Devil May Cry 4
DMC 4 has the slightly confusing position of being a sequel that in some ways is also a prequel, fitting into the series between DMC 1 and 2. This will confuse newcomers to the series but no doubt make perfect sense to the legion of hardcore fans. I, myself am out in the wild on this one having never dabbled in the series before. The action opens with Nero struggling to arrive on time for a ceremony hosted by the Order of the Sword. It's not so much the music that interests Nero but Kyrie, who forms Nero's romantic interest for the game. Whilst watching, Dante, the main protagonist from the other titles in the DMC series, kills Sanctus the high priest of the order. After a brief fight between Nero and Dante in which Dante escapes, Nero is charged with bringing Dante to justice. As if this was not difficult enough a demonic horde is laying waste to the city, these demons taking the guise of a cross between a soft toy collection and a knife drawer. The action proceeds over 20 levels, the majority of which the user is in charge of Nero but-for 7 missions when Dante takes centre stage.
Nero is appropriately equipped for the job he must undertake sporting the Red Queen, a mighty powerful sword that can be charged up and then used to release an even more devastating combo attack. Second up on the list is the Blue Rose, this is a double shot hand gun that apparently never needs reloading but unfortunately is pathetically tame and underused. Finally and more impressive is the Devil Bringer. It seems that Nero is not entirely human and has been forged with a Devil hand, this hand has the ability to project forward from Nero and grab enemies close to him whereby he can twirl them round and smash them to the floor invoking such classic lines as 'Slam dunk'.
It seems appropriate to mention the dialogue and the overall feel of the game. DMC's cut-scenes are most definitely tongue in cheek to the point that it would require surgery to remove said tongue from cheek. Nero is very much cast in the same mould as Dante possessing an almost identical contempt and disrespect of the demons, maybe just a little too much on the cocky side for my liking. They do seem to be the sort of people that need to be taken down a peg or two but alas they are the good guys so must prevail.
As previously mentioned the game is broken down into 20 levels which are fairly straight-forward as Nero searches for Dante, kills some low key demons and then faces a big boss. At the end of each level you are awarded a score for the time it took to complete the mission, the style in which you achieved it and the number of orbs collected. A better score will provide you with more Proud souls, this is currency that can be exchanged in order to unlock new combos or increase the power of existing ones. A nice feature at this point is that you can 'unlearn' skills and then apply the proud souls to another area so if you ever feel that an improvement was an utter waste of time you can spend more wisely the next time. The style levels are gained through fighting and the continuous use of combos to increase the score range from a Deadly D to a Smokin' Sick Style SSS. The only nuisance with the scoring method is the collection of orbs. Through defeating demons and generally smashing objects 'up' orbs will be collected. Soon into the game it became apparent that if Nero is to smash every possible breakable object this would significantly increase the gameplay time for what is ultimately a very tedious repetitive task. Unfortunately this is not the only repetitive task that is undertaken in the course of the game, despite varying locations the same method is applied time and time again. Upon entering new areas the game will often lock all entrances and exits until you have defeated the oncoming pack of demons and sometimes through exploring you may encounter the same pack time and again.
There is also a somewhat unbalanced and perhaps rushed element to the gameplay. Although Dante is in control for 7 missions these are completed extremely quickly in relation to Nero's portion, however during his short stint he manages to assemble more weapons and upgrades than Nero does during his time playing, in fact Nero only gains one to Dante's four or five. Why Nero could not have benefited from these upgrades is unclear and a shame as Dante gets his hands on a veritable feast of weapons with the Pandora's box being especially deadly. Although there is ten to fifteen hours gameplay the second half of the game is left somewhat flat as Dante covers the same ground that Nero did in reverse and in encountering the same bosses that dish out the same attacks, little variation is added.
Graphically, DMC 4 is a veritable hot-splotch ranging from some truly remarkable moments to some thoroughly shoddy implementation. One such area that will be apparent to anyone that has played the game is the shadowing that has been applied in the forest levels. It would seem that in an attempt to make the shadows move with breeze they could only go to a certain detail level resulting in some very blocky shadows. There are other moments in which the title feels a little old school; this is best represented through the camera control. For most the game the camera is static and moves on a set path, the outcome of the this is at one moment you will be running down camera to a new room which upon entering you will be running up camera but still pressing the same direction on controller which you involuntary change to compensate for the camera shift only to find that you will have gone back through the door in which you entered. This takes some getting use to. This technique means that it can find itself lapsing into some truly annoying old fashioned mistakes such as trying to deal with demons that are off-screen or attacking from behind.
DMC 4 is a good beat 'em up, the action is delivered fast-paced and through multiple difficulty levels should appeal to newcomers as well as the seasoned DMC fans. Having said this, for large parts of the game you cannot help but feel that it has not truly tested the next/current-generation consoles, still plagued with design issues and gameplay techniques that are decidedly last-gen; more could have been done. The decision to effectively repeat the first half of the game in the second for me shows a lack of imagination. Along with this is the fact that some bosses will have to be defeated three times, and this feels like you are not getting your money's worth. I'm sure the addition of an online leaderboard will please some enabling them to hone their skills until perfection is reached but for most, once will be enough. If this game had been released a year ago, perhaps it may have been more impressive but since then aspects have moved on. Uncharted has shown that a storyline can be engaging without having to make the gamer sit through a seemingly endless amount of FMV's in which the in-game characters perform more tricks that you do in the entire game. DMC 4 is also another one of the increasing trend of games that require a 5Gb install on the hard drive before you play. From when I put the game in the console, to sitting through the opening sequence it must have been a good 35 minutes before I got my hands on some action. Was it worth the wait, yes, it did keep drawing me back but through the final missions auto-pilot mode had taken over. Regrettably, for a new game, it already feels dated.