Capcom’s slow drip of Devil May Cry rereleases has finally led to the only logical conclusion. More than ten years on from Devil May Cry 4, Dante and Nero have returned, alongside a new playable character—V—and the result is staggering. In so many ways, Devil May Cry 5 is the most diverse, rambunctious, bombastic, and engaging in the series’s history. The game is an action extravaganza on a scale that has never come before, but Capcom has fumbled the execution slightly.
Series fans will be instantly familiar with the set-up. A demonic threat has emerged to wreak havoc upon the human world, and the legendary demon hunter Dante steps forward, courtesy of V’s intervention. Meanwhile, Nero (now a kind of mobile branch of Dante’s business) also gets drawn into the fray. So far, so familiar, but Devil May Cry 5 does the unexpected, beginning with the three protagonists being dominated by the new adversary, Urizen.
Flash forward a month and the story begins in earnest. Dante is missing, while Nero and V have returned, powered up and hoping that their refined skills will be enough. The mystery of V’s identity and his connection to the events taking place is a driving force for the story, and this intimate, character-driven approach works well. Ninja Theory’s ill-fated reboot/sidestory excluded, this new entry offers the most engaging and cohesive narrative of the entire saga. Memorable characters abound, and the motivations are not only clear, but entirely justifiable. Even so, any misguided hopes for deeper meaning should be set aside; the series has always ruminated on themes of family and power, and Devil May Cry 5 offers few surprises on this front.
In fact, the adherence to type is the most disappointing thing about the game. The central plotline is entirely predictable, and, while Capcom should be commended for attempting something different with the conclusion, it is dissatisfying from both narrative and gameplay perspectives. More problematic, though, in this age of God of War, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is the absence of context for boss battles. As has historically been the case, such foes cap missions, but are rarely presented as anything more than obstacles preventing Dante, Nero, and V from reaching their ultimate goal of Urizen. The regression is particularly prominent when contrasted against DmC: Devil May Cry’s approach, where bosses were telegraphed far in advance and contributed to the social commentary of Ninja Theory’s subtext.
The archaic design principles extend to the battles themselves. Before every combat sequence comes the means of healing and upgrading the player character, with minimal effort apparent to integrate them logically into the overarching level design. Furthermore, too many of these battles resort to the worn-out trope of arena-style battlefields where the only agency is to go on the offense to chip away oversized health bars. The tired combat design stands out even more in terms of the sheer imaginative value of the look of bosses. The gothic aesthetic returns in full force for some, while others draw more from mythology and even outright horror. The visual diversity is brilliant. Furthermore, for all the aforementioned criticisms, this type of boss battle is exactly what fans of the series crave.
Therein lies the biggest caveat for Devil May Cry 5: it is a game for the fans. Outsiders will no doubt appreciate the slick gameplay and intense combat. However, veterans will take the most from the title thanks to allusions to the past and a heightening of the tenets that have long driven the series forward. If any step back is worth noting, it is the reduced difficulty when compared to previous entries. Unfitting platforming challenges and bizarre puzzles have been excised almost entirely, making progression more straightforward. Meanwhile, failing to fight stylishly will still result in quick deaths, but the battles are more forgiving than they have been since Devil May Cry 2.
To that end, any concerns about the game’s online connectivity should be set aside. Other players sync into the campaign, but their influence is minimal, as they are rarely seen. Nonetheless, their presence does have the measurable effect of providing additional gold orbs (an item that revives the character after death) if they rate you as a stylish fighter. Much has also been made about Capcom’s decision to make red orbs purchasable through microtransactions, but Devil May Cry 5 remains as generous with this currency throughout the campaign as the series has ever been.
Each of the tritagonists has a unique fighting style. V uses demonic familiars to battle foes, keeping his distance and recharging his Devil Gauge through reading. Nero’s motorcycle-sword/gun combo returns, with his combat skills expanded through an array of mechanical Devil Breakers following the loss of his demonic arm. Meanwhile, Dante is aplomb with variety—four different combat styles combine with eight weapons and two separate Devil Triggers to make controlling him a dance more intricate than action-gaming has ever seen before. With every style, weapon, and skill being upgradable, the wealth of options is simply jaw-dropping. Capcom could have made three separate games, and no-one would have had cause to complain.
Unfortunately, environmental diversity is not to the same standard. Early on, players explore a variety of locales within the anywhere of Red Grave City. Alleyways, metro stations, and churches are just some of the locations accounted for, all offering distinct (if not unique) spaces for combat encounters. However, the later stages see the city increasingly set aside in favour of the demonic world, where a kind of organic horror predominates. Massive roots twist through a world dominated by reds and browns for an aesthetic reminiscent of nothing so much as Dead Space or—in some ways—Agony. The inclusion of an obstacle course for Nero’s rocket arm is a testament to the lengths that Capcom has gone to ensure the demonic worldscape remains interesting, but the repetitive look wears out its welcome quickly.
The same cannot be said for the audio. The experienced voice cast play their roles with gusto, striking a fine balance between humour and seriousness that never falls into melodrama. As ever, Reuben Langdon as Dante is the standout, setting and carrying the tone of the entire game. Supporting the voice work is the hard rock soundtrack that provides a perfect backdrop to tear apart the demon hordes. Few individual tracks stand out, but that is more because of the high standard of the entire selection.
Devil May Cry 5 does so many things right: the engrossing narrative, the understated integration of online elements, and, most prominently, the stunning amount of variety in the combat mechanics. These aspects move the series forward, but this new entry also replicates some of the duller qualities from action games of yesteryear. This tendency prevents Devil May Cry 5 from being the new standard bearer for the genre, but that does not prevent it from being something truly special.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.