Friday, April 27, 2012

Devil May Cry 4 - A New Protagonist Breathes New Life

To help bring my Devil May Cry (DMC) coverage to a close, I'll now look at the most recent release in the series, Devil May Cry 4. This 2008 release is not only one of the PlayStation 3's first games and the first multi-platform Devil May Cry game, but also happens to be the first game I had ever played in the series. While I'll admit that that's an odd thing to do, it did end up getting me interested in the rest of the franchise, so I think that playing this as one of my first M-Rated games was a pretty good decision in the long run. I've beaten this game several times already between two PS3's, and I think at least once on PC, and beating it again was something that I was more than willing to do for the sake of reviewing it.

As it turns out, introducing a controllable protagonist beyond Dante can bring new gameplay possibilities and story opportunities. In this case, we have another demon hunter named Nero, a man who is a member of a religious cult who worships Sparda as a god and their savior. While he doesn't really buy into the whole thing, the sudden appearance of Dante spins his life out of control, as he and his girlfriend Kyrie get involved in something much bigger than they are. As the player controls him, not only do they get to see a well-written and well-paced tale unfold (mostly) from his end, but they get to wield powers beyond their wildest dreams.

Nero is very awesome to control. His demonic arm introduces a cool new mechanic to the table called the Devil Bringer, which has the power to close the gap between the hunter and the hunted. This fascinating mechanic not only makes it harder to go back and replay previous DMC titles, it increases the thrill of the hunt by reducing the amount of time it would have normally taken to run after an enemy knocked quite a distance away, in turn increasing the ability to keep the Style Gauge building up longer. This single mechanic made just about every second of combat with Nero exciting, especially when powered up, and the fact that it also has a combat application beyond that with individual animations for every single enemy while in either a normal or Devil Triggered state got me seeking every opportunity I could just to see what new thing it could do.

Of course, having one arm dedicated to the Devil Bringer does limit the amount of weapons that Nero can wield, but this does not prove to be a problem for a second. His gun Blue Rose, a gun engineered by him to be able to fire two shots nearly simultaneously, proves to be effective as slowing enemies down as well as continuing a mid-air juggle. The other weapon of his, the sword Red Queen, is also very effective in combat and is capable of dishing out major hurt on demons. It utilizes a special game mechanic where Nero can rev it up to put it in an Exceed state up to three times to increase its damage output and allow well-animated flames to make it even more stylish in motion, accompanied by a cool animation on the appropriate gauge. Having only three weapons really streamlines the combat and brings beautiful and artful simplicity into the franchise to make it much more enjoyable than it ever was before.

The enemies are uniquely and impressively designed and all require a specific strategy to defeat, fitting the tone of the stages perfectly and providing a good challenge that forces the player to put variety into their moves to stay alive. Thankfully the difficulty on the default setting isn't completely soul crushing and allows the player to ease better into the harder stuff. This extends to the bosses, who require a bit of skill to take down, though not completely in the realm of impossible. A couple of them however are more difficult than all the others, though it feels satisfying to eliminate them nonetheless.

While I do praise the introduction of Nero to the franchise, that doesn't mean I've forgotten about the demon hunter Dante. Switching to him about  midway through the game is both a surprise and an inevitable event, but the game proves that he hasn't stopped being awesome. His arsenal is very expansive and much more individualized, with cool weapons like Pandora, which uses a unique Disaster Gauge mechanic, and Lucifer to provide new opportunity to mix up your strategy as well as suit any play style. The Styles introduced in DMC3 return, but now use the oft-empty d-pad to switch between them on the fly, making it even easier to enjoy all of his cool abilities.

The downside to being Dante however is that the time the player spends with him is used merely to backtrack through all of Nero's levels in reverse order and fight almost all of the bosses a second time. This means that once you finally get through Mission 19 when you switch back to being Nero, you'll have fought every single boss three times already. This gets boring after a while and I couldn't help but wish that they might have used Dante's time better by expanding on the world. Wielding his powers however almost makes up for this loss, but I was still a little disappointed in the end by the lack of expansion.

I do also praise the story for being able to establish Nero and his relationship with Kyrie while also making him and the other numerous new characters appropriately likable or badass. While I might have liked to see more of the world, I am satisfied by what I did and I love how the many differing personalities clash at certain points. One particular stand-out example is when, later in the game, Dante confronts the equally hammy Agnus in a battle for supremacy before they get to the actual fisticuffs.

Level design is done very well, though Mission 19 can become an exercise in frustration thanks to the large amount of dice-rolling required to advance properly to the next fight. I liked the architecture and how it matched the setting it was in, as well as the variety in locales and how they made finding the numerous secrets actually kinda fun. The physics are good and the graphics still impress me, especially how it makes Dante's already beautiful women even better to look at, as well as the lighting and high quality voice acting. I also like the soundtrack (I even own a three-disk copy) and the electric guitars blaring during the fights in a way that pumps you up, including the themes that match the bosses and characters perfectly by highlighting something about them, be it their setting or personality.

On the technical side of things, my only major dislike is the 20-minute install required for the PS3 version, which takes up 4.7 Gigabytes on the system. While this does shorten the length of the loading screens in comparison to the 360 version, it does bog down the initial excitement that comes with wanting to play the game. It's very fortunate then that the game itself is very well worth the wait.

All in all, Devil May Cry 4 is a fantastic entry into the series and I'm very glad I played it. The balanced nature of the combat and levels, combined with some of the best music and visuals, helps Nero's story to stand out well and elevate him to a status comparable to Dante. I've already beaten it numerous times and I'd be happy to do it again. If you decide to play it yourself, you'll likely be satisfied as well, even if it's your entry point into the series like it was for me.

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