Gamers of a more gothic persuasion will surely have encountered at least one of Capcom's Devil May Cry games, although it will have been a while.

The core thread of the action hack-n-slash franchise loosely inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy has been on hiatus since 2008's Devil May Cry 4 - with 2013's alternate-universe reboot by British Developer Ninja Theory, DMC, merely sparked fears among the fanbase that Devil May Cry may have run its course.

However, Devil May Cry 5 offers a return which could not be more triumphant.

Demonic trees and red phone boxes

This time around, the action takes place years after Devil May Cry 4's events, in a city called Red Grave (DMC geeks will note that Tony Redgrave is one of Dante's aliases), which appears to be in America, although it is studded with very British red phone boxes and buses. It's also in a bit of a state: a demonic tree has ripped it apart, sucking all the blood out of any inhabitants who failed to flee, in which the mega-powerful demon Urizen has taken up residence. Luckily, Nero (Devil May Cry 4's protagonist) is on hand to do something about that.

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He has assistance too. Series protagonist Dante - now a distinctly washed-up demon-hunter - makes a cameo as a playable character, along with a new addition to the gang, the mysterious V, who has a distinctly emo air to him and somewhat resembles the actor Adam Driver. Demon-hunters Trish and Lady also appear.

Nero also has a sidekick, Nico, a chain-smoking, tattooed figure who creates weapons in her camper van. Those are crucial for Nero, who has had his demon arm ripped off (by a demon, naturally), so instead, Nico crafts Devil Breaker attachments for his stump, with a wide range of abilities. Some pack a massive punch, while others slow down time, provide whirling blades or act as giant whips. One even lets Nero ride it like a hoverboard. It's possible to equip several at once, which automatically cycle when they break (which they do frequently - luckily, you can pick up new ones scattered around the levels, or call in Nico for a fresh set whenever you see a phone box).

Seeking SSSuccess

The interplay between the Devil Breakers, Nero's gun, his sword and his growing array of moves (which you can purchase with the red orbs you pick up after defeating enemies) breeds an almost infinite set of spectacular combos. And that's what Devil May Cry 5 is all about: as with its predecessors, it rates your stylishness in every bout of combat, from D (for Dismal) right up to SSS. The abilities you're given in Devil May Cry 5 - no matter who you're playing as - to execute outrageous attacks and combos are glorious enough in themselves, but the dopamine hit an SSS rating provides is right up there among the most satisfying experiences you will ever encounter when playing a videogame.

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Playing as V is great, too, and very different to playing as Nero or Dante (the latter kicks major ass, as ever). Because he's a bit weedy, he stands back from the action, only moving in for finishing moves, but instead controls attacks by two demonic familiars, a griffon and a panther. Plus he can summon Nightmare - a huge, lumbering, destructive creature which he can ride.

Devil May Cry 5, then, is all about the action, although its character-led storyline is pretty great, too. The way in which that fractures late on, mixing unexpected flashbacks with repeated versions of a particular event from different perspectives, is clever and original. Previous iterations of the franchise have thrown some platforming and puzzle-solving into the mix, but this time around, Capcom has dialled those right back (although the timed, hidden Secret Missions have made a welcome return) in favour of taking down demons as spectacularly as possible. It does pay to explore any corridors into which you're allowed, though.

Big bosses abound

Capcom has also let its imagination run riot as far as the demon enemies are concerned: they are more gruesomely outlandish than ever, rendered in glisteningly repulsive detail by the same engine that powered Resident Evil 7 and The Resident Evil 2 remake. Naturally, bosses abound - requiring a heavily tactical approach, although Capcom has been uncharacteristically forgiving in its generous distribution of gold orbs, which revive you when you're down.

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Determined modernists would point out that DMC5 is a linear game and it's also not the longest - although the quest to earn those SSS ratings, the ability to replay individual missions and the addition of a super-hard difficulty mode after your first play-through add vast amounts of replayability. And trophy-hunters will want to unlock all the various characters' moves, upgrades and weapons.

Verdict

Devil May Cry 5 is such an extreme joy to play - and is built on such a logical, focused structure - that you'll find yourself returning to it again and again, whenever you feel the need for a blast of cathartic, cobweb-blowing, spectacularly stylish action.

Anyone who dares to label it a throwback clearly has no appreciation of what truly makes games irresistible. It's the polar opposite of all those games-as-a-service that are currently being shoved down everyone's throats, and vastly more enjoyable than many of them.

Devil May Cry 5 is exactly how games should be made: focused and spectacular. It's a triumph.


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