Generally when a developer reaches the fourth installment in a franchise, the game takes a dramatic turn for the better or the worse. In the case of Devil May Cry 4 for the PlayStation (PS3) and Xbox 360, Capcom has undeniably taken its series in a positive direction, with incredible graphics, solid gameplay and a new character whose attributes introduce some new elements to the franchise. However, for everything new the game does in its next-gen debut, Devil May Cry 4 also suffers from a few hold-over miscues, which compile upon one another to drop the game a few notches.
The biggest change — and arguably the best — is the introduction of Nero, a new protagonist whose gameplay is decidedly different from that of series-stalwart Dante. Devil May Cry’s Dante has always focused on traditional action-game elements (albeit with multiple weapons and fighting styles), but Nero breaks things up with his possessed arm called the Devil Bringer (among other, more-standard weapons). The Devil Bringer introduces an entirely new slew of moves to Devil May Cry 4, giving the game more of an acrobatic feel than ever before.
It’s easiest to think of the Devil Bringer as a bionic grappling gun, or maybe the spiked rope Scorpion throws in the Mortal Kombat games. Using the Devil Bringer, Nero can “hook” distant enemies and pull them toward him, he can pull himself toward airborne enemies, he can unleash a bevy of new combos, and he can stun certain foes to buy himself some time (or to set up a combo chain). In some respects, this makes Devil May Cry 4 feel more hectic and offensive than strategic, but series fans shouldn’t give up hope of playing a “familiar” game. Dante makes an appearance later in Devil May Cry 4, but as reassuring as the gameplay may feel, Dante’s half-dozen levels also shed light on the game’s few miscues.
For starters, Dante’s gameplay may be “tried and true,” but after playing so many levels as Nero, it becomes painfully clear that Nero’s new gameplay elements are, quite simply, a lot more fun. Yes, Dante has some new tricks up his sleeve, including the powerful and amusing Pandora’s Box, but the freshness of Nero will likely make you want to play more levels as this new character than you already do. Sure, Dante’s got a certain “comfort food” quality to him, but in a four-game-deep franchise, the extra spice offered by Nero’s Devil Bringer is a refreshing change.
Second, as much as we realize Capcom’s “calling card” is going through boss battles three times, there’s a certain part of us that’s ready for the company to give up that ghost. The bosses in Devil May Cry 4 are all well-executed and provide a good challenge (they’re not nearly as sadistic as DMC3, don’t worry), but having to play through a level as Nero, beat the boss as Nero, backtrack through the level (and boss) as Dante and then go through each boss a third time in the super-duper-mega-spectacular boss finale offers much more repetition than we’d like to see in a next-gen game. To be fair, both characters’ gameplay styles are so different that players” tactics have to change accordingly, but there’s always a point when traditions have run their course. This is one repetition cruise whose port has been called. When Devil May Cry 5 comes around, we truly hope Capcom can abandon the recycled levels and bosses.
One thing the company can definitely keep up, though, is the incredible polish and quality of its graphics. In a word, Devil May Cry 4 looks phenomenal. Although the screens in this review look great, they don’t do justice to the game’s appearance in motion. It’s not that often we can actually say that, but it’s quite true in this case. In fact, the detail in each level and character is almost strong enough to make gamers forgive the repetition when they encounter each for a second (and third) time — almost. The only downer with this detail appears on the PS3 version, which has a 20-minute initial install time as it dumps files to the hard drive. This installation makes the game and its graphics load faster than its Xbox 360 counterpart, but it will definitely irk anyone who tears open the game to play it as soon as possible, only to find that they need to bake a pizza, crack open a beer and let it all digest before actually playing the game.
But much like that pizza and beer, Devil May Cry 4 is about as close as players have gotten in 2008 to a sure-fire winner. Capcom deftly avoided jumping the shark, opting to create a worthwhile character with creative gameplay mechanics rather than gimmicky ones. This gameplay variety, combined with the game’s incredible production values, is hard to beat, but the repetition of levels and bosses drags the overall product down. Hardcore Capcom fans probably won’t mind this insistence on keeping with “tradition,” especially in light of everything new the game offers, but series newbies might not appreciate it nearly as much, even if Devil May Cry 4 is much more approachable than its predecessor.
– Jonas Allen