There’s been an accidental trend in my recent posts – I’ve talked a lot about how the player plays the game, why that matters, and designing with that in mind. A big part of WILA Xenoblade was how the game entertained me for quite some time by letting me pick and choose which elements of its expansive world and somewhat varied mechanics I used at any given time. In WIHILA and WILA Deus Ex, I mused on the possibilities of reaching out to a varied audience with genre-bending gameplay choices, and the importance of communicating with the player about these choices, ultimately exemplified by Deus Ex. What better way to put a temporary stopper on the topic than with the game that’s intentionally about style: DmC.
I already laid out many of my expectations for DmC’s stylish gameplay, and now we can look back and review. I wanted variety in gameplay available for each individual challenge, and I (mostly) got it. The game throws enemy hordes of increasing difficulty, variety and number at me, and I have no less than 5 or 6 reasonable ways to deal with them, all with pros and cons. It was enjoyable to pull out a different weapon for each short segment of a combo (and the option to do so was communicated well in loading screen ‘demos’ of badassery). Conversely, this meant that I didn’t like it when I had enemies thrown at me that simply said ‘You can only use weapon X against me’. They were more challenging and that’s fun in its own way, but disrupted the feeling of ‘style’ – a minor ‘flaw’, if it can even be called that.
The controls were well-designed: I never had to input a fighting-game-esque button combination to do a maneuver or use a weapon, but at the same time I was afforded many attack options. Moreover the button-mapping is fully customisable, in case you find the layout unintuitive. Dante felt like an extension of my oh-so-specific desires to mash up wave after wave of demon. And ultimately, no matter your idea of ‘style’, the grades are clearly generalised enough that the game rewards you for it. That is, unless you mash the same attack over and over and get hit repeatedly in the face (and if that’s the case, you’re probably accustomed to ignoring what other people think of your style).
I was hoping to be welcomed as a newcomer to the series, especially through management of the difficulty curve, and I was. The specifics may seem bland but are important. The difficulty levels were descriptive (story-focused; first-time DmCer but with some skill; long-time player of the series), and I could change difficulty on a level-by-level basis if I had misjudged which difficulty I should be on. In addition, the developers seemed aware that there was a difficulty curve to be managed and introduced mechanics and provided challenges at a good pace. There’s probably a lot of invisible work that went into getting it right, such as having enough testing for various tiers of player-skill and holding back overall complexity while keeping gameplay interesting, but I can only speculate (which is probably a good sign).
Of course, it wasn’t perfect (nothing ever is). It would have been nice to be able to jump to the super-hard difficulties after a single playthrough of the game. I am not a huge fan of repeated replaying (I often just don’t have the time or interest) but still wanted to test my skills. However, this is a minor qualm, and perhaps that too was a choice by the developers targeting someone other than me. I can imagine the decision being aimed at an audience who would likely jump in over their heads if given the choice and then get frustrated, but (unlike me) would not mind playing through multiple times as long as they were unlocking new modes.
If I’m going to sum up what I like about DmC, it’s that they got the basics right. It might not be flashy, but all the clever design and great graphics can easily go to waste without them. I had plenty of options in battle, I accessed it all naturally through the controls, I got solid feedback through the scoring system, and the difficulty curve matched my pace (either through my own input or the developers’ hard work). I like to think that these are the sorts of things any game designer can get right by keeping an eye on the end-user’s perspective, but in reality it’s not an easy thing to do (a fact of which I am reminded every time I play a game where I can’t help but feel like whoever developed it didn’t even play it themselves).
Now I want to hear what you think. What did or didn’t you like about DmC? What makes your list for the most basic things a game has to ‘get right’? Did you feel like you played DmC with your own style, or was it more about generically ‘being stylish’ to you? Let me know in the comments.