In the title sequence of “Devil May Cry 5,” robot-armed demon slayer Nero flies out the window of a large, airborne van to meet and cut down a small swarm of insectoid demons mid-barrel-roll. Guitars from the game’s 80-metal theme song wail as he flies through the air, bouncing off cars to shoot bug after bug in their bulbous brains. He’s clearly having fun, which seems odd, since he was just flung out of a moving car. One wrong move and he’ll be dead, but he’s cool: For the moment, he’s in control.
“Stylish” fighting has always been at the very heart of the Devil May Cry franchise. In all four entries — even the 2013 reboot “DmC: Devil May Cry” — have been combat-heavy romps with an eye towards technical combat that not only encourages achievement, but mastery. In general, “Devil May Cry 5” hews closely to tradition: It has the rare and unenviable task of having to advance a franchise while also undoing a reboot, so it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that “Devil May Cry 5” looks and feels very similar to the original series.
For the most part, that tradition returns in fine form: “Devil May Cry 5” once again revolves around combat and the “style” rating system, where you earn a score and letter grade based on the efficiency and variety with which you take out each set of opponents. Finishing the game can be challenging, but dominating every level with an “SSS” ranking will require patience and practice.
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Everything outside of that — the story, the art — is just window dressing to give the experience a specific ambiance. The dialogue is all wise-cracks. The art, all vaguely European ruins with a decidedly Gothic bent. Two of the three protagonists carry pistols and large gigantic swords. It’s a vivid hybrid of anime tropes and b-movie bravado, which is perfect for a game whose story and gameplay both have decidedly simple goals — to pit you against wave after wave cannon fodder on which to practice your best fighting moves.
Case in point, “Devil May Cry 5” revolves around three characters, instead of one, giving you three times as many skills to learn. Devil Hunter Dante returns, with four combat styles you switch to and from on the fly. “Devil May Cry 4” hero Nero is back as well. Nero, now a one-armed swordsman, equips disposable robot arms with different attacks for a rotating array of skills to complement his less complex swordplay. Lastly, the mysterious “V” uses magic familiars, such as a lightning-bolt-shooting raven and a shape-shifting panther, to fight for him, forcing you to focus on managing and controlling fights to keep yourself safe. You rarely choose what character to control, so completing the game, however you choose to define that, means getting used to all three fighters’ and their moves.
While switching off can get in the way off really getting to know each style in a single playthrough, the variation does more good than harm. Like past Devils May Cry, “Devil May Cry 5” focuses intensely on combat and, thus, trends towards monotony. Most of its levels feature boil down to a series of winding corridors connecting large arenas, broken up with occasional platforming challenge or optional puzzle. Thanks to a clunky camera, some of the trickier jumps feel like more trouble than they’re worth, so you may find yourself breezing through to the next throwdown. If fighting is going to be the entire focus of the “Devil May Cry 5” experience, at least there are a few decidedly different ways to fight, and they’re all enjoyable in their own way.
Despite the much-appreciated variety, there are aspects of the combat and controls that feel long in the tooth. Most notably, it seems sinful in a post “Dark Souls” world to make a precision action game without a dedicated dodge button. In “Devil May Cry 5,” Dante has a dodge command linked to one of his fighting styles, while V and Nero can only dodge when you lock the camera on a specific enemy. While you can certainly work your way through demons with style and grace without one, you feel its absence every time you’re attacked from two or more sides, as you cannot always respond as quickly as would in a Soulslike or even a close contemporary like “Bayonetta 2.”
This may seem like a technical nitpick, but the resulting awkwardness flies in the face of “Devil May Cry 5’s” true goal: to make you feel like Nero in that title sequence, like a master in control. There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling as if a game’s controls or camera are working against you, so it’s painful whenever an enemy attacks you from behind and you know it’s coming, but you’re too slow off the “lock on” button to get out of the way. It’s not an insurmountable problem with time and training, but it’s a problem many other games have solved.
And that’s “Devil May Cry 5” in a nutshell. It’s fun, in the ways that the old games are fun, and, taken out of context, it makes some interesting changes to mix up how you approach its beloved Style. “Devil May Cry 5” manages to shake off the rust and remind us why we liked these games before, but you have to work to ignore the fact that some of its moves are just a little bit out of date.