Devil May Cry 5 Review: Bang, Bang, Bang

Devil May Cry returns with a new bag of fun, but uneven tricks.

Devil May Cry 5 knows exactly where it wants to go. It just doesn’t always seem sure how to get there. The third-person action game eschews its once rebooted timeline in favor of a direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4. Although the tone and even one of its major character designs feel wholesale lifted from the 2013 re-imagining.

I say “one of its major characters” because Devil May Cry 5’s main claim to modernity is three playable demon slayers. Yet it’s more-or-less the same game across all three heroes: Dante (the series mainstay), Nero (also playable in DMC 4), and V (the “mysterious” newcomer). You proceed from demon-infested room to demon-infested room, slaying creatures with a mix of fast-paced ranged attacks and melee combos. Air juggling is involved… But each protagonist brings their own spin to the wheel.

The calamity bringing the trio together is the Qliphoth — a demonic tree growing fat on human blood. Longtime demon killer Dante gets called in to investigate, but things quickly go sour. So you spend the first chunk of the game mostly alternating between V and Nero, with one or two missions that let you choose between them.

DMC 5 Review

Reload and Try Something New

Nero plays much like he did in the previous numbered Devil May Cry. He can grapple to enemies from a distance (as well as grapple them to him). Otherwise, it’s mostly a matter of bouncing between ranged and melee strikes to keep your “style rating” up. That’s another DMC mainstay — getting graded on your ability to string together combos, air juggle enemies, and keep it varied enough to impress the game’s digital judges. The better your rating, the more experience points you get at the end of every mission, for health upgrades and new moves.

Nero doesn’t have a whole lot of that combat variety built-in. “Luckily,” the newly short-haired hero (which makes him look a helluva lot like Dante from the abandoned reboot) loses his right arm near the start of the game. That opens him up to use another new addition to Devil May Cry 5: Devil Breakers.

These cybernetic attachments replace Nero’s demonic arm from Devil May Cry 4. They all still retain the grappling hook function, but layer in some extra goodies as well. One variant lets you slow down enemies, for instance, while another launches like a rocket and harangues foes automatically. My personal favorite just powers up Nero’s normal attacks — even rooting him to the spot like a turret when he fires his souped-up revolver.

Break It Up

You have to be careful with Devil Breakers, though. They can, well, break pretty easily. You never want to get hit in Devil May Cry games to begin with, since it severely impacts your style rating, but taking a blow while wielding a Breaker will snap it off Nero entirely. You can even destroy them manually for a quick, offensive burst.

It’s usually not a total loss, though. Nero can load and customize multiple Devil Breakers. Lose one, and your next whammer in the magazine simply cycles in.

I love the Devil Breaker system… in theory. Mixing and matching between add-ons gives Nero, who can’t hot swap between multiple weapons and combat stances like Dante, some much-needed variety. But the system feels hamstrung. You can only switch Devil Breakers by losing them. And reloading them costs the same XP you want to spend on more permanent upgrades between missions. You can acquire more Devil Breakers in the field, but then you’re stuck with whatever’s lying around.

In that way, Devil May Cry 5 actively discourages experimentation. It doesn’t help that he’s also slower than Dante, either. He’s a walking black hole meant to suck enemies in via grappling hook and tear them apart with whirling strikes. That’s enjoyable in its way. But the result doesn’t really embody the fast-paced death ballet I prefer in Devil May Cry.

The Consequence of Choice

As a result, I wound up resenting anytime the game made me play Nero — despite the fact that, even if he’s not my favorite, he still brings most of the tried-and-true gameplay I’ve loved since the first DMC

V occupies a similar space, but for different reasons. He’s the slowest of the three leads by far. That’s because he nearly never fights for himself. V is Devil May Cry’s answer to a summoning class in less action-oriented RPGs. Instead of twirling a sword around, he semi-directly controls three demons that fight for him. Although each one fulfills a role comparable to Dante and Nero’s weapons.

Griffon, V’s loudmouthed monster-bird companion, fires ranged attacks. Shadow, a shapeshifting panther, has melee combos. Meanwhile, Nightmare is a massive golem V can only summon when he builds up his “Devil Trigger” through normal combat. Dante can also activate Devil Trigger as a general combat boost (another leg up both characters have over Nero).

The indirect attacks are a welcome experiment. They’re just one of many experiments Devil May Cry 5 uses to shake up the formula Capcom mastered on the PlayStation 2 and 3. But V, too, feels slightly hobbled. It’s just a matter of perspective. Literally.

DMC 5 Review

Monster Mash

Devil May Cry games don’t typically feature the same multi-button combo strings found in fighting games. Instead, you alter your attack pattern with well-timed pauses and directional inputs. So holding back and the attack button while airborne might slam Nero’s sword into the ground. Whereas just hitting the attack button would continue to juggle a flying enemy. This is based on which direction the character faces, mind, you, rather than the camera.

Or, in V’s case, the directions are determined by which direction his pets are facing. Despite this fact, the camera always locks firmly on the summoner himself. That makes it incredibly difficult to tell where Shadow or Griffon are pointing. They’re often halfway across the level, obscured by sparks and explosions, and morphing into different shapes. The battlefield becomes unreadable. Much like I wish I could seamlessly switch between Devil Breakers on Nero, I can’t help but feel V should be able to “reset” his monsters more manually.

My solution to the problem: button mashing. V doesn’t take damage when his demons do. So you can largely hang back and just hit the average attack strings over and over again. You won’t do optimal damage, but, at least on the hardest difficulty available to start, I often got S-rank style ratings anyway.

DMC 5 Review

Rising Action

Devil May Cry 5’s combat doesn’t really open up until you get to Dante’s story — about halfway through the game. But when it does, it’s well worth the wait.

The longstanding protagonist can swap between weapons, has multiple fighting styles, gets inundated with upgrades, and just generally feels more nimble than his cohorts. You can sting foes from a distance with his classic sword, or batter them with fiery gauntlets. I especially enjoy stun-locking enemies with a rocket launcher.

My personal favorite, however, is the Cavaliere. It’s… a motorcycle. But Dante can split it into two hammers that grind opponents’ faces with burning wheels. Its timing-based attacks give you immense control, while still feeling like you’re hitting monsters with the full weight of half a motor vehicle.

Once the full cast appears, Devil May Cry 5 really starts to sing (with electrometal backing tracks). Even Nero gets a little something extra near the very end of the game. And you can take all your new skills back to replay every mission, plus many “secret” challenges, on higher difficulties. Die hard Devil May Cry fans almost certainly will. These games are kinda built for that.

Tech Support

I just wish that satisfaction came sooner. Because up to that point where things finally open up, Devil May Cry 5 mostly relies on its story and style. Very little of which actually lands (until, once again, the very end of the game). Frankly, I preferred the inventiveness and verve of the reboot. That game, which was basically They Live with demons, also benefited greatly from the sharp writing and performance capture of developer Ninja Theory.

By contrast, Devil May Cry 5 has perhaps the worst character I’ve ever encountered in a video game.

Nico, Nero’s mechanic, is a constant presence. She’s also absolutely awful. The sidekick endlessly insults the cast in a terrible southern accent. She’s like Cindy from Final Fantasy XV, but mean and with gun tattoos pointing to her crotch instead of cleavage.

Walking Away Happy

She’s clearly meant as comic relief (the rest of the plot is strangely self-serious), but next to none of her berating lands. In fact, only the very last two or three missions of the game have much emotional resonance at all — especially if you don’t have nostalgia for the mostly-much-worse stories of the first four games to begin with. Although, to be fair, I do quite like how that long-running tale resolves in Devil May Cry 5.

So I left Devil May Cry 5 feeling much better about it than I did during most of its actual, moment-to-moment beats. It doesn’t have the previous game’s intelligent, irreverent satire. Nor does it have the most even progression this series has ever seen. But I admire its willingness to try new things, even when they don’t always land. And when the game finally gets to where it’s going, it does so with gunpowder-injected aplomb.