A crying shame
“I’ve been here before,” our titular antihero growls at the start of the final mission in Vergil’s Downfall, “but this time, it’ll be different.”
On the surface, Vergil’s simply lampshading the fact that the finale is a slightly modified version of the first level (albeit populated with much tougher enemies), but he might as well be recounting my giddy inner monologue as I booted up the DLC epilogue for the first time.
As my original review will attest, I adored DmC: Devil May Cry, and I was quite looking forward to diving back into its ridiculously smooth combat to experience the next chapter of the story. I wanted to see how developer Ninja Theory would tackle fleshing out Vergil as a new playable character with his own set of moves and weapons. I wanted new content that took the basic design principles of DmC and used them to build a distinct, novel experience that reflected the core game without simply aping it. I wanted more of the same, but different.
And, boy, did I get it. Where Dante had an arsenal of visually distinctive weapons that made it easy to read the action and plan your next combo pivot, Vergil gets to use the same two weapons—ranged spectral swords and his trademark katana, Yamato—for all of his attacks, whether angelic, demonic, or standard. Where Dante used every sword, axe, and scythe swing to glide fluidly around the battlefield, Vergil wields Yamato with the grace of a samurai drenched in molasses, forcing you to rely on teleportation moves just to get a decent flow going. Vergil’s Downfall still offers familiar hints of the stellar combat system I know and love, but everything feels ever-so-slightly off, like I’m watching a shot-for-shot remake of my favorite movie with B-list actors in every role.
And it’s a shame, too, because Vergil is such a promising character, at least in theory. Many of his moves sound fascinating when you read about them on the unlock screen, but they never quite live up to their combo potential once you actually put them to use against your foes. Even the overhauled Devil Trigger system, which breaks down your meter into blocks that you can spend to perform powerful special moves or call in a doppelganger to fight alongside you, feels somewhat clunky compared to its main-game equivalent. DmC gradually built up Dante with combat tools that were intuitive, exciting to watch, and built from the ground up to complement one another. Vergil’s Downfall just tosses a bunch of neat ideas into a blender and lets you sort out the pieces later.
This expansion also lacks much of the polished and unified design that made DmC great. The levels aren’t artfully mangled versions of any real place; they’re just Limbo for Limbo’s sake, borrowing architectural elements and set pieces from the main game and repurposing them into pointless abstractions. As a result, there’s no innate sense of place or purpose to anything you’re doing—and the weak, barely-there story certainly doesn’t remedy that, either. It’s a videogame gauntlet in the shallowest sense.
Somehow, Vergil’s Downfall even manages to mess up the bold, cohesive art style of the main game. Rather than using DmC‘s well-choreographed cutscenes and vibrant paintings, the story here is instead told through 2D animated sequences that look like quick-and-dirty storyboards the team intended to replace with actually passable graphics before they ran out of time.
In fact, I repeatedly found myself wondering if Ninja Theory just shoved this thing out the door before it was ready so they could meet their deadline. I mean, one of Vergil’s unlockable abilities doesn’t even show the required button presses on the move list, so I was forced to suss it out myself through a process of elimination. That’s about as bush league as it gets.
Now, I won’t say that Vergil’s Downfall is terrible by any stretch of the imagination. Thanks to the strength of DmC‘s core mechanics, the combat scenarios are still enjoyable and often quite good, and it’s refreshing to experience the same enemies and platforming challenges with a character who feels so drastically different from Dante. Unfortunately, every major change to the formula falls short of the high standard set by the main game, and when you’re grading on that curve, it’s hard not to be disappointed with where this DLC wound up. If you’re really jonesing to spend a couple of more hours in the twisted world of Limbo, Vergil’s Downfall will scratch that itch—but only just.
|Developer: Ninja Theory • Publisher: Capcom • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.05.2013|
|6.5||While the strengths of DmC‘s balletic combat aren’t entirely lost in Vergil’s Downfall, they’re decidedly diminished. The novelty of a new playable character and slate of abilities is largely negated by the fact that Vergil isn’t nearly as smooth, interesting, or fun to control as his snarky twin brother.|
|The Good||A surprisingly different take on DmC‘s stellar combat…|
|The Bad||…that checks some of the “stellar” at the front door.|
|The Ugly||Vergil’s Super Saiyan makeover. Nice hair, bro.|
|Vergil’s Downfall is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.|