Everyone remembers their first time playing a Devil May Cry game. There’s simply nothing else like it—the insanely awesome moves, the totally over-the-top cut scenes, and of course the hair-yanking difficulty. Over the years the series has had its ups, like the brilliant DMC3 Special Edition, and its downs, like the forgettable DMC2. Finally making its next-gen début, Devil May Cry 4 lands safely in the middle of that pack with its greatly improved graphics, abundance of unique action voodoo, and a few unfortunate disappointments.
As anyone’s who’s actually tired to make sense out of Devil May Cry’s story and chronology knows, it can be a little confusing. The events of this new chapter take place after the first game and the third, which was a prequel to the first, but before the second, which everyone seems to be pretending never happened. The story plays out through a plethora of spectacular movies that are scattered liberally throughout the twenty missions, and in true DMC style they are chock full of jaw-dropping matrix-fu, peculiar tongue-in-cheek humor, and some brain-spraining “WTF?!?” moments. Though DMC vets are sure to get much more out of the plot than series neophytes will, DMC4 is so full of kooky style and great looking movies that it’s hard not to enjoy the presentation regardless.
One major feature of DMC4 that will no doubt leave many people perturbed is the decision to introduce a new character, Nero, as the main protagonist, rather than Dante. Though you do eventually get your hands on everyone’s favorite demon hunter, Nero’s face time upstages Dante’s to the tune of two to one. Our new hero’s claim to fame is a demonic arm which can be used to pull enemies towards him, or in the case of larger foes pull him to them, as well as to perform some really cool looking slams and throws. He can also “rev” his sword to enhance some attacks with fiery flourishes that do more damage while looking extra snazzy. Dante, for the relatively short time that you have access his services, is much the same as he was in DMC3, with several familiar weapons, a couple really odd new ones, and the ability to switch to any of them, as well as any of five styles, on the fly. Can you say uber-combo possibilities?
Gameplay is largely unchanged from previous games, with a heavy emphasis on making your way through missions while dispatching legions of monstrosities as stylishly as possible. There is some minor puzzle solving here and there, but Capcom has made no attempt to reinvent the wheel—this is a straight forward hardcore action title lovingly crafted for action enthusiasts. Though the learning curve has been greatly smoothed out, partially because Nero is a much easier character to learn than Dante and partially because the lower difficulty settings are much more forgiving than in previous iterations, this game is really meant for those who aim to take on the game’s incredibly grueling higher difficulties.
While there’s no doubt that this is an excellent showing for the DMC series, and an absolute must have for action fans, DMC4 is not without its flaws. The first, and most obvious, is Nero. While not as catastrophically stupid as, say, Raiden’s presence in Metal Gear Solid 2, the bottom line is that Nero just isn’t as interesting a character as Dante. He only has one set of weapons, and his unique abilities, while undeniably powerful, are more gimmicky than anything else. Dante’s versatility through his selection of weapons and styles makes Nero seem one dimensional by comparison, and sadly you have no choice in which character you use—Nero missions are for Nero, Dante missions are for Dante, no substitutions allowed. All said it’s kind of a bummer, and the two points in the game where you switch from one to the other are incredibly jarring, since the two heroes play so very differently.
Also disappointing is the sheer amount of recycled content in the game. Perhaps another unfortunate side-effect of spiffy looking next-gen game development, but the time spent in DMC4 backtracking through previously visited areas is staggering. Not only do you run most of the game in reverse with Dante after cruising on through with Nero, but even from one mission to the next you will often go through many of the exact same rooms. The bosses, impressive and imposing as they are, are frequently reused, some as many as three times in twenty missions, and even the final boss is a re-pass of a previous encounter with a few new wrinkles. None of this is show-stopping, but it does take a little of the shine off of the whole experience, particularly since to get the most out of the game you’ll have to play through it repeatedly on higher and higher difficulties.
Devil May Cry has always been something of an acquired taste, and DMC4 is no exception. Though not quite as toxic to casual gamers as the original was, this game is really meant for action aficionados, and more precisely hardcore action nuts who want a game that will push them to the limit. In that respect it is a great success. The controls are tight, the moves are crazy, and the action is fierce. The better you are, the more you can get out of your character, and that’s exactly what this kind of game should be all about. That so much of the game is spent on Nero is irritating, as is the shocking amount of area repetition, but it’s not enough to deny DMC4 a spot on the short list of the best pure action titles for the next-gen. With six difficulties, a return of the Bloody Palace survival mini-game, and an online leaderboard for bragging rights, there is a lot of game here for those with the intestinal fortitude to take it on. Just try to spare enough hair from pulling to manage a decent comb-over.