Devil May Cry 4
A Review - By Gaetano Prestia
NOTE: This review is for both the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 versions of Devil May Cry 4
Bullies infest every school. They have an undeniable hatred for some of their school mates and you could notice this when you walked past them because you got a strange feeling they were thinking, "I'm so much better than you". Capcom have managed to grasp that feeling of hate, confidence and challenge from those bullies, and bundle it into a game called Devil May Cry 4. Because Devil May Cry 4 doesn't want you to succeed. Never have I felt so small and insignificant in my life than when I was playing this game. That's because it is so hard and stylish that it makes most of us realise that we'll never be cool enough, or tough enough, to be a demon slayer.
DMC 4 does to the franchise what the original DMC did to the entire hack-and-slash genre, and that's redefine it. With DMC 2 you had a lacklustre sequel that was a major step down from the masterpiece that was its predecessor. With DMC 3, you had a game that was so damn hard you wanted to smash your Playstation 2 into the wall. It's no question that the fourth addition to this over-the-top, stylish and Japanese cut-scene-filled series is a mixture of the two better games in 1 and 3. It grasps the great gameplay and trailblazing graphical direction of the first and mixes it together with the so-hard-it's-fun difficulty from the third.
In regards to the difficulty of this game, it's not quite "kick in the balls" tough where you're going to be dying every 5 minutes. Instead, you're going to have to use your smarts and common sense in order to raise the probability of success in the more challenging areas. For example, you're going to at one point or another be confronted with a hoard of 10 or so demons. Now, they are relatively easy to defeat...individually. That's where some of the challenge comes from. The game doesn't rank you on the use of combos and "style" for the fun of it. It does it because you're going to have to be super-aggressive and combo-hungry to succeed in this game. Passing a mission means nothing if you get a D at the end of the stage. A low ranking doesn't justify the creative purity and stylistic direction that has been put into it.
If you're used to playing a game with obvious checkpoints, easy boss fights and simple gameplay, you're not going to get that with DMC 4. It doesn't have these aspects because it doesn't want to have them and the entire way through, you'll get the impression the game's laughing at you because you're running in circles trying to figure out what the hell you have to do next. Oh, and by the way, there is a fair bit of backtracking and that's where the "Japanese" development shines through. There's nothing wrong with it in this case. At least I didn't think so. But if you're not the type to fight through an area, enter a room, unlock a door and then travel back through the same room you entered from, only to be met with more demons, than you might meet this game with a bit of angst because that’s what it does, and that's where its difficulty is most obvious.
However, it's not quite as hard as DMC 3. That's good because it should be a lot more open to those who have never played a game in the series before. The difficulty curve is pretty good too, so once you pop the game in you're not going to be thrown straight into the deep end. It takes a little longer to get going (difficulty wise) than in previous instalments. It's still insanely tough though and it's not a step back, it's more like piggy backing on DMC 3's back; they're on the same level, but 3 is just slightly in front.
There are some changes in this latest installment from DMC 3, and the most obvious is the introduction of Nero, a character that at first glance looks identical to Dante. Anyway, Nero has taken the role as the games leading man, or for half of the game at least, and he has a whole bunch of aerial combat moves and powerful strikes that can send an enemy demon flying into the air and onto their feet. Dante's combat abilities in the first three titles were generally highly praised and Capcom have done a fantastic job of incorporating a new character that has upgraded moves and all new abilities. Oh, and he has an awesome demon arm that can reach out over long distances and pull enemies close. With some enemies the arm also has the power to swing them around or propel Nero over the top of them, momentarily blinding them to Nero's whereabouts. This is particularly useful when you're greatly outnumbered and want to quickly fend of enemies. This is also the first time where your controlling character can throw enemies, and I have to say that it's a hell of a lot of fun to pitch a demon to another one that's standing at the other end of the hall. Demon bowling, yeah!
Nero also has his trusty side-kick sword to help him out and once again he has a special skill that was otherwise lacking in Dante's previous adventures. Nero can rev-up his sword and use it in a much more powerful fashion. However, this is another example of how DMC 4's difficulty shines through in other aspects, rather than just combat and how many times you die. You see, you can rev up the sword (which takes a couple of seconds) and strike an enemy, but it's rather pointless because it does the same amount of damage that a four hit combo could in the same about of time. With DMC 4, not everything is as it seems, you see. If something doesn't quite work as you think it should, you're probably not doing it right, so it would be worth experimenting with the gameplay more so than what's explained in the game tutorials. There is so much to cover and learn in regards to the gameplay. Furthermore, you have to rev up your sword mid-combo, because then it revs instantly and you suddenly have a very powerful swinging motion. But you have to continue doing it in order to keep the combo and revs up. It really is as difficult as it sounds. And chances are, even if you do pull it off a couple of times during a mission, you'll still only get a B or C ranking at the end. It's not because you're no good, but rather because the game just have very high standards.
You can finish DMC 4 without pulling off combos like this though, but you're going to regret it when you finish the game and you're made to feel like you've just eaten the piece of cake that your mum was planning to give to the homeless kids down the street. In saying that, finishing the story isn't all of what DMC 4 is about. It's about being "stylish", obsessive and creative with your combat and skills. And I don't mean computer hacking skills. The pacing of DMC 4 seems a little out of whack though and this is a little disappointing. You'll often be succumbed to 2 or 3 challenging areas or even a boss fight, but then you'll go a good 30 minutes without all that much happening. Perhaps its the games way of saying, "Here...have a break. You need it."
DMC 4 is very linear. There is some exploration to be had, but all within the linear boundaries. It's not often that a game of this type can be so straight forward in direction in reference to where your character is meant to go, but the enemies you meet and the puzzles you encounter more than make up for it. Yeah, you're not going to be able to explore a castle or walk around a forest, but the areas that you can interact with are generally very large and action-filled. It's also not like you're being pushed into the right direction. You're limited to where you can go, but in which manner you do it is what matters in this game. You're going to unlock something and then have to go through one room to get there, but which room is it? It's a linear title, but it's not overly restrictive. There's also a tone of hidden environments to be found.
Remember when you would win something, like a chocolate bar or lollipop, and either your sibling or friend would cry and complain for one themselves? Then your mum would go and buy the same thing you're having, kind of like sympathy buy? Well, DMC 4 pretty much does the same thing. During the gameplay, it laughs at you and throws 5 different kinds of enemies your way in the same small area, peer pressuring you into pulling off insane combos. But then when you die, it realises that it's gone too far and it actually rewards you with currency-like things called Proud Souls. That's right. DMC 4 wants you to be "proud" in yourself and never give up! Seriously though, these Proud Souls can be used to upgrade your skills and, unlike in the first three DMC's, there are two different items you have to use to purchase things. One is the Proud Souls and the other is Red Orbs, which, like previously, are used to buy health-upgrades and Holy Water (a liquid that severely damages nearby enemies). This was always a great aspect of the original games and it's no different this time round. It's really important that you keep note of what skills you have and how much damage they do also, because you can sell them and buy other ones as you see fit. You're also going to have to keep filled up with Vital green stars which rejuvenate health ingame, especially for boss battles, because once you die, you're thrown back to the next checkpoint. Yellow Orbs are also very important, as they resurrect you if you die and, especially during a boss fight, they can stop you from having to restart the whole area again. Also, be sure to use your power-ups wisely, because if you use all of your stars during a boss fight and lose, you don't get them back.
There are a few instances in DMC 4 though that are just a little...well...unfair. There is one area in particular that will probably have you pulling our your hair. There are disappearing platforms over a large canyon and while you wait for the next lot to light up, some cloud-like monsters accompany you. When you do fall, you'll be in an underground cave where you must fend off about 15 demons before you're granted permission back to the top to try it again. Fall again, and it's the same process over and over. We can understand that they'd be demonic guards in a castle that block off doorways, but this is just ridiculous. These things are trying to stop you from crossing a pathway that isn't really there. Maybe I'm just complaining because I had to do it five times before I crossed, but it was just a little too frustrating for its own good. There are a few other instances like this that hamper the gameplay and they're really not at all that fun. They feel like humours attempts by the development team to mock the patience and skills of gamers around the world.
There is one other problem with DMC 4 and that's the seemingly obvious laziness by the development team to make you practically repeat the first half all over again when you take control of Dante in the second half of the game. Instead of all new levels and new bosses, it just seems like a copy and paste job on behalf of Capcom and it wasn't overly impressive. Up until mid-way through, the game really pushes you to want to success and complete it, but then you're objected to the same thing again. However, the gameplay is almost completely different because of Dante. It's also a lot harder. Dante feels slower and more restrictive than the younger Nero, and the lack of a demonic arm also lifts up the difficulty rating. This is good though as the game becomes just as tough as DMC 3 at this stage, but the repeated levels are disappointing. Of course, the story is different and it's not 100% identical, but the environments, enemies and bosses seemingly are.
It's not all bad though from that point. The story starts to get very interesting from mission 10 onwards and the cut-scenes ooze class and style. As mentioned above, the difficulty in controlling Dante also adds something different to the feel of the game and it might be Capcom's way of saying, "Here's your reward for getting up to here...ten harder missions!"
From a graphical standpoint, DMC 4 looks gorgeous. From the start of the game right through until the end, the environments are amazing, the enemies are chilling and scary and the cut-scenes are very cinematic and fun to watch, albeit sometimes a little cheesy. There is some very noticeable tearing in the 360 version that looks ugly but it doesn't affect the gameplay. The lighting and shadow effects on both the PS3 and 360 versions are also a little discouraging and pixalated, especially in the forest when the sun is very bright. The camera isn't as bad as some have made it out to be, and it's just a matter of getting used to this style of game development and genre. The camera style's aim is to be overly cinematic and it does that. It works well in the combat and sometimes blinds you from enemies, but it doesn't do it often enough to cause concern.
The soundtrack is what you should expect from a DMC game; cinematic and calm orchestral sounds during non-combat areas, hard-rock metal during combat and boss fights. While the metal music isn't something I approve of, it fits in well with the feel of the title. The voice-overs are good, but the dialogue itself is very cheesy. Think Ace Combat 6 meets Resident Evil 4. It's very cringe worthy, but it gets the story across.
Devil May Cry 4 is a game that's going to own you in more ways than one. It's going to own you through puzzles, backtracking, combat and boss fights. It's the game that feels as though it has a secret hate for you, but deep down it just wants you to experience what it has to offer, and that's a long, difficult, action-packed adventure that's filled with twists and turns in its plot. The introduction of Nero as a character adds something different to the franchise and his demonic arm is very cool to fight with.