Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review - Devil May Cry 4 (2008, PS3)


Devil May Cry 4 is at the same time the best of the original DMC series and among the most frustrating. Combat, graphics, and stage design are at their peak here, yet for everything the game does right, it does something else wrong. DMC4 is my favorite of the series, but I still have a very hard time finishing a playthrough after the halfway point.



This time, the game's narrative shifts from veteran demon hunter Dante to a newer, angstier white-haired warrior named Nero (Not to be confused with the first game's "Nelo.") Nero has three forms of attack: A pistol, a sword, and a demonic arm that can extend to pull enemies in, bodyslam them, or move propel him through the air. In spite of having the most limited weapon and move set of the series, Nero is my absolute favorite to play. The game's grappling system makes combat far more fast and fluid, and even though enemies are still way, way too repetitive, I don't get tired of swinging around and throwing down fools.


For the first time in the series, there's actually a great deal of environmental variety; you've got your regular decrepit buildings, but you also spend time in a snowy mountain and in a lush, green jungle. The geography makes no sense, but the game just shrugs at it and keeps rolling. I'm completely fine with this, as the story in the game is uninteresting enough that I'd rather see a variety of areas than one singular one that conforms to the story's rules. The real problem arises when you hit a point slightly after the game's midpoint and have to repeat almost every zone and every boss fight, this time playing as Dante.

Nero and Dante play very differently from one another, but I'd rather just have the option to select who I play as than have to slog through the same game twice before I can see the ending. It's the same problem Devil May Cry 2 had, only there playing through the secondary character's story felt less important. Dante gets a good variety of weapons and his four basic classes from Devil May Cry 3 back and players can switch between them mid-combat with the touch of a button. This feels great and allows for much deeper possibilities than DMC3 did, but I just massively prefer how Nero handles, and having to give up his mobility and grappling skills doesn't feel like a worthwhile tradeoff for Dante's expanded variety.


Devil May Cry 4 offers a nice handful of technical improvements in addition to being able to quickly swap weapons. Abilities and items now use separate currencies, which means you no longer have to worry about skipping fun new abilities in combat because you need to spend your money on health. Graphics are much improved and the framerate is remarkably stable. There's finally almost full player control of the camera, and it works very well. Devil Trigger mode is still powerful but no longer feels brokenly powerful. Secret missions are much, much easier to find, but still just as challenging to complete, as it should be. The difficulty should come from learning how to solve the puzzle/survive combat, not from backtracking to arbitrary areas you have no reason to revisit.


Not everything in the fourth game is an improvement. Cutscenes look great and are often pretty funny; in spite of being mopey, Nero gets some good jokes in, and Dante is a fantastic ham. The cast of villains is mostly pretty fun, though the evil Space Pope doesn't bring a whole lot to the table. The story is, for the fourth time, about a villain raising an evil power to take over the world. I expected some kind of explanation for Nero's physical resemblance to Dante and his brother Vergil, but nothing ever comes of it. The worst part of all is that the cutscenes are simply too long and too numerous, and even the good ones sometimes feel like a distraction from the nonstop nuttiness of the game's combat. The length wouldn't be as much of a problem if the story had something to say, but outside of the jokes (which are funny) it's completely forgettable. Also, Devil May Cry 3's Lady gets a really terrible redesign (and has no personality in common with the previous game's character) and Devil May Cry 1's Trish wears a disguise that manages to make her old outfit look classy. I'm also not at all a fan of the vocals that play during this game's music.


I still think Devil May Cry 4 is the best of these games, but even it has its fair share of problems. In spite of its importance to modern action games, the Devil May Cry series as a whole is an uneven, often messy set of games. I haven't played more than the demo of Ninja Theory's reboot yet, but I honestly feel that everything the series did right was done better in Platinum's spiritual sequel Bayonetta, a game with which I find almost no faults (the vehicle stages go on way too long, but that's about it.) I've got no problem with the DMC series taking a rest for a while or with another team taking a fresh shot at it, but the embarrassing writing in the cutscenes included in Ninja Theory's demo killed a lot of my interest in trying it, though the game seemed to have nice set design and played in a simpler but mechanically sound manner. For now, I'm content to just replay Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance while waiting for Bayonetta 2.

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