Devil May Cry 4 is the best example to date — Sony's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, a far more Western-themed game, running a close second — of a traditional console action/adventure title updated for current generation console technology. PlayStation fanatics were stunned, some outraged, when Capcom took the decision to release the fourth in the formerly PlayStation-only series (for a good, succinct recap of the history of the franchise, see our own Steven Mills' review of the other version of this game) for Xbox 360. They shouldn't have been the least bit surprised, on two counts. Although Microsoft can't give away 360s in Japan, the new Devil May Cry was always intended as an international release; as the game began to take shape, 360 was then the current-generation console with the largest worldwide installed base.
Add to that the fact Capcom had a sleeper hit of large proportions with another single-player, third-person action/adventure on Microsoft's "shooter-machine" console. Dead Rising fit none of the standards by which 360 titles have become runaway hits: the perspective was not first person; the better weapons were often not guns but blunt objects; the title was chaotically challenging, truly difficult at points; there was no multiplayer mode, online or off, completely lacking significant implementation of Xbox Live's online elements; and Dead Rising clearly harked back to arcade roots.
By those perhaps unexpected standards of 360 popularity, DMC4 was perfectly suited for Microsoft's get-there-first entry in the next-generation console market. All fans of the series who have been by necessity also fans of PlayStation can reasonably ask is that Capcom deliver as much in the PS3 version of DMC4 as they do in the Xbox 360 version. They certainly have: DMC4 is an excellent showcase for the concept of choice in base platforms while maintaining availability to owners of one or the other full-featured, current-generation HD consoles. In other words, to hell with exclusivity and loads of special features specific to one version of the game or another; let the hardware manufacturers duke it out on graphics prowess, raw performance, multimedia features, hardware build quality, value per dollar, online multiplay, "store" and other online network services, while third-party publishers concentrate on delivering great games to whoever will buy them, not whoever first showed up at their headquarters toting briefcases full of contracts and cash.
The DMC4 manual begins with an open letter to gamers from Hiroyuki Kobayashi — for confused Japanophiles, the Capcom game producer, not the NPB pitcher — framed as a message of thanks for purchasing the title. Kobayashi writes, "[We] wish you many happy hours of discovering brand new chain-combos and your own style of gameplay." Do as the man says. DMC4 is not a game for rushing through in two or three marathon sessions. It's something to be enjoyed over time — savored, if you will — as you tinker with the controls, explore the numerous standard missions, elect to play again and again the secret missions until you succeed.
The title includes concessions to gamers not familiar with the series, a "Human" — as opposed to "Devil Hunter" — difficulty setting and an "automatic" combo mode with which repeated hammering away at the attack face buttons produces combos and chain-combos, so the gamer doesn't actually have to learn any of them. Don't use the concessions. Or, rather, use them for a mission or two, and then, as each mission, as an integral part of the game's design, can be replayed with different options as many times as you wish, depart "Human" difficulty for "Devil Hunter" status, and stick to it. I'd recommend steering clear of the automated combo crutch altogether. There's a tutorial option that describes in-game the different combos and allows you to practice them a few times until you get them right. That's enough. Then wing it.
Playing at the "Human" difficulty setting with automatic combos turned on, you're handing yourself one-third of the game you'd otherwise play. Sure, DMC4 is challenging, hard even. You'll repeat missions both secret and standard, not infrequently several times, but lean in close, and I'll tell you a secret: DMC4 may be a dream come true for HD-generation gamers, but it is not itself a dream; if you die in DMC4 you do not die in real life — I promise. Embrace your imperfections and die trying, ad infinitum. It's about the most fun you'll have getting killed, literally or figuratively, on this mortal coil.
In high definition, DMC4's graphics and animations are nothing short of stunning, following the series' signature fantastical, pseudo-Gothic style fully detached from any comprehensible real-world time period. The color palette is rich and almost completely contrary to the tone and mood of the game, yet still working to perfection in presenting the heavily arcade-influenced animations and environments. The interstitial cut scenes are most definitely not cinematic; they are "video game," exactly as appropriate. The recent gold standard, as I mention every chance I get, for cinematic cut scenes is embedded in Ninja Theory's Heavenly Sword PS3 title. Despite the top-level action/adventure pigeonholing of both titles and the likewise fantastical theme, in Heavenly Sword do belong cinematic cut scenes, with their serious voice acting and realistic motion-capture animations; in DMC4, cinema doesn't quite fit. You have to know your material, and Kobayashi knows his in spades.
Audio, music and sound effects are stellar, far surpassing previous Devil May Cry titles, and in at least one prior case, that's a very high standard to exceed. You'll want the full digital surround experience if you have the equipment to support it. Unplug something if you must to make room for your PS3's digital audio connection, for your DMC4 play sessions.
The greatest frustration I found in the game was that even the basic single-player campaign — counting out secrets, extra difficulty levels and other unlocked content and modes — is far longer and more challenging than the single-player games to which I've recently become accustomed. There are 20 standard missions right off the bat. They're all much the same in the particulars, but the context of a fourth game in a franchise is that the gamer does indeed want more of the same. Already Capcom has supplanted the series' former central character, Dante, with new guy Nero. This is far more likely to trouble the Dante-obsessed than the average action gaming fan, but otherwise, maintaining consistency throughout the game is, I suspect, implemented more by design than sloth. Also a bit head-banging, Nero's sword-energizing system, "exceed" in game terminology, takes some fiddling with to use properly. It's suited to two or three different methods of use, and gamers will have to find their own styles of play, as Kobayashi states right up front in the manual.
There's no multiplayer in DMC4, online or off; this is not a multiplayer franchise. The only present concession to the PlayStation network is a leaderboard system for individual mission scores and rankings. The Devil May Cry titles are just not multiplayer games, and no doubt Kobayashi learned in his work on the Resident Evil franchise, though not directly responsible for that series' online multiplayer offshoots, trying to force a round peg into a square hole may be ambitious, but often results in lackluster gameplay.
Advance notice, in order to hasten disc-loading times, Devil May Cry 4 copies a whopping five gigabytes of data to your PS3 hard drive. If you this is your first Devil May Cry game, or you've forgotten much of the preceding plot, accompanying the copy progress bar is a comic book-style series of graphics and text "slides" to bring you up to date. If you know where you've been in the game world, go out for coffee. Not out to the kitchen for coffee. I mean down-the-block out for coffee. The upside is that once the game data is copied to your PS3, load times are entirely trivial.
Devil May Cry 4 is clearly not a quickie run-and-gun, but it's also not a quickie hack-and-slash. There's a lot to do, a lot of different ways to do it, ways to do it you'll probably never discover, perhaps things no one will ever discover unless Capcom trickles out, over time, unexpected elements that were already present in the game at release. The only PS3 owner to whom I would not recommend DMC4 as a must-own is the completist who, after perhaps months of near-continuous play, doesn't know when to leave well enough alone — and then he or she should probably see someone about that. All others, go buy it. Now. Run, do not walk.
More articles about Devil May Cry 4