Release Date: February 5, 2008
It's almost that time again, folks. Time for demons to fear platinum-blond pretty boys. Time for impossibly figured (and thank goodness for it) women to kick insane amounts of butt. Most importantly, though, it's almost time for one of the greatest action games of the last console generation to make the jump to this one.
A lot of words have been used to describe aspects of the Devil May Cry series over the years. The word "badass" is often tossed around, probably to excess; you've also got "stylish," "satisfying," and even "disappointment," if we're talking about the franchise's ill-fated second installment.
The key word for Devil May Cry 4, then, is "balance." Capcom has learned lessons from its initial breakout hit, to their over-ambitious sequel, to both editions of the third title that restored the series back to its former glory, albeit not without its lumps. All of these lessons culminate in Devil May Cry 4, which actually manages to balance its over-the-top gameplay. Lest we forget, boys and girls — balance means fun.
The difficulty has been balanced. No longer should gamers have to fear for their lives upon entering a new room. Checkpoints are plentiful, enemies are tough but not too tough, and bosses just so. There's no point-saving, though. You're in a mission for the long haul — even if you "save," once you turn off your system, you're back at the beginning of said mission once you turn it back on. If you think the current play level's a cakewalk, you can turn things up a bit for even more challenge.
Puzzles have been balanced. The territories of DMC4 are far less labyrinthine than in previous games. They're not brain-dead easy, but gone are the days when you'd have to remember that nook or cranny that you encountered two whole hours ago and needed to put a key in the door. Metroid and Symphony of the Night this is not, which is good, because it streamlines the gameplay. Adventuring is fun; getting lost is not.
Abilities have been balanced. Nero can purchase many acrobatic and power-gaining abilities from shops, as in the previous games. However, now these points can be refunded and rearranged again and again, to customize Nero for every possible situation. Know you're going to be facing an aerial boss? Just equip the Air Hike double-jump. Need some extra firepower instead? Refund those Air Hike points, and transfer them into charged shots instead. This is already in addition to Nero's innate abilities, such as the Exceed, which allows him to rev up his sword, the Red Queen, like a motorcycle for powerful flaming strikes. People who've been following the game, of course, already know about the Devil Bringer, which allows Nero to grip his enemies for context-sensitive special moves (see further below) and can be shot out to ensnare enemies, <i>à la</i> Scorpion from Mortal Kombat.
Most importantly, however, believability has been balanced. The line between gameplay and cut scene has never been so blurred in video games than it is here. Jaw-dropping cut scenes take place using the in-game engine, with camera manipulation available as they occur. Once you're dropped into the game proper, however, you'll be able to do most anything you saw in those scenes, and more. This includes laying the smackdown on bosses something fierce. Have you ever picked up a towering boss with one arm in a video game and tossed it around like a sack of potatoes? You will here.
Best of all, this isn't achieved by making the cut scenes more conservative, but rather, the characters you control that much more powerful and diverse. Context-sensitive moves are the order of the day, and not a single Quick Time Event is required in order to pull them off. Nero dispatches enemies in different manners based on whether or not the enemy is on the air, on the ground, in the middle of a combo, or is being pummeled by Nero's powered-up Devil Trigger persona. One may be a body slam, one may be a suplex, and another may be a forceful push into the next room. Add to this the myriad purchasable abilities, and style just became limited by the player's own imagination.
There are a couple of instances, however, in which balance has been utterly thrown out of the window. Simply put, the game's aesthetics are off the scale. The graphics engine is the one used in Lost Planet and Dead Rising, kicked up several dozen notches, and it looks absolutely stunning in motion. As mention before, gameplay and cut scenes hardly look any different from one another. The kicker is, I've been playing this on a standard-definition television for the past week and a half. It looks that good. The sounds, music and voice acting are all up to the series' usual snuff as well.
Finally, we come to Dante. Around midway through the game, you're switched to using the classic demon-slayer, and if you thought Nero was powerful … man. Props to Capcom for giving fans what they've wanted since DMC3: the ability to switch between Dante's four styles (Gunslinger, Swordmaster, Trickster, and Royalguard) at any time, including in the middle of a combo. Youtube is going to be destroyed by the sheer amount of Dante combo videos that will soon be uploaded to it. Even with all this power, the game never feels too easy, though, and is still a blast to play due to its challenge.
All of this balance, all of this craziness, and all of this character interaction is set amidst a fictional backdrop of love and vengeance; Nero attempts to save the woman he loves from an organization that wishes to harness the power of the demon world for its own. Along the way, he and Dante are forever at odds. For a game such as this, though, finding out just how the tale unfolds is half the fun, so we'll leave the story summary at this point. In this previewer's humble opinion, however, you'll probably have too much fun thinking of new ways to kick demon butt to pay all but lip-service attention to what's going on behind the scenes. Such as it was in the previous three games, and such as it is now.
I think I've said enough. Devil May Cry 4 is epic and solid, and it'll be coming your way in two weeks (or the just announced demo tomorrow). Unless you really, really can't stand quality stylish action games, this is definitely one to look forward to.
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