You always know where you are with a franchise like Devil May Cry. The formula has remained unchanged since the original PlayStation 2 title, and the game has stubbornly refused to change. Even in this age of forced "innovation," main hero Dante religiously sticks to his guns (and swords), offering the same brand of hardcore action and cheesey quips.
Devil May Cry is a simple game, but one that provides extraordinary challenge and a sense of character that drips in self-aware stupidity. With Devil May Cry 4, Capcom has decided to break no walls down in its typical serving of devil-killing gameplay. Outside of minor tweaks and a few fresh ideas, this is DMC through-and-through, and makes no apologies for it.
But is that a good thing? A bad thing? A thing that is not either of those things but a thing that is another thing? Did that sentence make sense? Hit the jump to find out (except for that last bit).
Devil May Cry 4 (PS3, Xbox 360 [Reviewed])
Devil May Cry 4 has decided to go to the Zelda school of timelines, as the fourth chapter chronologically takes place after the third and first games, but before the second game. Not that it matters, because DMC is not a series that requires you to keep score at home. The basic premise revolves around new character Nero, knight of a holy order that has taken to worshipping Sparda (Dante's demonic father) as a messiah. However, things take a turn for the violent when Dante shows up and executes the cult's leader in front of everybdy, Nero included.
You are then thrust into the role of Nero, as he tracks down the Son of Sparda to bring him to justice. Cue the usual slew of vocal effect-laden demons, nonsensical cutscenes and deliciously bad dialog. As with previous titles, DMC4 plants its tongue in its cheek, and provides nothing but silliness from beginning to end. Nero and Dante taunt their foes with graceless one-liners and try so hard be cool that they look anything but. Taken as a parody of action games, DMC4 wins. Some might take issue with how badly written it is, but I'll say that if you go into a Devil May Cry game for top-notch storytelling, you may as well eat cakes and expect the rich taste of beef.
Devil May Cry 4 is all about the gameplay, and this is where it shines. In essence, the game remains unchanged since the original, as Nero moves, fights, and even looks like Dante. Armed with a sword called The Red Queen, and his trusty revolver, The Blue Rose, Nero is the spitting image of his would-be enemy, and you essentially do what he does -- perform simple combos that are amazingly intuitive but look fantastic, rack up stylish points by using a varied moveset, and trade in souls for powerups and items.
Where Nero does differ from Dante, however, is with The Devil Bringer. With a simple button press, Nero is able to perform brutally effective grabs on foes, and slam them into the ground, spin them around his head, or toss them into the distance. Furthermore, there is a very effective new trick, in which Nero locks onto a foe and throws out an extension of power to ensnare an enemy and draw them in close. The move is crucial for keeping one's combo count going, and is as simple to use as it is delightfully addictive.
The Devil Bringer feels like a huge change to combat, and it is, but under the surface this is indeed the same Devil May Cry, and some fans may be turned off by just how little it tries to break the mold. Everything you love or hate about previous games is to be found here and with the good invariably comes the bad. The camera lacks any elegance and remains mostly fixed, leading to confusion with every change of perspective. Those moments where the camera is free-moving are infrequent and often restricted. Sometimes there are precise jumps needed, and the bad camera (mixed with Nero's over-exuberant jumping) make these moments incredibly frustrating. It's a survival horror viewpoint in a pure action game, and it should have been phased out in the original title, let alone the fourth one.
Also making an unwelcome return are pointless non-quests and "puzzles," that amount to little more than annoying time wasting. An early mission where you have to move heavy rotating statues around a castle by punching them gets very old very fast, and it's the first of several moments that bore more than exhilarate. On the subject of time wasting, there is also ceaseless backtracking. Many missions require you to go back and forth in the same old areas, and when you get to play as Dante, you'll be playing through most of the levels you'd just played as Nero. It smacks of laziness and for a game that has been in the works since before the current generation even got off the ground, I expect better. One can't help but feel that Capcom did what it could to pad the title out, stuffing it with very little substance just to meet a length quota. This game has had years of development -- it deserves more.
Since we mentioned Dante, it is true that at the halfway point of the game, you will get to play as the legendary Son of Sparda himself and to be honest, I wish you didn't. You spend the entire first half thinking about how awesome it'll be to finally get your hands on Dante again, only to find out that without the Devil Bringer, he is nowhere near as effective or fun as the character you just lost. He does have his four fighting styles from Dante's Awakening, but they don't do enough to make up for Nero's awesomeness. Make no mistake, this is no Raiden/Snake situation -- in DMC4, the new character really is superior. That said, Dante eventually gets his hands on all sorts of exclusive weaponry to make up for it. While he has no Devil Bringer, one can't fault the Gilgamesh, a set of gauntlets and boots that are devastatingly powerful, or the Lucifer, which suspends exploding spikes in mid-air and just looks amazing.
There are a few letdowns in DMC4, and the game doesn't live up to its potential. Reviewing a game based upon what it isn't as opposed to what it is, however, is unfair, and even with the negatives, Devil May Cry 4 is a solid, addictive, hardcore action game that should satisfy all but the most demanding of hardcore combat fans. It looks sexy as hell, has great music, and packs in some truly laugh-out-loud funny moments -- provided you actually get with the dumb humor of the cutscenes. It's a good game -- not a great one, but very, very good all the same. It'll put up stiff resistance in portions, but the challenge is more forgiving than prior titles, and if you want to ramp things up a notch, you can unlock further difficulty settings. Despite the padding, there's plenty to do, and it should ultimately send the fans home happy. You can't ask much more than that.