Devil May Cry 4
Xbox 360, PS3 (2008)
Devil May Cry 4 is a rather old game, I know, but I just recently got around to finishing it after owning it for three years, and I felt it would be good for the next in my "practice review" series.
After the first three games in the series seemed to have a very tight storyline that ties together well, something that I appreciate out of Capcom's games, Devil May Cry 4 made a dramatic shift, one that many fans of the series were rather wary of. Was this shift worth it, and is there anything else in the game we should watch out for? Let's investigate!
As I insinuated above, the most dramatic shift in this story comes in the storyline. Like I said, the first three games clearly had one theme running through all of them: the story of the demon hunter Dante and his adventures to eradicate personal demons as well as the things that go bump in the night. This new story's big departure is that Dante is not the main protagonist. In fact, for half the game, you are led to believe that Dante is a villain.
The main protagonist in this game is Nero, another demon hunter who works for an order that worships the hero Sparda as a god. One day, during a sermon, Dante breaks into the cathedral in dramatic fashion and kills Sanctus, the High Priest of the order. Nero faces off with Dante to try to bring him to justice, but Dante is able to escape. Meanwhile, a large scale demon attack has descended on the city of Fortuna. Credo, the Captain of the Holy Knights and brother of Nero's love interest Kyrie, takes charge and orders Nero to stop the demon epidemic and bring in Dante. Over the course of the game, Nero discovers why Dante assassinated the High Priest and uncovers a sinister plot to do much more than bring about a large demon attack on the city, and Kyrie is captured by the villains. It is up to Nero to get to the bottom of this plot and stop it!
With the introduction of a new protagonist into this comparatively character-driven series, one would hope that Nero would be given a strong characterization, but sadly, we learn only little about him over the course of the game. We never learn exactly why he has the Devil's Arm, what brought him to the order of Sparda, or really anything else about his past. He simply comes across as another snarky badass who, at the time, was probably slated to be the successor to Dante in the series. To give Capcom the benefit of the doubt, I would assume that at the time of the game's release they were planning on making more games featuring Nero in which some of these questions were to be answered, but of course, Capcom opted instead to reboot the entire series and bring Dante back into the spotlight. Frankly, I would say that Capcom made the right decision in the end. Plot-wise, this game is quite a weak installment to attempt such a major change with, and without the characterization Dante was granted in his games, the emptiness of the rest of the plot is made more obvious. But as we'll see, this game wasn't trying to sell itself on its story.
Instead of story, this game is all about style. Really, that's probably been the defining cornerstone of any Devil May Cry games up to this point, but the first three installments were still blessed with a passable story to go with it.
Graphically, the game looks and plays very nice, especially in HD. Everything is smooth yet sharp, and I never experienced any slowdowns or stalls during gameplay, even when the screen was littered with enemies. The one noticeable thing I found, however, was the stark difference in quality between the look of gameplay and the look of cutscenes. Rather than having everything be consistent, cutscenes end up with something of an artificial look to them, while gameplay looks more like a natural world, or to be more accurate, like something of a stage in which the action takes place. It really is something like the difference between live theater and a movie. Thinking about it now, one particular cutscene with Dante interacting with one of the game's bosses would kind of lampshade this!
The art style of the game reflects the attitude of its two main characters well, in that it comes across as cheesy and casual, something that's not really meant to be believed or that doesn't really want to be taken seriously. It's giving off this attitude that it doesn't really care, in stark contrast to the age, majesty and grandeur of many of the game's locations. The look of the main characters themselves also has a very Japanese-punk look, with flashy denim or leather jackets, crazy colored hair in a wavy style, and more big belts than a fetishist on Halloween.
And this is another place where Nero seems to be lacking in his characterization. Obviously, the fact that he looks so much like Dante is supposed to convey that he is to be Dante's successor. However, it's just too much. It's almost like Capcom was afraid that we would notice we're not playing as Dante anymore. The big thing that does differentiate Nero's look is the fact that he can't cover up the Devil Arm that's the source of his demonic powers. But that's not really enough to have him stand out as truly aestetically distinct from Dante. Nero even talks pretty much exactly like a younger Dante would. BTW, Johnny Yong Bosch voices Nero, so if you watch dubbed anime, be ready for a very familiar voice coming your way.
The most striking thing about the gameplay, to me, is the pacing. Combat is a hectic free-for-all as you tear through crowds of demons all trying to attack you at once. None of this "honor code" business of only one enemy attacking you at a time. If there are five enemies in the room that want you dead, all five will be coming at you. You have a sword, a gun, a Devil Trigger, and in Nero's case, his Devil Arm at your disposal. Nero's sword can be literally revved-up to strike enemies harder. The Devil Arm allows you to pull yourself closer to enemies, bring them to you, or toss them around like some kind of gorilla. You'll basically be flailing around like a monkey the whole time, so I guess that's a good analogy.
Out of combat, though, the game is very quiet. I would say, too quiet. There are puzzles to solve and obstacles to get through, but none of them really pose any sort of challenge, and in the end you'll just be frustrated at the waste of time. Even in a game as short as this one, where the campaign can take less than ten hours and probably less than eight if you know where you're going, the game will feel like it's padding for time once you cross the halfway point. The same kinds of puzzles will be overused, and the enemies will start feeling tedious to defeat. After the climactic showdown with Dante, you will switch to controlling Dante, and will have to backtrack through the levels you just finished in reverse order, including most of the bosses.
But I will say this about that part of the game: controlling Dante is a lot more fun. While Dante does not have the Devil Arm, he is given a much greater variety (as in, more than one) of swords and guns to choose from, and has the benefit of different styles with which to fight, including a defensive style that allows blocking, something that you'll be desperately wishing you had while playing as Nero.
As for general gameplay with both characters, the controls feel natural and responsive, something you will be thankful for given the rapid pace of combat required to rack up style points and unlock more abilities. But one annoying thing about general gameplay is the camera. For the life of me, half the time I could not put the camera in a convenient position. There are many points in the game in which it seems to be trying for a "dynamic" angle to show off the pretty graphics in the background when you need the camera to be at another angle to get through a puzzle or see an enemy you're trying to hack to pieces. Honestly, it's probably some of the worst camera controls I have ever seen in a video game, and increases the frustration you'll be feeling from the repeated puzzles to begin with.
However, the game does expect quite a bit of you if you are to earn an S ranking in any mission: I couldn't even earn one on the tutorial mission. With many Dante missions, I came close, but no cigar, and this was even on the easiest difficulty. The levels are easy enough to clear. The challenge comes in trying to clear them as quickly and "stylishly" as possible. Again, this game is all about style.
To be honest, I find this to be a game that focuses on style, graphics and aesthetics to the detriment of the other aspects in the game, and those aesthetics are not enough for me to call this a good title. Looking back, I'm not really surprised that it took me three years to complete it. It tries too hard to get your interest with flashy colors and attitude, but then doesn't follow through with good, varied challenges to hold that interest. As with other Devil May Cry games, it's meant to be replayed on higher difficulty settings to see if you can clear them skillfully, but I have to say I really won't be doing so because I just don't want to go through the frustration. I do like Capcom as a developer and enjoy many of their other games, but this is just not one of them. I hope they don't try the same tactics when they finish the reboot of the series.
In short, if you have not played this game yet, you really don't need to bother. Wait for the reboot.