If there’s one thing that an action game needs, it’s, well, action. But while that may be an obvious thing to say about a game like Devil May Cry 5 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC), it’s clearly not obvious enough, if the occasional lack of it in this game is any indication.
Like the other games in this series,
Devil May Cry 5 is a third-person hack & slash shooter in which you use impossibly large swords, perpetually loaded guns, and superheroic acrobatics to fight demons and their faithful minions. All of which is done with the kind of style and flair that makes it like the old God Of War games if they were based more on anime than Greek myths.
And like the best God Of War games, the strength of the Devil May Cry series — and that includes Devil May Cry 5 — is its combat. While this doesn’t work as just a third-person shooter, or as just a hack & slasher, it’s downright poetic when you combine the two, punctuating your slashing attacks with two taps to the chest or following up a shotgun blast with a quick slice & dice move. Doubly so when you add in some acrobatics, sending your enemies into the air, where you join them in mid-air, juggling their bodies with a barrage of sword strikes and gun shots.
Of course, it helps that Devil May Cry 5‘s controls make this easy. While you may not be able to do the superhuman feats displayed in the game’s many cutscenes, you can still pull off some rather impressive — and, more importantly, effective — moves. Though, obviously, more so when you unlock new moves and combo attacks with all the red orbs you find lying around.
Devil May Cry 5 also puts your mastery of these controls to the test in some interesting ways. The game boasts a rather interesting menagerie of enemies, ones that recall the twisted visions of both American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft (The Call Of Cthulhu, At The Mouth Of Madness) and Japanese horror manga writer and artist Junji Ito (Uzamaki, Tomie), and are equally twisted in how they attack you.
It also helps that your enemies…
in Devil May Cry 5 hang out in some varied places. While some are wide open, with enemies coming at you from multiple directions, others are built of narrow passageways. Some even get clever with what’s in the environment. An upward fight on a series of downward escalators, for instance, is especially inspired.
Unfortunately, the combat in Devil May Cry 5 is only engaging when you’re playing as either Dante or Nero. When you play as V, well, then it’s a whole different game. Or rather, not much of one.
Instead of a sword and a gun, V has a cane, one that isn’t very effective at killing demons or their pals. Which is why V delegates these responsibilities to his panther Shadow, who has sharp claws and teeth, and his bird Griffon, who can cast bolts of lightning. There are even combo attacks you can command them to do. It’s only when his enemies are weak, and close to death, that V steps in to finish them off.
Unfortunately, that’s all you really do when you play Devil May Cry 5 as V. You don’t even have to hit a button to finish off enemies if you don’t want to; V will do it automatically if you keep mashing Shadow and Griffon’s attack buttons. There’s also no strategy involved when it comes to Shadow and Griffon’s attacks. Not once did I face an enemy where I had to use one and not the other.
Which is why, the first time I faced a boss as V, I just stood in one spot, repeatedly mashing Shadow’s and Griffon’s attack buttons until the boss died, and only once took a hit of my own. And while this strategy didn’t work with the next boss, or in about a two-thirds of my fights with smaller enemies, it worked far more often than not.
Now, had these passive aggressive parts…
of Devil May Cry 5 been few and far between, they would’ve served as a nice break from all the frantic action. Or if they had worked like the similar mechanic in the most recent God Of War — in which you do most of the work, but can command your kid to take out or distract an enemy with a couple arrows — it would’ve provided a similar change of pace, making V’s parts feel different from Dante’s and Nero’s. But there’s actually a bunch of V-centric missions, and they don’t work like God Of War, which is why they’re not welcome breaks but unwelcome slogs.
V also doesn’t help matters where the story in Devil May Cry 5 is concerned. That he looks like he just aged out of K-pop band is bad enough; that he smugly thinks he’s going to be their Justin Timberlake when he’s really their Chris Kirkpatrick is where he becomes insufferable. Though he does fit the narrative, which is so overloaded with pretension and superficial silliness that I didn’t feel bad or that I had missed anything when I accidentally skipped one of the cutscenes. So much so that, had I been playing this for fun and not for this review, I would’ve skipped all of them.
This brings up another issue with Devil May Cry 5: If you hit the “Start” button to pause the game during a cutscene — y’know, like you do during the action — it doesn’t pause, it just skips it altogether.
Sadly, this is not the only mechanical issue with Devil May Cry 5. Like all third-person games, there are times when the camera is not your friend. In one instance, when the game momentarily turns into a platformer, it locks the normally player-controlled viewpoint into place, but not a good place if you’re trying to see where you’re supposed to jump. Also, when standing on the ledge of a cliff or large hole, you can’t always look down to see who might be waiting for you when you arrive.
There’s also an issue…
that crops up when you’re playing Devil May Cry 5 as Dante, though it’s more annoying than problematic. Unlike Nero, who only has one gun and one sword, Dante can switch on the fly between a couple different guns (including a shotgun, a six-gun, and a pair of pistols) and between multiple melee weapons (swords, his fists and feet, and, oddly, a motorcycle he swings like a club). While this is a nice idea, it’s also rather unnecessary since — like with V’s attack animals — you never take on enemies who are, say, impervious to being cut but not to being punched or kicked or hit upside the head with a motor vehicle.
But the real problem is that Devil May Cry 5 will sometimes switch Dante’s weapons without warning or being prompted to. You’ll be slashing a demonic ant with a sword when, without hitting the weapon switch button, your weapon will switch and you’re now punching and kicking said ant. Which, admittedly, isn’t a fatal flaw — and easily avoided once you get to one of the character customization nodes and remove the unwanted options — but it’s still really annoying. Especially since, when using his fists and feet, Dante does these breakdancing moves that suggest he only just saw Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo for the first time last week and thought, “I could do that.”
Devil May Cry 5 also has an irritating aiming issue, though it’s oddly somewhat helpful. On occasion, you may tell Nero or whoever to smash a cluster of red orbs. And sometimes he will, but sometimes he’ll ignore you and slash in the opposite direction because there’s an enemy nearby who you should be attacking instead of the orb cluster. Fair enough, but it’s still annoying that he doesn’t do what you tell him to.
There’s also a sort of pay-to-win thing going on in Devil May Cry 5, in that if you run out of red orbs you use to purchase upgrades and combos, you can buy more with real money. Though given that this is a single-player game only, you’re not so much paying to win as you are paying to cheat yourself.
Even with all of these issues,
Devil May Cry 5 still manages to be an exciting and engaging action game. Well, when you’re not playing as V, anyway. While it’s not anywhere as good as the most recent God Of War, or some of the previous iterations of this series, Devil May Cry 5 is often a frantic and challenging action game, a real adrenaline rush. Which, obviously, is what you want from an action game like this.