It isn’t easy to keep a hack and slash game fresh and entertaining for the length of one title, let alone four; however, the Devil May Cry series has managed to present us with compelling gameplay year after year. Although its fourth outing doesn’t exactly present a ton of new things to the series, it offers just enough to keep the franchise enjoyable for at least one game longer.
The game begins with The Order of the Sword conducting a ceremony in their temple within the city of Fortuna. Just as the order’s high priest, Sanctus, is giving a sermon, Dante breaks through the ceiling and assassinates the spiritual leader right in front of the entire assembly. Nero swiftly jumps into action and proceeds to fight a very coy Dante, who eventually escapes before dropping a few hints to Nero that things within the order may not be what they seem. If you’re actually planning on paying attention to the story in the game rather than just playing it for the intense action I’ll stop there.
As I said earlier, the game does attempt to introduce some different elements and one of these is a new playable character, Nero. A much younger protagonist, Nero is a knight within the Order of the Sword, so like Dante, he’s another professional badass. Now fans need not worry, because he does bring some new gameplay elements to the table, and you do get to play as Dante later on. Besides his Blue Rose pistol and sword that can be charged by revving a throttle, Nero’s most endearing gameplay quality is his Devil Bringer arm. This can be used to grapple enemies, reel in distant ones, or swing on objects in the environment. It’s actually a great deal of fun to use, especially during boss fights, and it will have Nero pulling off moves that you would think need a very complex combo.
Aside from those new features, DMC4’s gameplay is pretty standard fare for the series, but that isn’t bad. There’s a fairly robust combo system that can be upgraded as the game progresses based on your performance in a level. The controls are very well assigned, and easy to pick up. Yes, the entire game is hack and slash, but it wouldn’t really be fair to accuse it of getting tiring since the same could really be said of any game within the genre. If you want a game filled with non-stop action, DMC4 will deliver it.
The game includes a good mix of environments, which features lush bright jungles alongside the expected gothic castles. Another good source of variety is the fact that you get to play as Dante about halfway through the game. Nero almost feels a little bare bones after you play as Dante, who possesses three melee weapons, a variety of fighting styles, and three different guns including the very powerful Pandora’s Box. The box can morph into a number of weapons including a rocket launcher, chain gun, and a hovering missile pod.
It’s a nice change of pace to switch over to Dante, but once you do get to play as the famed demon hunter you must retrace the steps you took playing as Nero all the way back to the beginning of the game. That’s right, every single level including three different bosses that besides having a tougher health bar, are exactly as you thought you left them. Even the final boss in this game is recycled. The backtracking is probably DMC4’s greatest pitfall, and perhaps the designers thought it would be permissible since you’re playing as someone else, but it’s still not justified.
Although the backtracking doesn’t ruin the game, it definitely does put a damper on an otherwise respectable follow up to the series. Another poor choice is the occasional use of board games that make you roll a dice in order to eventually proceed to another area. If you’re going to put puzzles in the game Capcom, please make them a little more intriguing, because this really feels like trudging through the game one step at a time. The camera can also be a bit of a pain, getting placed into corners or other areas where you won’t be able to see your character.
Now one area of the game that’s practically flawless is the graphics, which are probably just as sharp as Nero’s sword, the Red Queen herself (which can cut through concrete). All of the levels and characters are highly detailed, and even in the most heated moments of action, the framerate never ceases its utterly smooth performance. The cutscenes, although drawn out, do take advantage of the time allotted to them with amazing CG animation sequences that are better than any action movie I’ve seen in a while. The sound is pretty decent, and the voice acting is just as you would expect from a Japanese game with English voice-overs, in that it can pretty corny at times.
Although it may not be perfect, Devil May Cry 4 still manages to be a great addition to the series. The introduction of a second playable character is appreciated, but the possibility of cooperative play with Nero and Dante would have really made this one shine. It presents gameplay that may not be revolutionary, but is tightened and tweaked so that it still plays very well and remains enjoyable. However, the presence of such monotonous backtracking really takes away from the experience, and is just plain inexcusable. Despite any drawbacks, DMC4’s core gameplay is still a very solid action experience that fans of the series or action games in general should not turn away from.