Review by Evil Dave
"DMC4 has everything you could want from a Devil May Cry game - if you don't mind playing it twice."
Though many new game franchises were born during the previous generation of consoles, the Devil May Cry series possesses perhaps the most unique legacy amongst its peers of the era. Originally an extension of the monolithic Resident Evil property, Capcom executives determined that the fast-paced game that would eventually become the original Devil May Cry was so vastly divergent from plodding survival horror norms as to merit release as an entirely new intellectual property. This new game resonated with gamers and critics alike, earning nearly universal praise for the crazy stylish action' that it brought to the table for combat-hungry players.
What happened next is well-documented: Capcom, perhaps not realizing the depth of fan sentiment for the first game, commissioned an entirely different development studio to craft the sequel. Though this second title sold fairly well, a significant backlash developed amongst the series' core followers, thanks to the myriad changes in gameplay, style, and tone introduced by the new team. Likely sensing the frustration that resulted from their modifications, those same developers seemed to issue what amounted to a mea culpa' two years later, when during the process of creating Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening virtually all of the design alterations found in the much-reviled sequel were reverted to their initial state. While its sales numbers were roughly equal to those of the maligned second title, DMC3 brought the series back into the good graces of the gaming public, thanks to its frenetic pacing and brash attitude.
With a history like that, then, it's no surprise that, even before its release, Devil May Cry 4 managed to stir up controversy amongst the gaming community. When Capcom announced that the formerly PlayStation 2-exclusive franchise would see its newest edition launched simultaneously on both the PlayStation 3 and the XBox 360, a segment of the PS3-owning population threw an e-fit. Whether due to sycophantic jealousy or genuine concern for the IP, a petition to boycott the title surfaced on the web, receiving a curious amount of coverage from the gaming media. Now that the game has actually been released to the public, though, any qualms these nit-pickers may have had with Capcom's decision should finally fade away to the annals of internet criticism, thanks to the stellar performance (and adherence to Devil May Cry tradition) of this latest effort. Sporting a new main character and a handful of innovative new game mechanics, Devil May Cry 4 successfully drags the franchise into the current generation although a few of its quirks exact a noticeable toll from its overall enjoyability.
One of the strongest selling points of both Devil May Cry and DMC3 was those games' highly detailed, stylishly executed visuals. With the series now on next-gen hardware, the developers have taken Devil May Cry 4's graphical panache to an entirely new level, rendering the game's aesthetics in a gorgeous and highly technically sound manner that befits the franchise's tradition.
Possibly the most impressive facet of the visual package are the game's breathtaking environments. There are a good dozen or so unique locales that Dante/Nero will be tearing their way through, and each manages to carve out a uniquely memorable look and appeal for itself. Your journey will oscillate back and forth between the tried-and-true gothic castles and abandoned cities of DMCs past, with some really vividly created, stunningly vast forests and snow-covered mountains in between that will have you wishing you could explore beyond the boundaries of the game's design. It's a shame that the gameplay puts so much emphasis on speed, as every once in a while you might find yourself pausing to take in the sights as you play through a few of the more beautiful arenas.
Of course, level design is nice, but without stellar characters and actions populating them, what good are they? Fortunately, DMC4 is no slouch in the action department, either, and it can honestly be said that the game looks as good in motion as any franchise fanatic could hope for. Nero and Dante's character models retain all of the defiant charm Dante has always been known for, and as you direct them around the game world, each and every action feels and looks as effortless as one would imagine it would be for such powerful demon-hunters. Enemies are sufficiently detailed as well, with their animation consistent enough that observant players will be able to note their behavioral idiosyncrasies as transparently as those of the main heroes. Frame rate stuttering is virtually nonexistent, so you'll truly be able to enjoy the action at the breakneck speed it was meant to be enjoyed at.
The only real villain here, however, is that infernal camera. (Again.) Sure enough, even though players are occasionally given the ability to circumnavigate the action on-screen with the right analog stick, the camera can and will impede your view of the combat occurring on-screen at inopportune moments. Any DMC fan has likely come to terms with this irritation, and it's not so prevalent as to cause any major disruptions to the gameplay, but it will likely cause you to take extra damage unnecessarily in at least one instance.
Acoustics in the DMC series have always been kind of hit-or-miss, with the metal-inspired tunes and goofy, over-the-top voice acting not really being everyone's metaphorical cup of tea. If you hated those contrivances in either of the previous games, you're not going to hear anything in this iteration that changes your mind the ridiculous lyrics to the in-game score still growl in the background, and all of the voiceover actors still overplay their roles to at least some extent. One could make the argument that the silliness of the audio is a piece of the game's undeniable charm, though, and so anyone approaching the title from that perspective will likely find that it still fits like a glove.
The main goal of the audiovisual components in the DMC games has always been to add depth and ambiance to the electric atmosphere that pervades the gameplay. DMC4's look and sound once again accomplishes both of those objectives, without really altering the handful of problems that have persistently popped up in the previous titles. None of these hitches register as more than an infrequent blip on the face of an otherwise superb-looking and sounding game.
For the first time in the still-young franchise's history, Dante is no longer the sole leading man in Devil May Cry 4. This title introduces Nero, a fellow demon-hunter with a nasty-looking blue arm that marks him as being of a similar breed as the man himself. You'll play as Nero for roughly two-thirds of the game, and his story serves as the focus of the game's action.
Most of the main plot revolves around a group called the Order of the Sword, a religious organization which supposedly worships Dante's father, the demonic hero Sparda, and pursues the eradication of all demons on the earth. Your introduction to these zealots is cut short, however, when Dante himself crashes a ceremony and very nonchalantly pops a few caps into the Order's leader's face. From here, Nero and Dante are dragged through the internal machinations of the Order, and the two face a highly foreshadowed series of confrontations and betrayals that set the stage for some demonic butt-kicking.
It's difficult to judge the merits of the storyline content in the DMC series, as it's clearly meant as little more than a diversion from (and justification for) the gameplay that so defines the franchise. While DMC4's script is as cliched as those of any of its predecessors, it still manages to hit the spot, spotlighting the awesome exploits of Dante or Nero before getting out of the way so the player can get down to the business of murdering demons. There's a fair amount of fan service along the way for anyone who enjoyed the previous titles (with Trish, Lady, and Vergil all appearing in one way or another), so veterans are sure to appreciate how it ties in to the events of the other releases.
Taken on its own, it's painfully obvious that not a whole lot of effort went into crafting the storyline in DMC4. As a part of the greater whole of the game, though, it does an admirable job of accentuating the strengths of its protagonists, without pushing itself into their spotlight.
Gameplay in the Devil May Cry series can be characterized in two ways: fast-paced and stylish. These are the traits that set the original game apart from its action-oriented brethren at the beginning of the PlayStation 2's lifespan, and they're what fans crave powerfully enough to merit this latest effort. Despite the changeover to a new demon-slayer, Devil May Cry 4 still packs a ton of the crazy stylish action' that so perfectly characterizes the franchise into its roughly ten-hour adventure although not without a few strange design decisions that deflate some of the fun along the way.
Veterans of DMC3 will have no problem picking up on the controls for new kid on the block Nero. Despite owning a different repertoire of moves, the youngster plays a good deal like Dante he's got similar basic melee and firearm attacks, and he eventually unlocks his own version of the Devil Trigger. Despite their parallels, though, there is one key difference between Nero and Dante: Nero's right arm, the Devil Bringer. As its extremely suggestive name implies, the Devil Bringer serves as a sort of grappling hook for Nero. By making use of his blue extendo-limb, Nero can perform a number of unique actions, such as grabbing and pulling enemies towards himself from long distances, or pulling himself towards grips to traverse steep heights. He can also execute an enemy-specific special attack with it that both looks cool and does a great deal of damage.
Nero's arm forces you to alter your combat tactics fairly drastically from what players might have grown comfortable with when using Dante. Enemies at range are not nearly as threatening when you can simply grasp and pull them towards you (or yourself towards them), so your projectile attacks are almost unnecessary when you're controlling Nero. In lieu of the traditional mashing on the gun attack, you'll constantly find yourself trying to close the distance between yourself and your foes, so that you can wail away on them with your sword. Fortunately, such a direct approach which no doubt would have gotten players killed in DMC3 is possible this time around, as the game's overall difficulty level feels much more forgiving, opting for a gradual build up instead of a nudge off a cliff at the outset.
While the difficulty may have been tweaked, not a whole lot else has changed between DMC4 and DMC3. The combo system is still in place, providing players with ample incentive to dispatch the hordes of demonic enemies with a level of flair suiting the flamboyant heroes. Higher-rated combos will once again reward you with demonic orbs, which can be spent on goodies like healing items. A new type of soul, the proud soul, is awarded in the place of extra orbs at the end of each mission; these purple-looking things are used for purchasing new or improved skills. Unlike red souls, you can exchange proud soul-funded skills you've already bought for new ones, with no loss of your proud souls in the process. This makes changing your arsenal up mid-level a possibility a helpful concept in the early stages.
Those fan favorite epically-proportioned boss fights have also returned, and they're as spectacular as ever. Most of these battles pit Nero against a foe many times his size, and these showdowns do a stupendous job of subtly emphasizing the use of Nero's Devil Bringer to get near enough to the boss to deal meaningful damage. The most thrilling moments in the game come when you're one-on-one with one of these beasts, deftly ducking in and out of their line of attack to get your blows in on them without getting yourself hit. Most of the campaign is fairly well paced, and whenever you're in combat, time will feel as though it's flying by a concession that can, at times, result in the puzzle or platforming sequences feeling as though they're dragging on a bit too long.
Unfortunately, once you reach mission twelve, things start to turn for the worse, as you abruptly take control of Dante for the next handful of missions. Now, playing as Dante in and of itself isn't the problem; after all, he definitely controls as smoothly as Nero did, thanks in large part to the button layout borrowed from DMC3. He's even got a new trick up his sleeve, in that he can now swap through his four play styles (Trickster, Gunslinger, Swordmaster, and Royal Guard) on the fly, making for some even more insane combos and slick escapes. The issue here is that the sudden swap feels terribly abrupt, since you're already halfway into the game when it occurs, and you'll have probably spent a good deal of time powering up and growing comfortable with Nero to that point. Swinging from Nero's play style to Dante's requires a significant adjustment in mindset, and the manner in which the game pushes it on you feels like it could have been smoother.
Actually, Dante's very presence itself is at the core of the issue, as it almost feels shoehorned into the middle of Nero's adventure. Once you gain control of the son of Sparda,' you'll be stuck replaying a good portion of the levels you'll have already completed as Nero, replete with the same asinine puzzles and platforming. Even worse, you'll also need to encounter several of the same bosses, without the benefit of Nero's Devil Bringer. Needless to say, although it can be just as exhilarating to square off against those enormous demons with the man himself, it's very disappointing that the developers couldn't come up with any original situations to put him in, since his play style has such stridently different strengths. Adding insult to injury, once you re-gain control of Nero, you'll fight those bosses yet again - and consecutively, no less.
By the end of the game, you'll be left with a distinct impression that the folks at Capcom simply ran out of either time or ideas. It's really a shame that the folks at Capcom couldn't do either of its main characters justice here, because at its best, DMC4 is as freewheeling and fun as either of the well-regarded earlier titles in the series. The Devil Bringer adds a genuinely cool new dimension to the already deep, flexible combat system, and the option to switch between play styles on the go as Dante is an idea that was beginning to be implemented in DMC3. Playing the campaign, you just get the feeling that, had the project been designed with either Nero or Dante as the sole playable character, perhaps the developers wouldn't have felt pigeonholed into stretching the campaign out artificially, and instead could have concentrated on adding more depth to the existing experience.
In the end, what you get in DMC4 is a very slick, high-energy action game that just can't sustain its own momentum through the full course of its twenty levels. By the time you've made it through the credit roll, you'll be left wishing that the game had ended a few hours ago.
While Devil May Cry 4 is fairly lengthy for an action game, clocking in a ten to fifteen hours for one playthrough, it offers a good deal of replayability as well. Most of this stems from the multiple difficulty modes that unlock as you complete the game successive times. Everything from an easy' to the legendary Dante Must Die rears its face in DMC4, and every setting supplies a different challenge from the rest. Anyone with even a passing interest in the Devil May Cry series is likely to get a good deal of value out of these options alone, thanks to the variety to be found in every battle against those pesky demons.
Bloody Palace mode a 100 level, combat-only onslaught of enemies makes its reappearance known as well. Fans of the crazy stylish action' who grow disenfranchised with the messy platforming and puzzles of the storyline mode will easily find a lot to love in the no-frills battles of this bonus attraction; on the other hand, players who aren't as interested in the game's action elements will likely wonder what all the fuss is about. Both versions of the game also offer both online leaderboards and a good number of fairly taxing achievements to be earned. Neither of these features is implemented in a very memorable manner, but completionists should be glad to have them available.
Most of the value players are likely to find in DMC4 will be derived from the sheer thrill of the game's highly entertaining battles; for good measure, though, there are a decent number of other options available that should satisfy more diversity-minded folks.
By and large, Devil May Cry 4 is certainly not the most disappointing game to be released in the current generation of consoles. It captures the essence of everything good and fun about the Devil May Cry series, while updating every facet of the experience to conform to the expectations of the gaming world today. Unfortunately, though, in the process of bringing the franchise up to speed, the developers at Capcom seem to have run into a brick wall when it came time to infuse the tried-and-true gameplay formula they labored over reproducing into creative, memorable new scenarios. The result is a mixed bag of exhilaration and irritation that could very well leave a sour taste in the mouths of some players, despite its many positive merits.
Any fan of the Devil May Cry series, or of tightly paced action games in general, should strongly consider purchasing DMC4, in spite of its warts. On the other hand, players who haven't enjoyed the formula in the past, or who are new to Capcom's crazy stylish' party, should give the game a rental before they drop their money on it.
Score: 7/10 (not an average)
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 03/03/08
Game Release: Devil May Cry 4 (US, 02/05/08)
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