I remember the enjoyment I had when I first played Devil May Cry on the Playstation. It was a distinct departure from Capcom’s other adventure games at the time (Resident Evil series). Dante, the leading character seemed cool, calm and collected throughout the engaging action adventure and was instantly likable. It was the combination of melee attacks with swords and fists, fused with the attacks from conventional firearms, that made the game a highly enjoyable experience. The Gothic styling also played a distinct part in how the game was perceived as it was something we’d seen before but not on this level.
Since then the series has had two other games, with the second digressing from the first game and introducing a playable female lead alongside Dante. The third in the series, and probably the one that is most highly regarded appeared on the PS2 and showed that Capcom’s series was definitely here to stay.
In a move, that no doubt surprised the Playstation loyal, Capcom announced that the next game in the series, Devil May Cry 4 (DMC 4) was going to be a multi format game, meaning it would appear on both PS3 and Xbox 360. So for Xbox 360 owners who are perhaps new into the fold, is missing out on 3 other games in the series going to pose a problem? What DMC 4 does to somewhat rectify this, is introduce new character Nero, which for over half the game you get to play as. The remaining parts of the game you get to control the familiar Dante.
DMC 4 is an action adventure game, and as Nero you are tasked with taking out demons, who as always are trying to establish themselves and take over. Nefarious plots aside, it’s a great excuse for demon busting characters, like Nero and Dante, to kick some serious ass. Gameplay in DMC games, and 4 is no different, means moving around fairly linear pathways and solving various puzzles to get to the next area (with some boss battles thrown in for good measure). Interspersed with the puzzle element, there’s obviously plenty of fighting to get to grips with. For me at least, this poses the first problem. Whilst I like the inclusion of puzzles in some games, it felt to me that their inclusion in DMC 4 was overstated and to a degree actually hindered the gameplay. I always had the feeling of wanting to kick ass because the fighting mechanic is of such an intuitive nature, but due to the level design meant that after a bout of combat, I’d be faced with either having to navigate the terrain (sometimes getting lost due to how vague objectives are) or having to solve yet another puzzle. When you combine this with the fact that at times it felt like there were an over abundance of cut-scenes and I was left aching to just get stuck into demon busting.
The fighting is actually very good, and allows players to use individual flair to kick demon butt. On one hand you have the sword/gun play which allows you to juggle, shoot, hack and slash enemies; then on the other you have additional powers with Nero’s demon arm which can aid in keeping combos going by grabbing or throwing enemies. What makes each encounter interesting, is a combo meter which builds up as you fight. obviously if you get hit, then it resets. The real meat of the game is getting the combo meter as high as possible until you reach the SSS limit (which basically means you are kicking ass very well). The thing is, there’s no actual set way to do combos, and with various weapons you gain throughout the story, you can really begin to experiment with new styles. It’s actually fairly simple but at first will be quite daunting, especially as it’s pretty easy to just spam the same moves over and over. The real reward is trying new things and generally looking good whilst putting the pesky demons in their place. With all the action available, it’s nice to take a breather once in a while, but the puzzle element really killed the mood for me.
Dante and Nero can both upgrade various moves and abilities which are done via menus where orbs can be spent. The better rank you gain from participating in levels (which you can play again and again if you wish to gain more orbs before moving on) means you’ll get more orbs which you can use for upgrades. It’s a simple system that works well, and with the inclusion of an option to reset the points spent and an auto level up option for those who don’t care, makes for a fairly interactive character system.
The boss battles have always been a big feature of the series and DMC 4 features some rather cool encounters. The Bosses range from freakishly huge manifestations to some more mythical type creatures that are justing asking to get beat up. Dante and Nero’s characters both exhume an air of cockiness, which for the most part is fitting to the game, and so it’s great to get to unleash your skills on these over sized monstrosities who don’t take kindly to the small “human” giving them grief.
The cut-scenes, which I already mentioned are plentiful, are very well done. They are full of action and certainly flesh out the cast of characters much more than previous games in the series. Dante and Nero are portrayed as cool as cucumbers, and you’ll either end up loving them for it or hating them. The other characters are also very cool indeed, especially those fem fatales. There is quite a lot of sexual innuendo which is amusing and should keep teenage players firmly engrossed in the cut-scenes – or make you want to watch them over and over using the cinematic viewer! I enjoyed the inclusion of the cut-scenes, although as I said when coupled with the vague exploration element and the puzzles, meant that the story didn’t flow as well as it could have especially if you are gagging for more action.
There’s some excellent touches in DMC 4 and some very pleasing eye candy on display. The production values are of a very high standard throughout, although if you were to be overly critical then by looking closely you might see a few cracks here and there (especially in some of the texture detail, and some very minor screen tearing). For the most part, the characters look excellent and are designed to look as menacing as they are wonderful. The environments are all pretty varied and take you to old buildings/castles, to snow covered landscapes, and even a sunny forest. You can’t fault the art direction here at all, and of course the Gothic European styling makes a welcome comeback.
My only real complaint here is the inclusion of some forced camera angles at times, which do offer a cinematic flavor, but sometimes made performing jumps and navigation a little flawed. Most of the time the camera can be panned manually using the right thumb-stick, and so when the camera becomes fixed it seems to take away the freedom you come to expect.
The sound is also pretty decent, although there’s a lot of cliche dialog used. One major problem I had (perhaps this is to do with my setup) was the fact that the voices were quite low in the mix, and when music and other sound effects were pumping out, it became hard to actually hear what was being said. There is an option for subtitles but for my tastes this detracts from the movie like presentation. The music seemed to be typical techno/rock type tunes that is staple for the series, and there’s some nice orchestral style pieces thrown in for the more calmer moments. Alongside the visual assault, the aural picture is pretty sweet, especially if you turn up the volume to 11!
DMC 4 is purely a single player experience, although the Xbox 360 version has the inclusion of leader boards for you to show off. At the end of each level you are graded, depending on speed, combos and how many hidden orbs were collected. There are also hidden missions to find within the missions which add an additional layer to proceedings. There’s certainly enough incentive to go back and try levels again and again; when you couple this with several levels of difficulty to unlock and play, then there a lot to do here if you are always looking for a challenge or just want to perfect your fighting skills.
The single player campaign is reasonable length, but made longer by the fact that it’s very easy to get lost or not know what to do next. The game is most certainly more enjoyable on subsequent plays when you know more where you are supposed to go next. Achievement hunters will truly be tested with DMC 4 as they do not come thick and fast, and you’ll need some major gaming skills to get the full 1000 points.
DMC 4 is a great addition to the Xbox 360 library of games, there’s no first person shooter element to be seen, and in this respect makes for a refreshing experience. If you like fast paced intuitive combat, that has enough simplicity for casual gamers, but also plenty of depth for masters; then DMC 4 is well worth a look. With a distinct visual style on display throughout, DMC 4 most certainly looks the part and should peak the interested of the most hardened of eye candy loving gamers. If you’ve never played a DMC game before, then this is probably the best place to start, as the game offers more depth to the characters, and some unlockables that tell the stories of the previous 3 games (knowledge of which is not a pre-requisite for understanding DMC 4). I highly recommend DMC 4 as it’s an enjoyable experience from start to finish despite the vague element and those pesky puzzles.