It’s finally time to compare these games head to head. I’ve made it no secret that I prefer DMC4 over DmC, but when I put them side by side hopefully you’ll see why.
The first change you’ll notice is the visuals. DmC has better graphics and lighting effects. The humanoid characters feel more real as opposed to the clean, plastic models we got in DMC4. The setting is also better looking. I love DMC4’s Gothic style, but it’s hard to beat the originality involved in DmC’s areas. It doesn’t help that about half of the areas are recycled in DMC4, whereas DmC doesn’t spend time backtracking.
Not everything is in DmC’s favor in the visual department though. Due to Unreal Engine 3, which gives DmC its better lighting effects, there’s a problem with texture pop-in. It’s a common flaw in Unreal games, but it doesn’t make it any less ugly when it happens. Then there’s the problem with the developers. They seemed to suffer from what I’d call “Sonic Syndrome” when it comes to lighting effects in some areas: Just because you can go crazy with the effects doesn’t mean you should. Nothing like ruining a creative experience by making my eyes hurt from looking at the screen. Finally, DMC4 actually looks a lot smoother in motion because it runs at 60fps instead of 30.
As for the music, ugh. They’re both bad in my opinion, so the question is, do you like Dubstep? DmC has Dubstep and DMC4 doesn’t.
I appreciate the character development in both games. Nero goes from cursing his demonic blood to accepting it and the power it brings over the course of the story. It’s nice, but it’s a little cliche for my tastes. How terrible to be cursed with awesome power in a world where demons are a real thing and prey on the weak! The packaged love story is almost like a bad fan fiction too. Perhaps it’s my good old Western mindset that makes me think the entire Nero storyline is stupid. I’d rather have something practical like a badass demon arm from the start, instead of worrying about conformity and acceptance.
Dante from DmC is just plain unpleasant when we first meet him. He comes across as a drug addict party-goer that lives in a shack “down by the river.” They try to make him cooler with drugs, sex, and a foul mouth, but it just does the opposite. I don’t want to be this douche. Fortunately, by the end of the game his attitude has changed for the better. He’s still a dick, but he becomes something more and has found a new purpose that makes him a stronger character.
The story of DMC4 is only significant when looked at as a part of the franchise. It’s filled with lore and callbacks for the fans with keen eyes and ears, but without the story set up by the superior first and third installments, none of it would make DMC4 more than a cliche love story. That said, when looked at as a whole and considering its place in the overall narrative, it is a great story.
On the other hand, DmC has a self-contained story. As a reboot it gets to experiment and tell its own story. I dislike the generic “the Man is evil” message, but I think the idea is executed well enough. With a few changes it could have been its own franchise, while at the same time a few changes in the other direction could have made it a mainline prequel. Instead, it gets stuck in the middle as the reboot nobody really wanted.
All of this is small potatoes when compared to game play though. Nobody will play a character action game with bad combat, no matter how cool or angsty you make the characters and story. This is where DMC4 handily pulls ahead of DmC.
Nero is arguably the best designed character in the DMC franchise and the character action game genre, from a combat perspective. The move set shows great variation with only a few tools. What really made the difference between Nero and Dante though is the Devil Bringer pulling lighter enemies to you or yourself to heavier enemies. It’s an awesome offensive and defensive tool.
Ninja Theory realized how great the Devil Bringer was, and made their own versions of it. They even divided it into two different pulls instead of having the property of the pull determined by the enemy it’s used on, so you can move enemies to you or yourself to enemies at will. They made a lot of improvements in that vein, but they still managed to make combat worse as a whole.
The lack of lock-on was a horrible idea. It’s so perfectly implemented in DMC4, and DmC clearly took inspiration from DMC4 combat as seen above, so why would they leave this feature out? I can’t think of a single good reason. Nothing is worse than having a combo ruined because Dante has decided he’s bored of pounding your target of choice and wants to zoom across the screen to some other enemy. Do you know how many times Nero did that? Zero, because the team behind DMC4 was smart enough to implement lock-on. Additionally, the camera in both games can be a pain. While DmC has a much better camera, DMC4 has lock-on which can eliminate a lot of problems you have with the camera, making it better overall.
Then there’s color-coded enemies in DmC. It was a terrible idea that was executed equally as terribly. DmC gives you a variety of weapons you can change on the fly in an effort to vary your move set. Which is great because the genre is all about using all of your tools to create wild combos and earn style points, orchestrating some of the greatest combat scenes in all of gaming. You can even surpassing anime in terms of over the top action. Color-coded enemies go against that by limiting you to less than half of your abilities. Not only that, but it punishes you for not using the right weapon type, meaning one color-coded enemy can ruin an entire encounter. The only reason this isn’t higher than the lack of lock-on on my list of complaints is that a lock-on error can ruin a combo at any time, while a color-coded enemy only ruins your fun when it’s present.
Finally, DmC’s love of platforming undoes it further in my eyes. Due to the heavier platforming aspect, there are battle areas where you can fall into the abyss, watch your character drop helplessly for a few seconds, take damage, and then be reset back on the platform as if nothing happened. It’s only made worse by how common it is for flying enemies to hover over pitfalls and encourage you to throw yourself out there to fight them. DMC4 rarely had this problem, and in the few areas where you could fall, you just had to fight more enemies. More often than not, you hit an invisible wall and stay on the battlefield. That may not be realistic, but neither is fighting demons with a sword that has a motorcycle engine built into it and using it to surf on enemies. Sometime you make sacrifices to realism and consistency to make game play more fun, and the team behind DMC4 knew that falling off platforms and having a pause in the action just isn’t fun, while Ninja theory just didn’t get it.
Overall, DmC looked a lot better after I checked my prejudices at the door. It’s not the horrible game that DMC fans would have you believe. It is however near the bottom in the franchise hierarchy. DmC is an accessible point of entry into the genre and people that enter with this game may not like the older entries as they require more precision in controls, have more difficulty, and just feel stiff in comparison. They also don’t suffer the story changes the way someone who became attached to Vergil would, because they are a blank slate. That said, DMC4 is the better game overall for people that want to experience the heights the genre can ascend to in terms of challenge and style.
DmC was so close to being a great game that it just makes it hurt all the more when you see simple thoughtlessness ruining important aspects. Mediocrity hurts worse than just plain bad in this case. I would not object to a DmC2, provided Ninja Theory learned from their mistakes, if it didn’t mean that DMC5 would never happen.