When Devil May Cry graced our lowly PS2 consoles back in 2001, it was game changer. Never before had we witnessed such gothic finesse and style, blended with frantic, yet tough, sword and gun combat. Its sequel DMC2 satiated the difficulty criticisms of the first game, ironically to be slated for being too easy, whereas its prequel DMC3 served to flesh out the lore and was again slated for being too hard. Capcom has since resorted to providing Special Editions to rebalance difficulties and throw in extras, namely Vergil. The last game I played in the series was back in 2008 on the Xbox 360, and DMC4 felt to me to have been the best of the bunch with next-gen graphics, extra characters Lady and Trish, and a great balance of difficulty throughout.
Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition comes an unbelievable 12 years after the release of DMC4 in 2008 (11 years for the original DMC5), and I instantly feel like I'm in a bit of a time warp. Twelve years have passed and I haven't really missed a game in the series. I had expected to be two to three games behind, minimum, and quite frankly to have no clue what was going on. But no, it's Nero with his Devil Bringer, Red Queen and Blue Rose to the rescue again, this time revamped and revitalised for the PlayStation 5. Graphically, this game is a stonker. Everything looks and sounds amazing. From the facial expressions to the dynamic motion of the actions, and the motion-captured performances: everything looks astonishingly good. Ray tracing aside, this is easily one of the most effortlessly, best looking games available right now, with buttery smooth frame rates and overtly contemporary yet goth-infused ambience woven through the environments. Though the gameplay is linear and there is next to no real exploration or free-roaming, DMC5SE allows you to traipse the corridors and walled off streets in the most visually excellent manner it can. Tiny details such as rows of shelved books and boxed-up market stalls shatter and splinter down into rubble and debris upon contact, streams of blood and gargantuan Lovecraft-inspired spires and tentacle-like spiked tendrils to avoid in the darker, more hellish sections.
DMC5SE re-introduces you to Nero, with his fresh twilight-movie hairstyle and look, a jock-like attitude and passion for inflicting pain. Later on you also reacquaint with the series powerhouses and twin sons of Spard and Eve: Dante and Vergil, and V who is essentially the new-to-the-cast enigmatic inked-up slender emo wizard. Of these four playable characters with distinct play styles, it has to be said that V's comes through as incredibly fresh and reinvigorating in comparison to the others due to the methods he deploys and his overall air of mystique. Returning features also include the style system that critiques you on how swiftly you have dispatched your foes. This time around starting at D for "Dismal", you level up through "Crazy", "Badass", "Apocalyptic", "Savage", "Sick Skills" or "Smokin' Sexy Style!!" rank to give you an evaluation for each battle, and at the end your overall mission breakdown statistics and average ranking. As a 12-years-away-from-the-series-noob, I was consistently hitting C's and B's in the opening battles, and as I learned the combinations and put together more variety in my actions I soon noticed S and SS rankings popping up more frequently. This mechanic is definitely one of my favourite things in this game, as I like to feel that I stylishly dealt with the demons, but it all boils down to not getting hit and keeping a close eye on your gauges.
Controlling your characters can be quite a learning curve in itself. Each character controls differently and therefore there are plenty of combinations to remember. For example, with Nero you have your slash move on the triangle button, shoot as Square, Devil Bringer is on Circle and Jump is on Cross. Holding R1 will target the closest enemy for you and in combination with tilting the left stick away, towards, up or down, you can perform a variety of combinations with your basic attacks for the Red Queen. L2 is used to rev and charge her up, which is a decent use of the adaptive triggers to simulate that of starting and revving an engine. Beyond this, you can also buy more items, moves and combinations through Nico in her trusty van, trading red orbs to supplement your repertoire, and you rely on her to supply you with Devil Breakers. As you conquer missions, you pass on materials to Nico so she can craft stronger and more interesting upgrades for your prosthetic, ranging from Overture, Gerbera, Rawhide and Ragtime, to more interesting ones such as the Pasta Breaker for eating with, to Monkey business and even the Mega Buster from Mega Man! Nico is clearly into you and as the story flows it becomes more and more apparent. She's badass and incredibly lovable because she is a giggly, sassy, fun-loving southern girl who clearly has an abundance of smarts and crafting skills. Nico is absolute eye candy when seductively presenting you her latest creation and accidentally on purpose showing off her audaciously placed tattoos, which, if you can remember that far back, is quite a far cry from Nero's previous catholic supporting character Kyrie, who would help bring him his weapons in DMC4.
As mentioned before, V is a whole new ball game, and honestly one of, if not the, most fun characters to play as. Instead of wielding weapons, guns or swords, he hobbles around with a chain but packs a massive punch by summoning his familiars. That's right, V has paranormal assistance from a bunch of seemingly tamed beasts. There's Griffon, the raven-like wisecracking familiar with a mandible beak and powerful projectile airborne attacks on Square, Shadow the panther-like big cat demon with huge slashing power and fast-acting support on Triangle, and Nightmare, the three and a half meter tall golem that uses brute strength to obliterate the hoards on L1. Once you build up the Purple Devil Trigger gauge and press R1 with either of your assistants' attack buttons, you unleash more powerful moves such as Griffon's level 3 Double Check and Level 3 Round Robin, Shadow's Guillotine and Skewer and Nightmare's Illegal Move. To be honest, Nightmare is a bit of a wildcard and you never feel fully in control of him. He's somewhat of a loose cannon and seemingly does things his own way, which is endearing and makes his gameplay more random and intriguing. In essence, Griffon is your gun, Shadow your blade, and Nightmare is a special move that you can call on when all else fails. As V himself, you merely get to actually deliver any damage when you lunge into the whitened ground-down opponents to deal them a final blow or stand alongside your familiars, reciting creepy, enigmatic victorian poetry to aid replenishing their vitality.
I chose V more often than Nero on my first playthrough, simply because his style is oddly satisfying and incredibly playable, and perhaps off the back of playing as V so much, I found Blue Rose, aka Nero's trusty sidearm, is a bit meh to go back to. You can use it to juggle and you can colour-up multiple double-shots into one mega attack, but on its own, it is a bit limp in my opinion. Unless you pair it with the Tomboy Devil Breaker, which turns it into a kind of coilgun, then it becomes more interesting, albeit for one large blast. Red Queen is more abruptly styled than ever, with its motorcycle-like twist throttle and cylinders exposed, allowing you to charge it up, ready for more devastating exceed attacks with a longer reach, more revolutions and fire thrown into the mix. While this is great on paper, in the heat of battle I found myself, initially at least, unable to charge up anywhere near high enough without having to really set my mind to it and degrading my combos. I even tried revving while battling with other buttons in order to multitask and it didn't seem to work very well, if at all. The big fun from Nero is definitely provided via Devil Breakers, and with such a variety "on-hand" (pun intended) you have a plethora of savage attacks to discover.
As cinematic as this game is, and it is gorgeously stylish, I'm going to drop a bomb here: the gameplay itself is a little stale. Point to point traversal of the environments seems laboured and strange in some places. For example, playing as Nero, you have to shoot the free-floating grapple points before you can grapple them and I don't really understand why. Sure, the general mechanic is to stand on the red flames, they turn blue, then the grapple points appear and you can grapple with R1 and Circle, but the free-floating ones require you to aim, shoot, grapple, you cannot just aim and grapple. Nero also moves around the environment and you can find miscellaneously vague dried demon "fluids" dotted about, which oddly I can accept, but why are there Devil Breakers strewn everywhere? Did I miss something here that Nico has pre-emptively dumped a load of precious weapons throughout the environments ready for you to pick up, or, just, why are they there, like, at all? It seems like the Devil Breaker mechanic is such a cool idea, and loading up with magazines of them in Nico's whip before entering the next mission is a critical thing you should do, but if you Devil Bust your Devil Breakers you Devil Need to Devil Get another from somewhere, and the floor is as good a place as any I guess. Sure, you can locate telephone boxes to call Nico in some weird throwback to the A-Team or Knightrider to re-group and stock up, but if you didn't, you can just find these things knocking about. It's a good thing none of the Empusa's, Angelo's or Judecca's has any interest in them or the game could have been quite a bit more eventful.
Venturing from area to area, there are some glimmers of hope when it comes to interesting gameplay. For example, you have to find a Nidhogg hatchling parasite to offer up to any Qliphoth tree obstructions you find, and you think "ah ok, a puzzle", but the parasite you need is mere meters from the obstruction, and that's pretty much it. There is no even simplistic complexity to this process, and you have to do it several times to clear your way through. I really hoped for something a bit meatier, more of a taxing break from the relatively mindless shoot and slash of the majority of the game. The one saving grace is the boss battles and miniboss battles. I was strangely transported back to playing various Zelda games, with huge lumbering bosses like Gilgamesh reminding me of Goht, the flaming Elder Geryon Knight on time-travelling-horseback reminding me of Ganondorf, the lucid Artemis ethereally attacking like Majora's Mask and Nidhogg reminiscent of Barinade or even Photosynthetic Parasite, Kalle Demos. Though these fights are far more interesting, there is a small method or pattern to figure out, and a series of blows to be struck. They aren't massive obstacles, or brain-meltingly difficult unless you severely ramp up the difficulty. Overall, I found this section the most enjoyable crescendo to the missions, but far too easy to overcome regardless of difficulty.
One thing I didn't fully understand was the "Starring": notification and the reason for being online in what is effectively a single-player game. I get that this notification means that the Cameo system is in play and someone else is online playing; you are either watching their battles as the alternate character in the cut scenes or viewing them in-game if you're at the same point. However, this doesn't come across and feels kind of worthless in my honest opinion. I also saw that I could give them a ranking based on what I witnessed, but honestly, none of that was memorable and it may as well have been a cut scene as I never actually got to interact with anyone who appeared in the notification. I guess at no point during the entire playthrough I was at the same point in the game as anyone else who was also playing the game concurrently. Utterly pointless, so, why don't Capcom just give us a local or online co-operative mode?!
As a casual fan of the DMC series, I feel that this game could have done more. Beyond the lush revamping of the graphics and the new weapons, the only true highlight is V, who is honestly incredibly fun to use. Hardcore fans will find this an absolute must as it's possibly the most polished, most complete edition ever to grace our consoles with a great balance of difficulty, a decent range of characters, a compelling storyline and a nice range of bosses to confront, too. With 20 missions you have ample opportunity to replay each one, with different characters and improve on your rankings to platinum the entire thing. Loading times on PS5 SSD are entirely gone, so if you set the game up to auto-start levels you will be in for one non-stop whirlwind of an experience, albeit a relatively easy one.,