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Hands-On: Devil May Cry's first 2 hours leave a strong impression

Ninja Theory's radical reboot shows style, substance and swagger

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Just Combo

Following a quick brawl with the Hunter Demon Dante is whisked away by Kat, his new female companion, to meet her boss - the illusive leader of 'The Order'. The masked man reveals himself as 'Vergil' and forces an ambivalent Dante to experience some home truths in hopes that he will be more sympathetic to the underground resistance movement.

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In mission two Kat, who as it turns out is a psychic/wiccan, opens a portal to Dante's old home, a stately manor ruined by years of decay. Upon his arrival it springs to life and pulls Dante into Limbo. Demons emerge from the dark corners and try to cut Dante down. They fail, thanks to his sword and trusty dual-pistols Ebony and Ivory.

It's at his home that Dante learns of his childhood, that he is 'Nephilim', the offspring of a demon and angel. He remembers his father was once the right hand of Mundus, but betrayed the demon overlord after falling in love with an angel. It's where he's alerted to the existence of his twin brother, and forced to relive the death of his mother at the hands of demons. It's also where the full extent of DmC's deep combat is revealed.

Any qualms about character re-imaginations and story deviations fall to the wayside once you get to experience the combat. While Ninja Theory was given carte blanche for the most part, Capcom's Japanese contingent have taken a hands-on approach when it comes to combat.

"There were vast tracks of the game where we'd just tell Ninja Theory to run with it," says lead producer, Alex Jones. "When it came to specifically redesigning, his motion, behaviour, actions, animation, style, responsiveness, the balance between animation fidelity and fluidity, it was almost co-development.

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"We had Itsuno-san, who was lead creative on Devil May Cry 2, 3 and 4. We brought over animators, artists and character modellers from Japan to work intensively with the Ninja Theory design staff. It was frame counts, hit stops... It was a wholesale, multi-level wisdom transfer from people who have been doing this for 30 years to people who have an innate ability to do it, but probably didn't have the experience that these gentlemen had."

The core principles of the Devil May Cry combat remain intact; Dante uses Rebellion to slice and dice enemies and his dual pistols - though very weak - can be used for ranged damage and to interrupt enemy attacks. There's a greater emphasis on aerial combat this time around and as such a dedicated launch button has been included. Tapping it will send an enemy into the air to open follow-up attacks (pistol juggle still looks super-cool) while holding it will make Dante follow his victim up into the air to continue the barrage up close.

Angel and Devil weapons provide an additional layer of complexity. Osiris, a large scythe used for crowd control, and Arbiter, an axe used for dealing heavy damage and breaking guards, can be thrown into the mix by holding down the left or right trigger buttons. The combo potential these weapons and their various ground and air skills provide alone is dizzying, but they're just a small part of a much more complex framework.

Blue Rose

During Dante's trip down memory lane he finds the family insignia and upon contact with it he is transported into another realm of floating platforms and mind-bending gravity. At the centre of this new world is an hauntingly odd statue of a figure held in place by chains. To get around this world without plunging into oblivion Dante is given the 'Ophinion Demon Pull' which - as the name implies - let's him lock on to far off grapple points and safely launch himself towards them. Later on in the game he also gains a similar grab ability that yanks enemies towards him.

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Though they're used liberally to leap around environments and manipulate platforms, Dante's new tricks can also be used to extend combos during combat. DmC effectively marries Devil May Cry 3's weapons-heavy mechanics with Nero's Devil Bringer abilities from Devil May Cry 4. Sword swings seamlessly transition into axe launches, enemies can be sent crashing to the ground and then cruelly pulled back up for an encore barrage, and unsuspecting enemies in the distant can be riddled with bullets.

There's a wonderfully symbiotic dynamic between individual weapons and abilities that makes each encounter with an enemy a thrilling, hyper-kinetic explosion of bullets, clashing steel and over-the-top acrobatics.
The rabbit hole gets deeper still with weapon properties; Osiris for example feeds off felled enemies to become more powerful. Upgrades let you hit harder and launch higher. Abilities such as Enemy Step let you bounce off an enemy to reset the air combo. Defensive skills like Devil and Angel Evade give you brief power boosts and invulnerability, injecting a layer of strategy beyond how long can you combo.

All of this feeds into a seemingly intelligent rating system. Whereas in previous games players had to constantly cycle through the bewildering number of moves and weapons to progress through the style ranks, just keeping the combo going is enough to earn an SS rank in DmC. Of course to do this you'll have to make effective use of Dante's abilities, but it's not as demanding or as strict as it used to be.

Higher combo ratings in turn dictate how tough enemies are; if the player is running rings around everyone and racking up S ranks, enemies will begin to take more damage and put up more of a fight.

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Based on our playthrough of the first few chapters we're very optimistic. One thing's for sure, DmC isn't the slapdash, ill-conceived reboot that disgruntled fans would have you believe. Everything from characters to the game world, mechanics to narrative has been carefully considered and thoughtfully crafted. This could be both the best game Ninja Theory has made, and the best Devil May Cry Capcom has produced.

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