There’s a great Kojima-esque meta joke in the first ten minutes of DmC. Chasing a simian demon through an infested boardwalk, Dante exits out of a building just as it collapses, which sends a white wig flying to land on top of his head. The brash young son of Sparda pauses for a moment to examine his appearance in a dirty reflection. “Huh,” he remarks, smirking almost into the camera. “Not in a million years.”

Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Capcom
Release date: Jan. 15
Price: $59.99

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Score: 9/10

With his dressed-down industrial club goth wear, junkie-chic physique and Pretty Hate Machine-era Trent Reznor hair, the image of Dante momentarily affecting his previous incarnation's appearance is as incendiary as it is funny. Externally it comes off like Ninja Theory took a moment just to laugh at (or maybe more appropriately, to give the finger to) the hardest of the hardcore Devil May Cry traditionalists that boycotted and made death threats and otherwise generally went too far in expressing their distaste for Dante’s rebooted look. But whether fanboys like it or not, it’s DmC’s—or Dante’s—new aesthetic that perfectly symbolizes that hated thing called progress.

With a company like Ninja Theory, which values narrative concepts and ideas as much as it does gameplay, this isn’t too surprising. Unlike internally-developed entries of the past, DmC expects you to accept it on its developers' terms, and they have something a bit more high-minded in mind than the typically nonsensical and silly storytelling Capcom has honed over the years. It’s the kind of game whose parts feel appropriate for an age of burgeoning intelligence in videogames: quick-cut editing, twisted visual design and vicious satire make for a clever, literal interpretation of Hell-as-consumerism.

In other words, you can enjoy DmC for other things aside from the combat—the Fincher-esque smeared lens camerawork and erratic art direction in the alternate dimension of Limbo in particular never disappoint. And if you’re worried about waiting for the storyline’s other shoe to drop, it doesn’t, maybe thanks to 28 Days Later scribe Alex Garland’s script consulting. Though some of the societal commentary could stand to be foregrounded a touch more, even Dante’s one-liners are delivered subtly (and sparingly) with the amused, flippant nonchalance of don’t-give-a-fuck youth.

Fortunately, none of Ninja Theory’s intellectual pursuits keep DmC from being an enjoyable game, either. It’s clear just how closely they worked with Capcom’s internal team to nail the necessary balancing, responsive controls and general tight feel, and though given their own spin, Ebony and Ivory, Rebellion and a handful of other weapons are all present, as are many of Dante’s trademark badass moves. Seemingly taking a page from MercurySteam’s Castlevania reboot, the addition of light and heavy heaven and hell weapons also helps keep combat fresh by adding ice and fire affinities to combat strategy. And yeah, you can gripe about enemy types being too similar but it doesn’t amount to much when you’re acrobatically juggling ten demons with a giant scythe.

With the expanded focus on narrative, DmC is at times paced more like an adventure game than a straight up action title. You definitely get the sense that it’s an origin story, too, and you won’t initially find all the classic Devil May Cry elements you’d expect—like devil trigger—until later in the game. Thankfully, whether the change was deceptive or not, your devil trigger form resembles classic Dante in color scheme only—early trailers depicted otherwise—and is probably better for it.

It’s only too bad the boss encounters are so sparse, and that most of them were previewed in one form or another before the game was released. There is something highly amusing and deeply disturbing about a showdown with the hideous bloated head of a digitized Glenn Beck-Bill O’Reilly hybrid, jeering taunts at you. When the stand-in Fox News mogul calls Dante and his allies terrorists, it’s a great example of the kind of wry irony DmC excels at, at least when it has a clear target. 

Ninja Theory is a developer that some would argue has never been given all the time or resources needed to really polish its games. But Devil May Cry being handed to the developer may be the best thing that’s ever happened to the franchise. Thrusting Dante into a world with thematic consequence lends weight to the relatively shallow gameplay parameters, something that Capcom could perhaps stand to consider internally. Change is inevitable, anyway. As it stands, DmC is a good example of what you can create with an established property and an open mind.

That and the whole techbeat blood rage soundtrack is pretty dope.