Devil May Cry: an epic, polarizing series that began in 2001, had a terrible sequel in 2003, fought back with 2005’s worthy third entry, and then went missing in action-gaming after 2007’s well-received DMC 4. Some 12 years later the series is back to deliver the authentic stylized madness fans have been waiting for. So is DMC 5 worthy? Is it brilliant? Is it a must play? Well, you must read on to find out!
Spectacle Fighters Anatomy & DMC 5
Before I give you my overall opinion, let me explain my perspective on DMC-style games. Games of this genre (often called spectacle fighters) have a basic three-part structure: cutscenes, combat, and levels. That’s basically it, and the quality of the game comes down to how expertly each part is crafted. Let’s break down how well DMC 5 fares in each regard.
DMC 5’s cutscenes are immaculate, with off-the-charts production value. The characters are awe-inspiring, both technologically and personality-wise. Just look at the picture below! The hair, the skin, the clothing. It’s all so perfect, both in still pictures and in motion. The story’s a big mess, but we’ll talk about that later.
The heart of any Devil May Cry is the combat, and DMC 5 does not disappoint. Combat is detailed, precise, nuanced, and oh so flashy. There’s countless diverse ways to kill with style and grace, and it’ll take a good 30 or 40 hours to truly master the vast arsenal of weapons, skills, and combos.
So what do you do when not watching mind-blowing cutscenes and engaging in adrenaline-filled death-matches? You stroll through the world, of course! Sadly, this is where DMC 5 nose-dives into surprisingly weak territory, get stuck in the mire of boring and uninspired level design. There’s also far too few unique environments, with a large recycling of level elements. Not good.
TLDR: My DMC 5 Conclusion
Rather than wait until the end, let me give you my personal conclusion. As the review subtitle says, DMC 5 is so stylish…in cutscenes, very thrilling…in combat, and too dull…in level design (and story). All in all, DMC 5 is a wild ride, but I got off the ride disappointed because it could have and should have been so much more.
To put it another way, if all you care about is beloved characters and intense combat, DMC 5 delivers hardcore. If you want those beloved characters to actually take part in an epic and powerful story set in an imaginative and memorable world, then DMC 5 will likely ring a bit hollow for you.
Now that you know my ultimate opinion, let me back up all my claims with many more words and fun pictures!
Three-Fold Character Combat: Tri-Awesome
Let’s start with DMC 5’s best element: the delicious combat! There’s three unique characters you play as during your adventure, and each is enjoyable and well-crafted. You might come to favor one character, but I found that each character grew on me as I continued to play, which is is a testament to DMC 5’s superb combat design!
You begin with Nero, whose trick is his special right arm that can transform into many different attacks. Nero also excels at quickly grappling enemies, pulling either the enemy or himself closer. Many of his best attacks don’t come until late in the game (and the next playthrough), but Nero is worthy.
A few hours in you switch to the newcomer, V. V is highly unique, using his computer-controlled minions to attack. I really enjoy the semi-real-time-strategy aspect to V. You give you orders and watch as your minions play out their attacks, all while you personally avoid getting hit. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the “one-man-army” style of the other two characters. Speaking of which…
Toward the second half of the game you finally get to play the true hero of the series: Dante. It’s been a long time coming for DMC fans, but Dante is back and better than ever. He’s powerful, capable, versatile, and very enjoyable to play as.
Dante has a veritable arsenal of long-range and short-range weapons, all easily swappable at any time. He also features four unique modes you can switch between during combat. While all of this may sound like a lot, the controls are simple and quick to learn.
Despite the diversity of characters and attacks, the main takeaway is how extremely balanced and awesome DMC 5’s character combat system is. So slick. So polished. So good.
Enemies & Bosses: Worthy
There’s not much to say here because DMC 5 delivers exactly what you’d expect from a game of this caliber. There’s an excellent roster of enemies, from simple fodder, to smarter underlings, to flying creatures, to hybrids, and other very deadly assortments. Some might wish for more variety, but what’s here is very good.
On the boss front, there’s a decent, although not extensive, range of small, mid, and large bosses. Some are bipedal. Some are mostly stationary. A few are the huge smashy-smashy types, while the most lethal are the later-game bosses you must carefully duel, either deftly dodging or dying horribly.
Style Rankings, Playthroughs, & Difficulty
In case you’re new to this type of game, the goal of combat isn’t so much to simply win but to win in style (hence the ‘spectacle fighter’ term)! All your moves gain you style points and the goal is to use a variety of moves to reach the coveted ‘S’ rank and beyond.
The higher your rank, the more Red Orbs you acquire, which are used to unlock skills (and revive upon death). It’s a great system that works just as well today as it did so many years ago when first introduced.
Devil May Cry is also known for its multiple playthroughs. The first playthrough is a warm-up. The second is a test of competence. The third is a grueling gauntlet…and those beyond are for you to discover for yourself!
It should be noted that DMC 5 is very flexible with game difficulty. You can choose to start on ‘Human’ mode, which is quite easy. You can even turn on ‘Auto’ mode, which will perform cool combos without figuring it out yourself. So whether you’re very bad at these types of game or an old pro, there’s an option for you.
Level Design & World Building: Not Good
Oh boy, this is going to be contentious, but I’ve got to be honest. DMC 5’s level design isn’t good: it’s fairly basic and boring. Far too many levels consist of bland hallways, straight tunnels, and no sense of wild exuberance and style that the characters and combat so cleverly display.
What’s worse, the world-building is pretty dismal in DMC 5. World-building is about immersing the player in a believable world that flows naturally from the game’s setting and story. It’s what makes you feel like you’ve “been there” in a game rather than having just “watched it” in a movie.
Sadly, it was hard for me to get a strong sense of place when playing DMC 5 because the levels seem thrown together haphazardly, rather than connecting to form a plausible world. It feels like the developers picked from a grab-bag of video game levels to be backdrops for their insanely good cutscenes.
You’ve got a sewer level. There’s a crypt and trainyard. A hotel and a metro. Add in some urban settings for good measure. Why these locations? We’ll never know because none of them play into the actual story. It feels like meaningless filler that we’ve seen in other games ten times over.
Recycling Levels: Not Stylish!
Did I mention the game recycles levels quite often? Sometimes you’ll play the same location as a different character, which feels cheap. The most egregious sin, though, is how many missions (seven of them!) take place in the same sort of organic/plant tileset, with only slight modifications.
For a type of environment used in literally a third of the game, these organic/plant locations aren’t attractive. They’re visually and thematically sparse and barren. A couple of these levels even reuse the same exact arena multiple times in a row, and it’s darn boring to have such flashy and fun combat set in the same lame physical spaces.
I can’t help but feel many corners were cut in the level design department of DMC 5. The best thing I can say about the level design is the levels are short, so you don’t have to endure too much monotony.
The Cutscenes: A More Critical Analysis
I’ve already said the quality of the cutscenes is insanely good. The acting and voice-work is all exceptionally well-crafted. DMC 5 delivers hyper-believable choreography and performances, with near-perfect facial and body nuance, and there’s extreme charm and likability to each character, in my opinion.
So what’s the problem? While the presentation is gorgeous and mesmerizing, the actual story being woven is less like a vivid tapestry and more like a stale, half-eaten perplexing pretzel. Why is it so bad? For starters, the plot relies far too heavily on happenstance.
There’s a plant-thing that emerges to threaten the city. Why a plant and why now? Nobody knows, but the characters just happen to be where they’re needed. Even more problematic is the terrible narrative framing that harshly cuts back and forth in time, jumbling the story to build artificial suspense. Let’s discuss.
The Story: Jarring Narrative Framing
Instead of telling the story chronologically, the game purposefully cuts up story segments to ensure you’re entirely confused for at least the first half of the game. This method can work if done judiciously and wisely, but DMC 5 is heavy-handed and annoying in its shattering of the story.
Why annoying? The framing style results in several game sections being replayed over and over, as the game slowly reveals new tidbits of story truth. It was about the third or fourth time facing off against the same exact boss in the same exact location in the same exact way that I wanted to scream, “Just get on with it!”
Speaking of story tidbits, DMC 5 does have some quality narrative bits, but they’re just that: bits. There’s a heart-warming scene here or there. Some excellent dialogue brings a tiny dose of backstory and motivation to some characters, and there’s one or two powerful reveals. The problem is all these good tiny bits exist in isolation, never coalescing into a coherent and memorable tale.
Some will not care one iota that DMC 5’s story is such a gorgeous mess. However, as a reviewer, I cannot overlook this. Illogical, broken storytelling was more acceptable back in the early days of Devil May Cry, but in 2019 players should expect more.
Moreover, when the prior game in the series delivered such a strong and coherent narrative, it’s not acceptable for the series to take such a huge step backwards. Yes, I’m speaking about the 2013 reboot, DmC: Devil may Cry.
Get your popcorn out because I’m about to do what no sane reviewer should ever do: compare the current beloved game to the prior much-maligned game.
2019’s DMC 5 versus 2013’s Dmc: Devil may Cry
Six years ago the prior Devil May Cry game was released, but it wasn’t a proper sequel. It was a reimagining of the series, a reboot both in character and spirit. There was a large and understandable uproar from hardcore DMC fans who’d been waiting 5 years for a continuation of the original Dante & Crew story.
Despite the fury over the reboot and reimagining of Dante, DmC went on to be one of the best spectacle fighters ever made, and it still holds up today. The combat is intense and cerebral. The story is relevant, engaging, and well-told. The level design is lavishly creative.
But don’t just take my word for it! DMC 5’s director, Hideaki Itsuno, has personally stated that DmC is his favorite entry in the series. That’s quite high praise! And so, I feel it’s extremely appropriate for me to compare this current entry to the prior game because a series should and must continually improve upon each release.
Technology…DMC 5; Combat…Tie!
In some ways DMC 5 is superior to DmC. We’ve already discussed at length how DMC 5’s graphical technology and rendering of characters and animations is phenomenal. Naturally the more recent game wins this category.
The combat system in both games is brilliant, neither being objectively better. DmC features one playable character (ignoring DLC) and favors weapon-switching based on enemy weapon immunity (blue/red). DMC 5 gives us three distinct playable characters and focuses more on positioning and dodging. Ultimately, which you prefer really comes down to personal tastes, and I personally love both!
DmC: Double the Environments
Now we come to the highly problematic areas of DMC 5, and it’s really too bad DMC 5 doesn’t take more inspiration from DmC when it comes to story and level design.
Let’s start with level design. DmC has some of the most imaginative and exuberant levels of any video game. There’s the wild night club with the ground pulsating to the beat. There’s the crazy vertical scale of climbing through a distorted soda warehouse. DMC 5 has nothing like this.
Putting it in math terms, DmC has 16 truly unique level environments out of 20 missions while DMC 5 only has 8 unique level environments out of 21 missions. Let that sink in. DMC 5 has half as many unique level environments. That’s downright pathetic.
To put it another way, DmC gives us 16 complete levels with no reusing of assets. DMC 5 only gives us about 8 complete levels, with the remaining 13 being recycled parts of prior locations. It looks like DMC 5 fell victim to poor planning just like DMC 4’s rushed and recycled level design.
Disconnected versus Logical Environments
To add insult to injury, the limited number of environments in DMC 5 don’t even make story sense, as we noted previously. Instead of using the locations to build the story, the levels all feel very disconnected.
At one point I was tasked with finding a mythical item of power, and I was placed in a graveyard. I thought, “Great, finally a location that makes sense; I’ll find the mythical item in a long-forgotten tomb or something.” Sure enough, there was a fancy tomb, but guess what? The tomb was just for looks, and none of it was connected to the story in any way. Who came up with all this?
On the contrary, DmC’s environments make sense. You explore a nightclub because you need to pursue the villain’s lover, who runs the club. You attack a soda factory because you need to stop the poisoning of the people. None of this is groundbreaking storytelling, but it flows nicely and lets the player follow the plot. The same can’t be said for DMC 5.
To sum up, DMC 5 lacks content, and the content that is there makes little story sense. It feels like the level design team and character/cutscene team worked 100% independently, merging their work together at the end without concern for a unified gameplay experience.
Enough of our comparison. Let’s get back to DMC 5 and wrap up some loose review ends.
Multiplayer & Sweet Gold Orbs
DMC 5 features no true multiplayer, however occasionally other player’s gameplay will be shown when going through certain missions. You can see them playing and at the end of the mission you can choose to “thumbs up” their performance. That’s about it.
The best thing about this multiplayer is the Gold Orb (extra life) reward if another player “thumbs up” your performance. Gold Orbs are very important items on later difficulties, and unless you’re some action-gaming God, you’ll need dozens of these to make it through the final difficulty levels.
To put the multiplayer rewards into perspective, you’re going to find maybe 20 Gold Orbs through the game, but I was given over 20 Gold Orbs as multiplayer rewards during my time reviewing the game. So if you choose to (of have to) play offline, you’ll be missing out on this.
Sound & Music: Juicy & Delicious
Special mention goes to Capcom’s brilliant audio team. DMC 5 has fabulous sound effects, both in combat and in cutscenes. It also has a wonderful variety of music, with many tracks being so groovy I found myself wishing to hear them again and again while playing. Music is a matter of taste, but DMC 5 is delivers nice noise!
Horrible DLC Practices: Pay to Win
Unfortunately, Capcom has decided to sell in-game currency for real money. I condemn this practice. It’s unacceptable, especially since you use this currency to revive. I won’t stop condemning this practice no matter how ‘mainstream’ it becomes. Enough said.
Various Minor Issues
The out-of-combat movement system feels a bit weird. Jumping and platforming feels slightly off, and the ‘dash’ ability is strange. Once you unlock it, instead of always running faster, it only kicks in once you’ve run slowly for a few seconds. It’s unwieldy and weird.
Some of the secret (bonus) missions are quite uninspired, and some are downright annoying. Maybe some will enjoy them, but they could have been much more inventive.
You can quickly load your last checkpoint, but the menu doesn’t tell you the time marker since your last checkpoint. 2013’s DmC had this excellent feature (very handy for higher difficulties), but DMC 5 omits it sadly.
Nero can equip up to eight arm attachments, but there’s no way to select between them in-game. It would make perfect sense for the D-pad to function this way but no such luck. It’s very bizarre.
The camera does feel a bit too close at times, with some level geometry getting in your way. You can adjust the distance in the Options, but it still can feel a tad off at times.
On PC the game loads so fast that it’s nearly impossible to read the story synopsis text on the loading screens. A button prompt to load into the game would have been handy because these write-ups are often quite helpful in understanding the jumbled story.
Another annoyance is how pressing Start/Escape skips cutscenes immediately, without warning. A menu option to enable “1-button Cutscene Skipping” would be ideal, since speedrunners want quick skipping while those of us who get interrupted a lot would benefit from pausing.
In regard to cutscenes, at least there’s a convenient ‘Gallery’ menu option to easily replay all cutscenes, in case you skipped one or just want to revel again in the ultra-detailed and lavish presentation. Did I mention the cutscenes are gorgeous? Remind me to mention that…because the cutscenes are really gorgeous!
Conclusion: It’s A Mixed Bag
DMC 5 saddens me. It could have and should have been so much more. The technology is amazing. The game engine runs superbly. There’s a wonderful cast of hyper-real and brilliantly choreographed characters. The combat is diverse, enthralling, and a pleasure to play.
But then there’s the big mess of a story with muddled framing and incoherent plot points set in often-recycled levels with bland design and limited visual creativity. Why can’t the narrative and world be as passionately enthusiastic and charming as the rest of the game?
If combat and cutscenes are all that matters to you, DMC 5 is one of the best games out there, but I for one can’t shake the feeling that the narrative and world-design squanders the incredible technology and charismatic characters. This is why DMC 5 saddens me…at least the cutscenes are gorgeous.
- Character technology
- Charming, unique cast
- Gorgeous cutscenes
- Flashy, robust combat
- Three excellent playstyles
- Nicely-paced missions
- Stellar sound and music
- High replayability
- The classic DMC humor
- Runs great on PC
- Weak, incoherent story
- Muddled narrative framing
- Story/setting disconnect
- Far too few unique levels
- Recycled level elements
- Boring, dull level design
- Various design annoyances
Playtime: 22 hours total. Nick spent 12 hours leisurely completing the standard difficulty level, Devil Hunter. Then he pushed through the next higher difficulty, Son of Sparda, in 8 hours. A few more hours was spent goofing off and unlocking Achievements.
Computer Specs: Windows 10 64-bit computer using an Intel i7-3930k CPU, 32GB of memory, and a nVidia GTX 980 Ti graphics card.
Also read the Devil May Cry 5 PC Performance Analysis.