Thursday, 14 February 2008

Devil May Cry 4 Review

Originally developed as Resident Evil 4, Devil May Cry exploded onto the scene in 2001 brandishing a giant flash filled syringe which it proceeded to jam into the unsuspecting action game genre. Devil May Cry was a hack and slash game overflowing with style and substance; it was a game with so much impact that it resulted in countless pretenders springing up in an attempt to emulate what it had achieved, while some gained just as much notoriety the majority found their way the local video game bargain in no time.

Capcom continued the series by taking ‘style’ too literally in the underwhelming Devil May Cry 2 and followed this up with the stellar but infuriatingly difficult Devil May Cry 3.

Devil May Cry 4 is the first in the series to appear on the current generation of consoles but does it make the leap into the next-generation guns-a-blazing or does it trip on its leather coattails and fall flat on its face?

There has clearly been an effort to make the story interesting in Devil May Cry 4 and it pays off despite the fact that it ultimately takes a back seat to the gameplay. While the story isn’t pushing narrative in games forward it does remain interesting enough to keep your thumb from hammering the skip button every time a cut-scene starts, but then again that may be down to the breathtaking choreography and the occasional appearance of a sexually charged femme fatal.

Devil May Cry 4 takes a risk from the outset by benching the series’ charismatic demon slayer Dante in favor of Nero, now while this may seem like a bad idea it doesn’t have much of an impact on the game since you are given control of Dante for a number of missions towards the end of the game, that and the fact that they are essentially the same person both in terms of their looks and their personality. Nero is blessed with the smart mouth and corny one-liners that Dante incessantly puts to use in the series.

The story is simple; Nero is part of the Order of the Sword, a religious group who worship Sparda, the demonic father of Dante. Halfway through a heartfelt religious sermon Dante crashes through the ceiling and impales ‘his holiness’ on the sharp end of his blade. Nero is sent off to bring down Dante but things start getting complicated when Nero’s girlfriend is kidnapped for the Orders nefarious purposes.

Although DMC4 is far more serious in tone than its predecessors it retains the crazy sense of humor found in all of the previous games. DMC4 is over-flowing with personality, this is usually felt through the eccentric supporting characters, be it the incredibly risqué Gloria and her open policy on clothing, the mad scientist Agnus and his cinderblock of a chin or the lesbian fairies (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up), needless to say that there is never a dull moment.

Devil May Cry 4 is developed by Capcom so it won’t come as a surprise to hear that it’s one of the prettiest next-generation titles on the market. Throughout the course of the game you’ll trek through a variety of different environments ranging from rustic cathedrals and sinister metallic underground labs to beautifully lush forests. The great textures and beautiful lighting help create environments bursting with life and personality. Unfortunately the visuals are let down by the horrible shadows, many of the environments contain moving light sources such as flickering candles or swaying chandeliers, this means that the shadows cast are usually in motion which transforms them into jagged eyesores which are impossible to escape, indoor environments are filled with tables, chairs, lamps and an array of other furnishings, outdoor environments have dynamic architecture and an abundance of trees and other foliage, all of which cast these hideous shadows.

The character models on the other hand bear no such faults, every character and enemy is extremely detailed, some disturbingly so. It’s a joy to see the gothic aesthetic of Devil May Cry in gloriously high-resolution.

Along with the detailed models the bosses in DMC4 are given a huge sense of scale, Nero and Dante are often pit against foes that make them look like very tiny fish in a barrel. The grandeur of these minions of hell is sullied by the repeat performances they are forced to endure, you’ll fight most of the bosses at least twice, they just aren’t as breathtaking after you’ve already handed their asses to them multiple times.

One of the lesser talked about features of the Devil May Cry series is the great sound, sound effects aside the series has some strangely atmospheric music, the gothic rock soundtrack from DMC3 returns alongside some welcome remixes of tracks featured in DMC1. By and large the music is great to listen to, with the exception of the track that plays during Nero’s battles, after a certain point the vocals become mind numbingly annoying so it’s a welcome change when Dante’s DMC1 remixes kick in.

The previous Devil May Cry games suffered from a severe case of ‘more of the same’ and DMC4 is no different, if you’ve ever played any of the previous games you’ll feel right at home, unfortunately even the linearity rears its ugly head once again.

There are two major changes to the gameplay both of which are courtesy of Nero’s Devil arm, this demonic arm has the ability to reach out and grab enemies from afar which provides a simple and approachable way to link combo’s, with a few well timed presses of a button even casual players will be able to chain combo’s together like a pro.

The second gameplay change is Nero’s ability to rev his sword like a motorcycle, while not as significant as the Devil arm it does provide the opportunity for dedicated players to take combat deeper, rev your sword at just the right time and you could change a run-of-the-mill sword swipe in to a devastating fuel-injected slash. Other than this the immensely deep combat gameplay remains fully intact.

About half-way through the game you are given control of Dante, series vets will feel right at home with him, even more so since his different styles are mapped to the D-pad allowing you to switch between them on the fly, although it is possible to pull of crazy combo’s using his various styles it isn’t nearly as easy as with Nero, this is probably something the hardcore DMC players will invest some time in.

Dante packs some serious power, so much so that playing through the same areas and bosses is a breeze, it’s unfortunate that he’s buried so deep in the game, it does however give the game replayability.

Dante has one of the greatest weapons in video game history, a briefcase called ‘Pandora’, this briefcase has the ability to change into a variety of totally over the top weapons, with a few inputs it can be transformed from a mini-gun to a rocket launcher and if you stick with it, eventually an insane flying rocket ship…thing, it has to be seen to be appreciated.

The combat areas are separated by some platforming and the occasional puzzle, the puzzle elements and platforming usually take advantage of Nero’s arm, the grab ability is used to swing from point to point, while this might stir some feelings of Capcom nostalgia it isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds, Nero doesn’t actually swing from one point to another, it’s more a guided leap from point A to point B.

The biggest problem this game faces is the same problem that every other game in the series has faced; the stubborn camera angles.

Capcom seems to be a fan of the fixed camera and while it does create some dramatic angles it usually ends up making platforming frustrating and combat unnecessarily difficult.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself battling enemies behind some protruding architecture with the camera making no effort to give you a better view.

The camera also sucks what little fun the platforming has left in it right out, during Nero’s swinging areas the camera has trouble keeping up with the movement of the character, this means that you can’t target the next grappling point and instead Nero will end up latching back onto a previous grappling point and throwing you right to the bottom again. While the archaic camera does detract from the overall experience it isn’t to a large degree.

Overall Devil May Cry’s transition to the newer generation of console is an undeniable success. The most surprising aspect of Devil May Cry 4 is the fact that Nero is just as much fun to play as Dante, ditching the star of the show in favor of a new character usually goes wrong but In this case Capcom have pulled it off. The high production values, great storyline and an array of eccentric characters make for the best action game experience yet.
While it does have some minor flaws these are more than made up for by the stylish and extremely deep combat.

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