Devil May Cry 4
System: PS3, Xbox 360 :: Rating: Mature :: Players: 1
Genre: Action :: Released: 05 February 2008
By Aaron Robinson
17 April 2008 — For a series that only began last generation, Devil May Cry has shifted quite a bit in quality. The first game was an absolute joy, putting you in control of a loudmouthed badass named Dante as he slashed his way through a demon-infested castle. The combat was polished, the story was fun and the bosses were brilliant. The sequel, however, was considerably less fun. Taking the gameplay out into open areas, whilst an interesting idea, wasn't anywhere near as fun as navigating through DMC's claustrophobic environments. Boring enemies, easy bosses and bland environments didn't exactly help matters either. After the poor critical reception of DMC2, Capcom decided to have DMC3 follow more closely to the original. The combat system became deeper than ever, and Dante was given a huge number of weapons and fighting styles to play around with. Though, the difficulty was considerably ramped up, it was a nightmare for newcomers, especially since it lacked any real kind of tutorial.
For DMC4, it seems Capcom was determined to atone for past mistakes. After the ball-busting difficulty of DMC3, Capcom seems to have finally tuned the difficulty just right. You have the option to play in either Human (easy) or Devil Hunter (normal) mode from the start, giving a bit of breathing room for new players, and something a bit more challenging for fans. There's even a proper tutorial this time around, explaining the basics of combat and giving you a chance to mess around without consequence before introducing you to the real thing.
This time Dante has been pushed aside as the lead character, replaced with the eerily similar Nero. Dante's still there, but he plays a much smaller role, allowing a more user-friendly character to take his place. Initially there's not a whole lot of difference in personality between the two. But as the game progresses Nero becomes more and more interesting, at least until he becomes unbearably angsty towards the middle. In combat they control in a comparable manner; Nero's sword has about the same reach as Dante's, and the combos aren't all that dissimilar. Unlike Dante though, Nero can rev his sword like an engine; doing it enough times before a strike will cause the sword to go red, making the next attack considerably more powerful. It adds just enough to combat to make things a bit more interesting. Nero's main attraction though, and the one thing that really separates him from Dante, is his most powerful weapon: the Devil Bringer.
The Devil Bringer is Nero's glowing demonic right arm. In combat, it serves as an all-purpose demon-grappling tool. With a bit of work you'll be slamming enemies around like ragdolls, dealing huge amounts of damage while eliminating surrounding foes. Weaker enemies are pretty easy to deal with, but a little more work is involved for stronger enemies. You may have to weaken them or break through their shields before you can use the Devil Bringer's power. Its other major use is as a grappling hook. Lock onto an enemy and you'll either drag them towards you (for smaller enemies) or you towards them (larger enemies). It speeds up combat considerably and makes fast-moving enemies less of a chore to keep track of.
Of course, it wouldn't be Devil May Cry without Dante. He's as boisterous and cocky as ever, constantly shouting one-liners while performing outlandish attacks. He doesn't have Nero's demon-slamming arm of justice, but he does have a small armory under his belt. Over the course of the game, Dante gains three melee weapons, three guns and a variety of fighting styles. His move list is a bit of a step down from DMC3, but the ability to switch between any style and / or weapon on the fly means you have access to every move you've unlocked. Dante requires a little more experimentation to get the hang of, but discovering new ways to kill enemies is rarely a boring venture.
My biggest gripe with Dante isn't the way he's controlled, but rather the way he's introduced as a playable character. You spend the entire first half of the game controlling Nero, then when you get just beyond the midpoint of the game, Nero is temporarily taken out of action. From this point, you gain control of Dante, who has to travel all the way back to the start. And when you do complete Dante's section, you're right back in control of Nero. I'm not sure why they decided to throw Dante into the mix like this. Though the game would have been a few hours shorter, it would have made perfect sense to unlock Dante as a playable character for the next playthrough. Heck, the groundwork is already there since Dante's levels are just modified versions of Nero's. Instead you get the jarring experience of being put in control of a more complicated character mid-game (without a proper tutorial this time), then you're forced to travel through the same areas and fight the same bosses, before regaining control of Nero. It's unnecessary padding, really
Still, at least the game tries to mix things up a bit. A nice variety of enemies are introduced throughout, and you'll have to constantly adapt if you want to remain victorious. The Bianco Angelos, for example, command other Angelos during battle, and will often retreat and regroup so that they can gang up on you. Taking them out is never as simple as slamming into them with your strongest attacks. Bosses are better than ever. Not only do they look impressive, they're a blast to play against. It's just a shame that DMC4 has you fighting several bosses repeatedly. First you fight them as Nero, then as Dante, then all of them again — consecutively — once more as Nero.
As always, there's a bit of basic platforming and puzzle-solving involved. The puzzles are all pretty basic, but the platforming sections require a bit of skill. Nero's platforming sections are the better of the two, since they revolve around abilities that are unique to him. His Devil Bringer's grappling ability is used to travel across platforms and activate spinning blades that break through barriers. Since Dante can't use these abilities, his stages are either mixed up versions of Nero's, or are affected by certain stipulations (like a time limit, or a slowly draining health meter). The problem is that while Dante and Nero are excellent to control during combat, they feel a little stiff when platforming. It doesn't help that the camera issues (which have been apparent since the first game) are still intact. In some areas you're given full camera control, but in others the camera is in a fixed position, and will shift to a different view when you leave the area. Most of the time this is just a mild annoyance, but in the platforming sections it can really hurt. Having the screen shift midway through a jump is never fun. At least boss fights are kept relatively problem-free, as the camera will stick behind you, and follow where the bosses go.
Whilst environments house the same invisible walls that have been in the series since the start, they look better than ever. There's a nice variety this time around, which is something that was lacking in the earlier games. My one complaint is for the forest level, where the lighting effects not only look terrible, but caused problems like screen tearing. There's a great amount of detail put into the characters, too. Both Dante and Nero look great in motion, as do the enemies. The most impressive, however, are the bosses, especially the few who take up a good chunk of the screen. The slow, subdued music that plays through most of the game is quite nice, but the combat-triggered generic metal is grating. And considering how terrible the script is, the voice work is surprisingly good.
Basically, anyone expecting a brilliant story from Devil May Cry 4 will be disappointed. It's really just there as an excuse to showoff flashy attacks and one-liners. The story begins with Dante seemingly assassinating the leader of a religious group. Being a member of said group, Nero dukes it out with Dante, before Dante makes his escape. As Nero hunts Dante down, the more he uncovers about the Order's true intentions. You'll see most of the twists and turns happening a mile away, but if you switch your brain off you'll be able to enjoy the fighting and cutscenes.
Devil May Cry 4 feels like a good game that could have been great. So much has been done to fine-tune the game, yet there are still outdated ideas that drag it down. If you were hoping for the next big advancement in the series, you aren't going to find it here. But as an entry point for new players, DMC4 is excellent. The difficulty is just right, the combat is better than ever, and there's a nice variety of locations to visit and enemies to kill. It's just a shame that the excessive backtracking rears its ugly head in the second half.
Final Grade: 7.5/10