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SYSTEM: PS3, Xbox360
Recently when my Xbox 360 took one of those inevitable hardware shits I turned to my dusty PlayStation3, which had previously been used to play Blu-Ray movies and occasionally prop open the back door.
Feeling nostalgic, I threw in Ninja Gaiden Sigma and was instantly transported back to 2004. A time when simplistic level design, routine scripting and frustrating save points were dandy so long as they were in service to a bad-ass combat model. Tecmo gets a pass on all the shortcomings, as they were porting an old game with little claim to ‘updating’ it. (Though they did update the price.)
So what’s Capcom’s excuse? Devil May Cry is one of the company’s triple-A franchises, with this fourth chapter meant to be the glorious launch into the next gen. But very little has changed since 2005’s Devil May Cry 3. There’s a new character, prettier textures and an easier learning curve, but the frustrating basics remain firmly in place.
This series has never been a hallmark of storytelling. It’s not quite as skillfully written as the copy on a cereal box. All four chapters read like the efforts of a child who ate a carton of crayons then smeared his feces on a piece of paper which managed to win in a short fiction contest, leading the wax-hungry bugger to delusions of creativity.
Go ahead and make the argument that it’s all a colossal winking joke on the part of developers who expect players to understand that they’re making fun of gaming stereotypes. Or take my side and understand full well that the devs are claiming to take the piss out of gaming in order to justify indulging in every stupid bit of excess and childishness that as adults they’re too embarrassed to admit enjoying. If it’s a joke, it’s one that all involved have forgotten they’re making.
So I’m not going to dignify this misbegotten collection of cutscenes, combos and cleavage by summarizing the story.
Oh, right. With all the inevitable comparisons between Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden (the anecdote that opens this review wasn’t chosen wholly at random) there’s one thing that Capcom realized they needed a lot more of after seeing Tecmo repackage the same game three times: tits. They’re fairly out of hand here (um) even for a Japanese action game.
Anyway, the only thing to know going in to DMC4 is that for most of the game you won’t play Dante. You play a wholly different character called Nero. This guy has a cocky attitude, wears goth-y red leather, sports a big sword and a gun and…wait a fucking second.
Capcom, do you think we’re stupid? This is the same character with a different name! OK, he’s got a demon right hand (take that for whatever videogame fanboy metaphor value you’d like) that can kick ass and be used to grapple between magical blue lights that hover in mid-air (seriously.) but otherwise this is just Dante without even a new coat of paint. And now that you know Capcom thinks we don’t know our asses from the fuel port on a 747, let’s get on with it.
Is there a more reactionary series than Devil May Cry? The first game was an attempt to bring style to action gameplay. Incredibly, it succeeded. The first sequel wanted a larger audience, so the challenge and fun were vivisected right out of DMC‘s still-heaving corpse. Sequel number two reacted to the scorn of fans and critics by restoring the difficulty, in spades. Now this release feels like Capcom throwing their hands up in the air as they admit they’ve got no idea what we actually want, though they’ve got a good idea it should be pretty.
DMC4 includes a tutorial (which will shock some long-time players into what may be well-deserved coronary attacks) but no block button, which should frustrate the living fuck out of those who don’t like to jump around a battlefield like an Unreal Tournament cast-off with ants biting his testicles.
This sequel also allows you to start off in so-called ‘human’ mode, which is the skill level that lets anyone not born as a gaming idiot savant progress through levels in much the same way you might in other games. Furthermore, you can play in ‘manual’ or ‘automatic’ mode, the latter being the one that handles a lot of the combos for you.
That demonic hand — Nero’s Devil Bringer — is what sets the combat apart from earlier DMC chapters. In short, you can use it to grab enemies from across screen and bring them into the range of your blade, or simply power slam the poor demons into the ground. In theory this is a great mechanic, but it quickly becomes a gimmick that is far too useful not to rely on. As always, the game doles out style ratings which are, in part, rewards for using varying combinations of attacks, but since health and red orbs (the game’s money system) aren’t as rare as they were last time, nabbing good ratings is only a matter of personal pride, if that.
The rest of us will just keep on using the Devil Bringer all the time.
In addition, Nero’s gun feels weak to the point of uselessness unless fully powered up, and the Exceed system, which lets you rev up his sword (tagline: Blades by Vespa™) is a neat trick in some situations, but mostly takes too long to actually use in everyday combat. So you’ll go back to the Devil Bringer time and again, interspersing slam dunks with sword slashes.
What I’m getting at is that the combat in DMC4 feels (here we go again) dumbed-down. Face it; the series is famous for superb combat, daft story, petulant and irritating characters, repetitive enemies, level designs that are like being lost in Buffalo Bill’s basement, item and skill grinding, repetitive enemies, some rather decent artwork and repetitive enemies. Take a way the artwork and all you’ve really got is the combat, but what DMC4 fails to do — and what God of War did so superbly — is bring the combative thrill and sense of accomplishment to all us normal jerkoffs who can’t take the time to write our own GameFaq, much less read one.
Things get weirder, but not necessarily better, when Dante finally becomes playable in the second half. He’s got bizarre weapons like Lucifer, which throws out exploding blades, and Pandora, the box which transforms into all sorts of wonderfully destructive weapons. This is the point where the game threatens to come into its own as a tongue in cheek parody of action gaming, but since you’re just trudging back through the same rooms and bosses that Nero just explored, it’s too tiring to actually work.
Move away from the combat and few of the remaining design aspects feel current. I almost like the forgiving and flexible upgrade system, which provides both automatic skill updates and the option to roll back any skill purchase in order to use the same points for a different ability. It’s a tacit admission that old systems were too rigid and a good way to try out most of the game’s options.
But the pattern of running in and out of relatively static rooms, killing groups of enemies that respawn every damn time for no good reason and looking for the one useable item that unlocks any given puzzle in the game’s logical vacuum is, well, as interesting as dead skin. And for all the combat, there’s also a lot of exploring these dead spaces and then a lot of backtracking through them. There’s an auto skill up option; why not an option to skip all the story and crap puzzles and just get to the bits we all came for?
(Edit: I’d forgotten about the unlockable Bloody Palace mode, which almost provides just that, but since you’ve got to beat the game on the harder difficulty to get to it, that hardly counts, does it?)
Take into consideration the bosses that repeat more than once and a stupid, ill-conceived board game that also recurs more than a couple times and you might be hard pressed to claim that all the relatively fun combat is worth the trouble. I’m not sure I could.
Remember Final Fantasy VII? How it was full of sparkling gorgeous pre-rendered areas that you’d basically ignore as you poked into corners looking for something to break open in the hopes a piece of bread or copy of Chrono Trigger might be hidden inside? That’s been the template for Devil May Cry as well and, frankly, it’s become tiring.
So, yes, this is a beautiful game. The characters move fluidly with animations that almost always blend seamlessly one into the next. There are amazing vistas, some mind-bending examples of architecture and, at the very least, a texture in every screen that will smack you right in the chops and demand attention.
I can’t wax enthusiastic about gorgeous pre-rendered areas when they’re also full of invisible walls and things I can’t actually interact with. In 2008 when a chair sits in the corner of a room within a massively impressive cathedral, I want to be able to smash it. I understand that many of the invisible walls, like restraining orders, are for my protection, since with every 230-degree camera shift there’s the possibility that I’d otherwise walk off into a great big cold nothingness like Kier Dullea being shot into the end of 2001.
So how about fixing the camera system so that when I’m pushing forward as I walk off one screen I’m not about to walk off a ledge when I enter the next one? That pissed me off when I played the first Resident Evil and ten years later I’m no longer willing to be patient.
At least, in many rooms, you can control the camera to some degree…and then there are the rooms where, for no good reason, you can’t. Balls to that. And I can’t even bear to consider the terrible metal that blares whenever enemies loom, since it’s an aural trip back to 1999 and I hated that year the first time I lived through it.
Dante’s new weapons are absurd enough that it’s worth playing through the game again to enjoy another go-round with his gear, especially if you choose to go with one of the several higher levels of difficulty that can be unlocked. That is, if you’re enthralled enough by combat to go through it all the first time. If you were one of the admirers of DMC3‘s staggeringly difficult gameplay, such a replay will be mandatory to get the most out of this one.
Devil May Cry will always have fervent adherents; if you’re one of those I expect you’ve only stuck around this long to find flaws in my logic with which to ridicule this review. That’s fine, since I probably think your taste in gaming is as sophisticated as a copy of Barely Legal.
It’s not that I find nothing of value in DMC4. The characters look great and the combat is fun when it’s not being endlessly repetitive. But that repetition is exactly what keeps the people mentioned in the last paragraph coming back every couple of years, and they probably think I just don’t get it.
In fact I do, but without something more to hang all the combat on, I just don’t care. The style and attitude of this series feels more forced every time, and without the scripting that gave the two God of War games such hooks, I no longer care. The option to unlock more skills and moves isn’t enough because I feel like it’s all been done before.
But the simple fact is that there aren’t many games like this any more. So even if you’re not wild about the particulars of Capcom’s franchise, the period of waiting for God of War 3 or the next Ninja Gaiden may seem interminable and this, by default, is the best stop-gap interim fix. If that seems worth sixty bucks to you, then hopefully you skipped right to this statement and didn’t bother reading the above.