What a difference a frame rate makes. Say what you will about just how much people actually notice frame rate and resolution, but for games that value split-second timing, those extra 30 frames are essential. It's partly why I spent more time with the hack 'n' slash classic DmC: Devil May Cry on PC than with its slower console counterparts, the sharper visuals and general feeling of superiority being a nice added bonus. So here we are, two years on, and console owners can finally get a taste of that sweet 60fps action, courtesy of the Definitive Edition--and it's a fantastic thing. DmC is fiercely creative, and with its new features in tow, so much better than before.
Oddly, it's the story that's surpassed expectations here (excluding the still dire effort in the included Vergil's Downfall DLC)--not because it was ever bad, but it was always overshadowed by the stellar combat. Playing through it again, though, it's amazing to see just how ambitious and, at times, rather clever, it is. Let's not forget that, as a series, Devil May Cry didn't exactly set the world on fire with its schlocky tales of adolescent fantasy. But with DmC, Ninja Theory crafted a story with depth, (mostly) believable characters, and an ambitious assault on commercialism and modern media. The game's savage satirization of organisations like Fox News with the demonic Bob Barbas' Raptor News Network and Coca-Cola with the bile-infested and thoroughly deadly soft drink Virility is a great touch.
Small plot holes and a few heavy-handed moments of satire aside, DmC's story does a great job of crafting a foreboding atmosphere to back up its balls-to-the-wall action, especially when coupled with the excellent voice acting and effortless dialogue. The demon king Mundus and his mistress Lilith are particular highlights, their ruthless, profanity-filled crusade to enslave humankind being a hackneyed, yet effective way of adding a compelling goal to your hack 'n' slash antics.
DmC throws you from one action set piece to the next at a breakneck pace, only giving you time to stop and think during its tedious (but thankfully short-lived) platforming sections. But even in those sections and through its crumbling blood-red cityscapes, cavernous tunnels lined with a viscous green ooze and searing neon discos, it's hard to ignore DmC's stylistic triumphs. Its colorful, oversaturated look is not only visually stunning in its new 1080p guise but also strangely prescient of the direction that later Xbox One and PlayStation 4 games would take.
While it's hindsight that has made DmC's story more impressive, the already excellent combat has improved by a significant overhaul. Naturally, the move from 30 to 60 frames per second makes for a smoother, more responsive experience. With Dante's trifecta of light, medium, and heavy weapon types in tow, as well as guns for ranged shots, spectacular combos fly off the fingers with less effort than before. That's not to say that things are easier this time around: you still need to put in the effort in practice mode, carefully studying the command list, in order to graduate from simple button mashing. But it's worthwhile, and before long, staccato stabbing motions are replaced with elegant swipes, dodges, and uppercuts that chain together for near-endless combos in the air and on the ground.
60fps is only part of the story. One of the best additions is the optional turbo mode (a nod to Capcom's flagship franchise Street Fighter), which boosts game speed by a substantial 20 percent. It's not for the faint-hearted, but the additional speed makes for some furious and thoroughly enjoyable combat. There's also the optional Hardcore mode--which can be activated on any difficulty level--that rebalances the game. Some of the changes include a tweaked style system that quickly deteriorates, increased enemy damage, adjusted parry and evade windows, and a shorter devil trigger. The differences aren't drastic enough to be immediately noticeable, but soon, levels that might not have tested you in the past become far more difficult to beat. Annoyingly, if you've played through the game before on an older console and have already unlocked the harder difficulty levels, you can't transfer your save and skip, and you’ll have to play through the easier ones again.
Serious masochists can opt to turn on the Must Style modifier, which makes it so that you can't damage enemies until you've achieved an S or higher style ranking by pulling off sweet combos. Stack all the modes and modifiers together (Must Style, Hardcore, and Turbo Mode), then whack the game on the new Gods Must Die difficulty setting where enemies deal 2.5x damage and no items are allowed, and the game turns into a challenge worthy of even the most skilled of hack 'n' slash players. There's also the new Vergil's Bloody Palace mode, which eschews the easier difficulty levels of Dante's Bloody Palace and gives you 60 levels of hardcore arena battles. Veteran Devil May Cry fans can even choose to use manual lock-on throughout, which is a nice touch. Frankly, that level of challenge goes far beyond my own manual dexterity with a controller, even after buying new combos and weapon upgrades, but at least now, no one can cry foul about DmC not being as challenging as its predecessors.
Otherwise, DmC remains largely unchanged, which is no bad thing. The enemies remain neatly animated, drooling and sputtering with a grizzly black ooze as they wander through each level. Their varying attacks mean that you can't just sit back and hammer buttons to win. Some enemies have shields that can only be broken with a heavy weapon, while others need the gentler touch of a fast-paced scythe. Deformed cherubs that fling down explosive bombs are perhaps the most irritating of all of the enemies, but they're integral to maintaining the balance of combat. They also give you a good excuse to yank them down to Earth with a whip of your chain before sending them back to hell with a mighty swing of your axe.
Time has been kind to DmC's boss battles, too. They're still formulaic, making you learn a boss's repetitive movements in order to land an attack, but they're seriously impressive--both visually and narratively. An early encounter with the squishy succubus is a treat--not because of the basic platforming required to defeat her but because of her incredibly foul-mouthed tirades and involuntary neon vomiting. Then there's the battle against a holographic Bob Barbas, a fight that sees you transported to the heart of the Raptor News Network and directly into its live news reports, complete with the requisite TV commentary and helicopter shots. DmC's keen sense of style overcomes much of the boss battles' shortcomings, adding to the heady atmosphere of its brightly coloured world.
I imagine there are still some people out there put off by the direction that Ninja Theory took with DmC who still haven't given the game a shot because it so drastically changed the look of the series. This does the game a huge disservice. DmC in its Definitive Edition form isn't just a lick of paint and a technical upgrade. It's a hardcore twist on already impressive game, making the hack 'n' slash action more difficult, but also more compelling than before. The numerous tweaks and upgrades of DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition have made a game that isn't just a better version of DmC, but a bonafide hack 'n' slash classic.