The upcoming Devil May Cry 5 is somewhat of a homecoming for the long-running action game series. Following its reimagining by British developer Ninja Theory in 2013's excellent DmC: Devil May Cry, Capcom's sword-swinging, monster-juggling action game is returning to the hands of its Japanese developer. Developed by an internal Capcom team, the fifth numbered entry in the series feels like it's striving to be as familiar as it is fresh.
That intent is driven home from the very outset. Seconds into my hands-on with the Gamescom 2018 demo I noticed sound effects pulled straight out of the first game. If that didn't immediately evoke PS2-era nostalgia for the series, the new and improved Nero definitely would have. Although he's making a return from Devil May Cry 4, he has offloaded the angst and replaced it with a wisecracking attitude and a confident swagger. He might look like a fresh-cut Nero but he definitely acts like old-school Dante. Given that Devil May Cry 3 director Hideaki Itsuno is helming the project, it's not surprising to find striking similarities between new Nero and young Dante.
Capcom is very much leaning on its heritage in Devil May Cry 5, taking the familiar and adding a little twist, and this is most noticeable in the combat mechanics. At first blush it feels like little has changed: you attack with a sword and guns, use evasive rolls and jumps to escape sticky situations, and string a unique mechanic to create synergy between all these individual components. However, the biggest gameplay shakeup is in that unique mechanic: Devil Breaker. In Devil May Cry 4, Nero's arm--then called Devil Bringer--was the glue that held gameplay together, it allowed him to snatch enemies from a distance and drag them towards him, or anchor himself to them and throw himself around the battlefield. Although Devil Breaker can also serve that purpose, it can't be endlessly relied on.
Instead of being a weird, demonic arm imbued with supernatural power, Devil Breaker is a prosthetic arm, and--for some reason--they can be found in the game's various environments, waiting for Nero to pluck them off the ground and attach them to his stump. Devil Breakers have unique properties, some restoring the grabbing ability from DMC4, others giving Nero the ability to unleash a explosion of electricity that's deadly at close range. They also get into weird and wacky territory, with some Devil Breakers able to unleash a barrage of laser beams or launch a rocket punch in their powered-up states.
Crucially, Devil Breakers are finite, and you won't always have one. They each have limited mileage and, once they bottom out, Nero is left to battle on with just one arm. Devil Breakers can also be manually exploded, creating additional damage and combo potential. For fans of the series and veterans of the genre, the opportunities this system provides will no doubt be exciting. Capcom hasn't revealed all the types of Devil Breakers that will be in the game, which means their unique properties also remain a mystery. If my time with just two of them is any indication, this system will open the door to deep, rewarding, likely very complicated combat--though there is a simplified control scheme for those that want to make cool things happen quickly.
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My biggest takeaway from Devil Breaker, however, was that it added a new layer of strategy to the experience. Traditionally, Devil May Cry games have been about empowering the player by giving them more guns, swords, and other outrageous weaponry as they progress through; they were about creating options, instead of removing them. By making Devil Breakers a finite, fragile resource there's a greater sense of tension in each encounter. That one, uncertain variable means that from one skirmish to the next, there's always important strategic considerations to be made. You can't just let muscle memory take over, as you would in most character action games of this ilk.
Along with this new, dynamic combat system, Capcom has improved how it presents the game. Devil May Cry 5 immediately feels like a more cinematic experience than predecessors, with its camera pulled in close to the action and a more realistic visual style for a slightly grounded look. And although this certainly seems to be working, Devil May Cry 5 doesn't shy away from the series' more outrageous, campy moments. In one scene, an ambulance falls on Nero, but he's perfectly positioned to thread himself through one of its open doors. It tumbles across the ground and slams into a wall; a few seconds later Nero kicks open a door and nonchalantly walks out as if nothing happened. It's the kind of completely ridiculous, over-the-top cinematic moment that is as critical to an authentic Devil May Cry experience as slick combat it.
Early signs are promising for Devil May Cry 5. The little we played walked the fine line between bringing new ideas and catering to nostalgia. While we've only experience a slice of it, it's easy to see the building blocks of a really interesting and diverse combat system. However, it's going to be interesting to see how the game tackles storytelling and characterization, both of which have traditionally been the most inconsistent elements of the franchise.
You can watch 20 minutes of Devil May 5 gameplay in the video above. Capcom has confirmed the Devil May Cry 5 release date as March 8, 2019 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Capcom has also released a trailer showing more of Dante, who can now transform a motorcycle into a dual-wielded weapons.