple across an arena to a distant enemy (or up to a flying one) or swing around with a quick, wide-ranging attack, and the "launch" manoeuvre with the angelic weapon equipped can whirl a whole host of spindly demons skyward. With the devilish weapon enabled, Dante can drag a lighter enemy from across the arena into stabbing range, pull a flying foe out of the sky, or bash a shielded, heavy enemy with a more powerful blow.
The angel and demon weapons amount to a combat system with instant switching between a quick and a heavy mode, lots of variety for creating combos, and the means to stay all up in the enemy's grille for chained attacks. A flock of cherubic flying monsters, for instance, lets you string together a series of grapples, hoisting Dante higher and higher over the battlefield, smashing demons all the way--and staying aloft by shooting and skewering the enemy is gleeful good fun, with the soundtrack music and vocals ramping up according to how high your grade rises. So relax: there's much more to DMC than a bratty hero with a controversial haircut.