Review by Sarumusha

"Action gaming at its purest"

Usually, when a game is annoying, it's annoying for an obvious reason. The enemies are overpowered, checkpoints are infrequent, you have to make it through a platform section with pixel-perfect precision - you've no doubt encountered these issues numerous times. When Devil May Cry 4 is annoying, it's annoying for the simple reason that, if you make a mistake, you've nobody to blame but yourself. It's a game where any problem you encounter can be overcome through good old self-improvement.

Like the other Devil May Cry games, this outing follows a confrontation between earthly demon-slayers and the ever-encroaching Stygian hordes, who would like nothing more than to transform Earth into a hybrid of playground and buffet. However, while the other games concentrated on the adventures of smart-mouthed half-demonic warrior Dante, in DMC4 he plays more of a supporting role. Although you are given control of Dante about halfway through, you spend most of your time playing as newcomer Nero.

Nero's presence is linked to the wider story. It takes place when his home city of Fortuna, a weird theocratic regime that fuses modern life with medievalism, extremely advanced technology and occultism. As one of the Templar-like holy knights who defend the city, Nero is stirred into action when Dante suddenly assassinates their leader. Nero's pursuit of Dante coincides with an invasion of gruesome demons and before long the characters are embroiled in a conspiracy that goes – as they so often do – to the highest level. To be honest the story isn't great, with the rules of this bizarre universe apparently being made up on a whim and various monsters, artefacts and new weapons tossed in with little explanation in relation to the wider story, while the cameo appearances by characters from earlier games will probably fly over the heads of new players. Nevertheless, the cutscenes which tell this chaotic story are very well directed and packed with stunts and action.

The graphics are of a very high standard throughout. Character models are beautifully detailed and full of personality and the environments convey exactly the right amount of gloom or grandeur depending on the context. The gargantuan boss enemies are especially impressive, and even when some truly apocalyptic attacks are being unleashed the frame rate doesn't falter. Special credit must be given to the quality of the animation and motion capture on the central characters, whose array of techniques superbly balance grace and brutality. The only real complaint I can find with the graphics is the fact that the detailed environments usually don't play any part in the action – you may as well be fighting against pre-rendered backdrops, except for the few occasions when it's possible to hop on pieces of scenery.

The audio side is more of a mixed bag. The clashes, clangs and grunts of battle sound good, and the voice acting is over the top but certainly suits the mood. The heroes are cocky and prone to wisecracks and the villains sound like they're having great fun. The music is decent enough, mixing dramatic choral arrangements with gritty metal tracks, but it is limited. You'll hear the same battle music starting up again and again.

When you play the game itself, however, is when the real appeal becomes clear. Devil May Cry has always at its heart been about intense, ridiculously over the top combat and this is the most refined incarnation yet. It basically perfects the freeform battle system of its predecessor while leaving out the ludicrous difficulty level, and ensures that even newcomers can swiftly learn to construct impressive chains of attacks. Rather than memorising a few combo sequences, the game leaves it up to you to create your own sequences of attacks, with more “stylish” techniques granting you higher numbers of Red Orbs and Proud Souls, which in turn are used as currency to buy helpful items and new abilities respectively. Exactly how stylish you are is tracked by a series of on-screen gauges, and repeating the same techniques or taking hits will lower your ranking. Most moves can be cancelled at will, meaning that it's possible to keep up an unbroken string of attacks, dodges and taunts and rack up vast bonuses. And you'd better learn to be stylish quickly, because DMC4's enemies are not a stupid bunch. They'll use their most powerful attacks from the outset, charge you, stab you in the back and hit you when you're down. The only thing between you and defeat is pure skill.

In between the fights there are brief platforming and puzzle sections. Generally, these are far less interesting than the combat but they're so uncommon that they don't spoil the game. A welcome feature is the ability to buy items and abilities at “Divinity Statues” (essentially shops) before the boss battles, not to mention the opportunity to continue from checkpoints if you're beaten (invaluable if you're stuck on a higher difficulty).

Having two characters makes things even more interesting. Both are equipped with a melee weapon and gun at all times, but have different special techniques. Nero is able to grab, pull and throw enemies with his powerful “Devil Bringer” arm…sounds fairly straightforward, until you realise that he can even use it to smash 50-foot demon bosses in to the ground. DMC3 veterans may at first find Nero's move set restrictive, but such doubts are rapidly forgotten as you start to incorporate the Devil Bringer into the game to unleash its powerful finishing moves or snatch a hapless foe from the other side of the room.

Dante, on the other hand, is the purist's character. He carries more weaponry, all of which can be swapped instantly, without pausing the game (the shape-shifting gun, in particular, is a riot to use) and is also able to switch at will between several “styles,” each of which comes equipped with a different suite of new moves. Swordmaster and Gunslinger are self-explanatory combative styles. The “Trickster” style grants Dante swift dodge moves that make him practically untouchable, while “Royal Guard,” perhaps the trickiest style, is all about using split-second blocks and parries to absorb enemy attacks and unleash them as devastating blasts of energy. It's also possible to unlock an extra combat style as the story progresses. One complaint is that it would have been even better if the two characters had been equally balance in term sof screen time; you only use Dante for 7 of the 20 missions, so when he's taken out of your hands it's bound to be disappointing.

Devil May Cry 4 is a game that becomes more rewarding the more you persevere with it, and thus replay value is very high. There are six difficulty levels to play through, a pile of unlockable bonus content, and if you tire of the main story there's the “Bloody Palace,” a 101-level survival mode with a nicely judged difficulty curve that allows you to hone your skills to amazing extents. However, you're unlikely to give up on the story missions for a while, because with 20 of them and the aforementioned 6 difficulty levels, there are plenty opportunities to perfect your standing in the online leaderboards.

Overall, this game is thoroughly recommended. The range of difficulty levels ensures that it will entertain players of all skill levels, while the massive scope for experimentation and self-improvement ensures that it will continue to provide a challenge for even the most hardcore of action gamers for many months to come. Granted, there are a few minor flaws, but whenever they arise it's certain that they're about to be swept aside, usually by an epic battle that lets you play around with that finely-tuned fighting sytem. Action games don't come much more refined than this.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/03/08, Updated 07/24/09

Game Release: Devil May Cry 4 (EU, 02/08/08)

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