Ever since the original Devil May Cry hit the PS2 early on in the console’s lifespan, the series has become a firm favourite with hardcore gamers thanks to its emphasis on stylish combat and challenging difficulty, with the kind of epic boss battles occurring every other level that are normally reserved for the end of games. Now the long wait for the series’ next gen debut is finally over and super cool half-demon Dante is back with a vengeance!
Right from the first moment of the opening cut scene, when the Capcom logo is scattered by a cloud of sinister black mist blowing in the wind, you know you’re in for a cinematic treat – and Devil May Cry 4 does not disappoint. Indeed, I’m hard pressed to think of any other game that has such consistently spectacular cut scenes, filmed with all the panache and action of a John Woo flick and featuring stunningly realistic character models that move as fluidly as real people. The extended introductory cut scenes, which basically make up the first mission of the game, are absolutely astonishing, introducing the new main character Nero with incredible style as he kicks the stuffing out of the redesigned stitched-up puppets, set to the haunting melody sung by his sweetheart, Kyrie.
Then events take an unusual turn. Nero was actually battling his way to church, where Kyrie’s hymn is followed by an old man giving a sermon on the demon Sparda, who is worshiped as a God by the inhabitants of the mysterious, gothic city where the game takes place. Normally demon worship would be considered a bad thing, but Sparda is, for those of you who know your DMC history, the demon who turned his back on his own kind to save the human race. Giving new meaning to the term ‘horny devil’, he fell in love with a human woman, who gave birth to several children, including Dante, who has since risen to become the greatest Devil Hunter ever known. However, when Dante bursts through the skylight and blasts the defenceless old man in the face at point blank with his pistol, all hell breaks lose and the first mission begins, where you, as Nero, must face off against this ‘mysterious assassin’!
It’s unlikely that Dante has gone rogue, so he must have had his reasons for killing this religious leader – and indeed, if you pay careful attention to the content of his sermon, you’ll gain a hint of events to come. The story is silly in places but it’s generally well written with memorable characters and a few neat twists and turns before it reaches its stunning climax, more than holding your attention thanks to the action-orientated cut scenes and snappy, well-delivered dialogue. Anyway, Nero is pissed and the opening level introduces you to his abilities as you fight Dante, each segment of the mission interspersed with yet another amazingly cool cut scene. It’s like watching an epic ballet of blood, as Dante wipes out the attacking guards and then he and Nero battle it out, flying through the air at each other, pistol shots barely missing, spinning and pirouetting through the air, swords flying as the two heroes clash for the first time.
The usual moves are all present and correct – you can blast away with your pistols, which do little damage but are okay for linking combat moves, then there are various sword combos to carry out, including the move that launches you and your foe upwards for some aerial punishment, while you can dodge with a press of the jump button while locked onto your enemy. But Nero has a trick up his sleeve, as Dante puts it – he was a demon fist, a glowing blue hand that can whip out an ethereal version of itself to drag enemies in from afar and then pummel them into the ground or swing them around and launch them flying.
This fist move is not only very useful for damaging enemies, but also for pulling them in close so you can carry on your combo without losing momentum from your style meter. Forming a fundamental aspect of the gameplay, you are constantly rated on how stylish you are at wiping out the bad guys and you gain style points by mixing up your moves – repeat the same ones over and over and your gauge will drop, but constantly change tactics and use your whole repertoire and soon you’ll blast your gauge up from Deadly to Atomic and right into Smokin’, on rare occasions getting the SS and even SSS rankings. In the past, taking a single hit wiped out your gauge, but DMC4 is a little more forgiving, only wiping out two levels (so you might go from Brutal down to Deadly, for example). Still, it’s best to just keep dodging and jumping around as you launch powerful attacks that deal damage while knocking nearby foes off their feet before they can strike you or shoot you. There’s only one main tune to accompany the combat and it can grate eventually, but it’s a pretty catchy rock riff that suits the style of the graphics and the action very well, while the rest of the music is ambient, background stuff that enhances the atmosphere, mixing in nicely with the solid but unspectacular sound effects, some of which are helpful in signalling which enemies are around you and what attacks they’re about to launch.
Several enemies from past games return, mainly the freaky marionettes who look nastier than ever – lumbering puppets with blades on their arms or feet, as well as the super annoying black ghosts who you must shoot or repeatedly grab to remove their mist before the scorpion-like creature within them drops down for a good pummelling. A very tough version of these baddies appears later on, with a range of vicious attacks that wouldn’t go amiss as a boss battle. Indeed, many of the enemies are very tough and you think they’re a mini-boss at first, but then they start turning up on a regular basis, like the Order warriors, animated suits of armour that clank around and turbo in on your position, blocking your attacks with their shields before lunging back in again. You’ll soon get into a rhythm with these guys, and when their guard is down you can grab their lances and run them through, thrusting back and forth repeatedly. Other baddies include ice warriors and raptor-style nasties in the jungle, and just when you think you’ve seen them all, another new boss or creature comes your way, each with multiple attacks that need to be countered and avoided, as well as unique effects and animations when you execute finishing moves using your fist.
Nero also has a very cool sword that you can ‘rev up’ for extra carnage – repeatedly revving the sword powers up your Ex moves, which make for some spectacularly lethal attacks that boost up your style meter very fast, and combining these with your demon trigger is a guaranteed way to get a great start in a battle – as usual, most of the time you get surrounded by demons spawning in and barriers prevent your leaving the area until they’re all been dispatched. Best of all though are Nero’s super moves on the many bosses – grabbing hold of the massive, centaur-like flame demon and tossing him around the place, or leaping into the mouth of the huge, toad-like monstrosity to deal damage from the inside before blasting out of its head, look as cool as they are deadly. Probably the most amusing move is carried out on the plant/serpent hybrid boss, whose egg-laying sac you can grab hold of and pummel like a punch ball – and if you activate your demon trigger when you perform these moves then they’re even more damaging and stylish.
Graphically, Devil May Cry 4 is light years ahead of its PS2 heritage – indeed, you would never know that its origins lay in the previous generation. It looks absolutely stunning at all times, with gorgeous, beautifully rendered graphics that will have your jaw dropping throughout the game. The scenery varies more than ever before too; beyond the opening levels in the city around the church (which is actually known as the Opera House), you’ll visit the immense Fortuna Castle, a secret underground lab, a luscious green jungle and snowy mountain tops, among other locations, each one looking just as impressive and spectacular as the last. The action is as usual viewed from set camera angles most of the time to lend a cinematic quality and show off the towering, intricate architecture of the likes of Fortuna Castle, although some of the time you’re in full control of the camera, which is useful when you’re battling half a dozen enemies and trying to avoid being attacked.
If the scenery is amazing then the animation is even better – Nero and Dante look fantastic with their billowing coats and very cool outfits, while new character Gloria, who hides a surprising secret that you definitely won’t see coming, is sexy enough to give the best of the Dead or Alive femme fatales a run for their money – and that’s saying something. Indeed, the cut scene when you first meet her, as you watch her laying waste to a horde of puppets, is one of the sexiest I’ve ever seen, and as the camera whistles past her ass during a mid air flying kick and then you watch her breasts jiggle seductively as she leans back to avoid a swiping blade, you’ll instantly fall in lust.
As great as the main characters look however, they’re almost upstaged by the enemies, as well as the many bosses, large and small, who you fight on your travels. These boss battles can be extremely tough too – Devil May Cry 4 is an unforgiving, challenging game and while the easy Human mode is a good introduction for newcomers to the series, it’ll still prove difficult in places for casual gamers, while the medium Devil Hunter mode is more than a match for hardcore DMC fans – I battled my way through to the end but it was tough going and very frustrating in places. The fact that health supplies are limited and get more expensive every time you purchase them doesn’t help either, and while there are checkpoints to save you having to redo the whole level, you’re penalised for using a continue so don’t expect a high ranking if you use them.
There’s more incentive to get those elusive S rankings than ever before too, as this time around you don’t use the red orbs that fall liberally from destructible scenery and enemies to upgrade. Instead the orbs are used for buying items, from the moderately priced health and devil energy refills to the expensive blue orbs for increasing your health bar, purple orbs for increasing your devil trigger bar and gold orbs that revive you with full health if you die. This time around you are awarded proud souls at the end of each mission (the higher your ranking, the more you get), which you can then use to purchase an assortment of enhancements, from new sword combos and charge shots for your pistol to upgrading your sword’s Ex meter, enhancing your devil hand’s range and gaining new abilities like the Air Hike that allows you to double jump anywhere, as well as other dodge and counter moves. There’s a lot to unlock and each time you buy something, everything else becomes more expensive, making it impossible access every move on your first play through, unless you replay the completed missions extensively, something you can do at any time to get more orbs and souls or just improve your ranking for the online leaderboards. I have some advice in this area – it’s good to go for the extended range on your devil hand as soon as you can, as well as the lower priced sword combos for improving your style. But most important are the air hike and speed abilities, the latter of which is a godsend; after a few seconds you break into a run, allowing you to traverse the sprawling levels more quickly and save valuable time.
You see, it’s not just style you’re rated for – you also get rated on the amount of orbs you find and the amount of time you take, the three ratings combining for your overall level rating. The orbs aspect is the most frustrating; orbs are hidden all over the place and hiking through the same rooms over and over just to smash some furniture when you’re replaying for an S ranking is pretty tedious. Still, if you want the S then it’s got to be done.
We’re quite far into this review and I’m yet to mention Dante as a playable character – which is because you’ll be over halfway through the game before he steps in. DMC4 features an older, wiser Dante – he’s still as incredibly cool as ever, completely unflappable with a wisecrack or comeback for any situation, but you can tell he’s matured into the kind of adversary who must haunt the nightmares of demons everywhere. When you start playing as Dante you really miss Nero’s demon fist, making it harder to begin with to fight as stylishly. However, a couple of missions in and you’re right back at home with him, switching between his guns and swords on the fly – no more annoying menu hopping, hurrah! With three guns and three swords unlocked by the end, as well as five styles that give you access to exclusive gun moves as Gunslinger, dodge moves as Trickster, block moves as Royal Guard and sword moves as Sword Master, plus a fifth style that I’ll leave you to discover, there’s more scope than ever for mixing it up with Dante, and as you can switch between all styles and weapons as you play, you can chain endless variety into your combat. I really wish I could tell you more about the hand-to-hand ‘sword’ and the unbelievably awesome Pandora’s box ‘gun’ that transforms itself into an array of forms, but to do so would be to spoil some huge surprises. And again, I’d love to mention the nature of the final boss encounters, one of which is larger scale and more spectacular than anything I’ve ever seen in a game, but I just can’t bring myself to do it – suffice to say, these are elements that demand to be experienced!
Sadly however, there are a couple of downsides. One is the difficulty – beyond the Human mode it gets pretty tricky in places and some bosses can be infuriatingly tough… one in particular (you’ll know who!) can counter your every move and at first seems simply impossible to defeat, while another is ultra cheap and has not one but two moves that steal your health to replenish its own. This is the most annoying boss in the whole game and unless you quickly learn to counter these moves you’ll never take it down. Note to developers – that boss health bar is big enough as it is; enemies who can top up their health at your expense are CHEAP! The continues come in handy here, although I have my pride and so I completed every level without using them, even if it meant repeating the whole mission to get back to the boss. The missions don’t usually take more than twenty minutes each once you know what you’re doing, and replaying allows you to do a better job with your style, time and orb collecting, so it’s all good.
The worst offence in the game however, and one that comes as something of a disappointment, is repetition; without wanting to say too much, when you begin playing as Dante, you’ve more or less seen it all. You then traverse more or less the same levels, going up against more or less the same bad guys and even repeating most of the same bosses. Those bosses are very cool, but we didn’t need to see them more than once – and Mission 19 is both cheap and infuriating beyond belief when it comes to repetition; it’s your classic ‘enemy grinding’ chore that simply doesn’t belong in a game as classy as this and just slows down the build up to the grand finale. These are small niggles, but they do grate, as does the very final confrontation, which had me stumped for close to an hour (maybe I’m just stupid!) In the end it turned out that three well-timed button presses were all I needed, so here’s a hint for you – the clue to the only weapon that will work is in the cut scene and then it’s all about timing it right, so pay attention!
Once you’ve completed the game there’s plenty to keep you coming back – there are four difficulties to achieve a ranking on, as well as twelve secret missions dotted around the levels, some of which are mind-bogglingly annoying, like the mission where you must leap a sequence of fast moving lasers without taking any damage, another mission where you must defeat a bunch of enemies without taking damage, one where you must stay on a sequence of vanishing aerial platforms while three ghost demons pummel you, and another where you must destroy a dozen ‘scarecrow’ enemies before any of them can take over a lone puppet. I managed to beat two of them so far, but the other two I’m at a loss with and unsure whether or not I’ll ever manage them – you could try that laser one all day and not succeed, although that could be said for any of those four. They’re optional, but even so, did some of them need to be so hard and frustrating? There’s also various concept art to look at and a level grinding, timed game with one hundred arenas – good luck reaching the end of that!!