Review by Quovak
"DMC4's amazing combat simply isn't enough to salvage the game's poor design."
Although video games have been becoming easier and more accessible over the years, there still exists a niche for challenging and demanding games such as Devil May Cry and its sequels. Unfortunately, however, the series' newest installment is completely uninspired, and, while the challenging yet rewarding combat system has been refined to near-perfection, the game as a whole is a disaster, and its core mechanics simply cannot support the extreme missteps taken by the developers. Almost every new addition to the series is poorly realized at best, and the experience as a whole is incredibly repetitive and inconsistent. With the latest entry in the series, Capcom has created little more than a tedious and frustrating disappointment.
Devil May Cry 4 begins with the introduction of Nero, an original protagonist whose existence feels shoehorned into a derivative and amateurish storyline. Comprised primarily of Nero's quest to rescue an uncharacterized love interest from a generic corrupt power, the game's laughable plotline is written as little more than an excuse to justify 20 missions and the inclusion of a second character. These missions are split between playing as Nero and Dante, the main character of the previous installments, but the two are designed so as to be nearly identical, not only in terms of appearance and gameplay but even, for the most part, in personality. Both characters bring poorly written one-liners and shallow motivation to an excessively intrusive series of cutscenes, and the game's plot ends up being anything but captivating. The few interesting concepts it prevents are underdeveloped or ruined by poor implementation and no clear direction, a problem that affects nearly every other aspect of the game to a near-fatal extent.
The only significant differences between Dante and the near-identical new protagonist are minor variations in combat, a system which, unlike most aspects of the game, deserves immense praise. Armed with a myriad of swords, firearms, and demonic powers, each assigned to a face button, you're able to string together complex and varied combos in a system which remains surprisingly intuitive while still offering a great deal of depth, striking a balance few games are able to achieve. While both characters utilize similar weaponry and combos, Nero comes equipped with the Devil Bringer, a supernatural arm enabling him to grab enemies from afar and use them as weapons or shields, while Dante possesses the ability to change between several combat styles at will, providing refinements to various abilities and techniques. Dante's mechanics are significantly more polished than those of Nero, as the Devil Bringer's cinematic attacks leave you vulnerable for far too long and Dante's smoother control makes precise attacks more dependable, but as a whole the characters are mostly similar even when fighting. A number of more complex aspects, some extremely well designed boss battles, and an intricate scoring mechanic that constantly grades how effective and stylish your combos are, however, combine to make a system so entertaining and well-executed that it becomes extremely easy to forgive its few flaws.
Unfortunately, DMC4's phenomenal combat is not able to act as its saving grace, as nearly every other aspect of the game seems like an intentional showcase of poor, unprofessional design. Individual levels are essentially series of hallways that connect in horribly awkward ways, offering countless opportunities to become lost yet offering little in the way of exploration besides which straight lines to follow. Several missions will be set in the same area, further limiting how much exploration is available at any given time, and even within missions the levels tend to be extremely repetitive in terms of both layout and what objectives the protagonist is required to perform. While the game isn't particularly long as it is, much of the game is spent revisiting earlier levels as Dante. The retuning character's retreads offer very little that hasn't already been seen, and even bosses are recycled with only marginal strength increases and minimal alterations, design choices which, when combined with the rest of the game's artificial length, show a complete disregard for entertainment and originality.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that repetition and poor design choices frequently go hand-in-hand. None of the areas that the protagonists visit (such as a dense and confusing forest, icy peaks, or elaborate castles) are even remotely innovative, and the missions set in each area contain countless instances of needless prolonging. The game will frequently punish your failure at a given section with an onslaught of enemies solely to inconvenience you, and generic elements which should be simple (such as hitting a switch to open a door or activate a device) are pathetically lengthened in a way that accomplishes nothing more than creating tedium (such as making said switches activate only upon attacking them more than half a dozen times). The fact that awkward and forced puzzles inevitably reappear in both subsequent missions and the latter half of the game, and the realization that amassing Proud Souls and Demon Blood (items which allow you to purchase new combat techniques and items, respectively) requires monotonously replaying earlier missions, which are already reused in the story itself, make the entire game seem like nothing but an affront to its players.
Within any given mission, the general layout of the path Dante or Nero is to tread seems as though it was designed to be little more than a way to traverse between points A and B, with the myriad of time-wasting obstacles and required backtracking thrown in arbitrarily at the last minute. While the extremely repetitive game structure would have been excusable had the repeating elements been entertaining, any hope of this is even further lost due to, among other things, the designers' penchant for elaborate sequences which ignore the limitations of the game's genre. Aerial combat, for example, is a key aspect of the game's fighting system, but jumping exists solely as a means of propelling a character directly into the air with no directional control or maneuverability to speak of, and while this works perfectly well against enemies it absolutely ruins any hope of enjoying the numerous platforming segments. None of the game's puzzles are even remotely difficult, and many exist simply to impede progress and break up the flow of the game. Devil May Cry's engine is best suited for little more than a series of fights, and when unfitting and frustrating elements are thrown in, such as two extremely tedious board games or an exasperating sequence requiring precise jumps between moving fan blades, the entire game feels poorly-planned and entirely slipshod.
What makes matters even worse is the fact that DMC4 clearly had a significant amount of work put into it, but the final product shows that the development team was working with a set of extremely misplaced priorities. While textures and environments are ornately designed and stunningly rendered, little work was put into making these environments functional or half as varied as they appear. The cutscenes are professionally acted and expertly choreographed, but the story they tell is pitiful. There is a host of interesting new mechanics, such as puzzles based around manipulating the flow of time, but nearly all of these are horrendously overused and poorly thought-out (for example, never displaying how much longer the manipulation will last). Even the combat suffers in this regard, with only a single piece of background music; the song would be passable as part of a more varied whole, but its embarrassingly over-the-top quality wears thin very quickly. In short, nearly every original addition to the series is negated by its own shortcomings, and, while the game looks exceptional in promotional material and demos, the clear lack of effort that was put into touching up the actual gameplay is pathetic. None of these design flaws are inherently crippling; Capcom themselves, for example, used linearity and limited backtracking to great effect in Resident Evil 4, a game which also included awkward storytelling, superfluous puzzles, hit-or-miss area design, and many other problems that plague Devil May Cry 4. While immense effort was spent refining that title, however, it seems as though DMC4's developers simply opted to ignore their game's own shortcomings.
Devil May Cry 4, though blessed with an exceptional combat system, is an absolute debacle. While fighting is simply an evolution of the previous games' mechanics, nearly every new addition to the series causes more problems than it's worth. Ridiculous storytelling, horrendous design flaws, pathetic attempts to pad out a bare minimum of gameplay, and innumerable examples of haphazard planning make the entire game seem unnecessary and thrown together. The only positive aspect of the game is also a key staple in previous titles, and as such there is virtually no reason to recommend Devil May Cry 4. The game serves as nothing more than a glaring reminder of how not to design around a formula, and the end result is nothing more than a disgrace.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 08/08/08
Game Release: Devil May Cry 4 (US, 02/05/08)
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