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Console Yourself: Devil May Cry 4

“Ha! You will surely fumble in your opposition of my quest, tho’ I welcome the attempt. For to battle a being of such grand delusions as you, is a truly sweet fortune.” -Dante

Format: Xbox 360, PS3 & PC • Developer: Capcom• Released: Feb 2008

Despite the brash nature of its protagonist, Capcom’s highest-profile original title of the last generation appeared to suffer a crisis of confidence while making the leap to contemporary consoles. That’s not to say that the developers didn’t eventually devise solutions to most of the difficulties they foresaw, but it’s impossible not be disenchanted by the more deep-rooted failings.

It’s interesting to watch the Raiden Paradox in full effect, where the introduction of a new character to broaden the game’s appeal in fact serves to do more to frustrate the franchise’s loyal following. Capcom has certainly been innovative in it’s attempt to endear Nero to the game’s fans, by the simple expedient of making him visually identical to series stalwart Dante. Unfortunately Nero suffers failings both in plot and design terms, with his anime-style story arc wooden and unconvincing, combined with a mismatched set of abilities. He suffers from Superman syndrome, with his abilities completely failing to form a coherent power set, being simply tagged on ad hoc in the hope that they could look good. His telekinetic demon arm is his principle hook, but the flailing animation is at odds with the gravity-gun style implementation, while his supercharge-able sword and fashionable time-manipulation ability are underdeveloped and confusing additions.

The title has a number of failings, which I’ll discuss shortly, but its biggest problem is the plasticky and unconvincing movement of the main characters. The standard running animation is acceptable, if a little slow, but it’s during fights sequences that this mechanic falls apart. Nero and Dante are reliant on a lock-on system to cause any damage, the problem is that this leaves them waltzing around their foes, bringing to mind the headline article in Anti-Hero Monthly, “How to Circle-Strafe in an Elevator”. Given that the characters’ guns function just like melee attacks, this looks extremely artificial, and doesn’t sit well with the game’s use of analogue sticks and a fixed camera perspective. The fighting, which is the title’s only gameplay content, has been roundly criticised for its removal of the audio cues which were originally used to signpost enemy attacks. Despite the emphasis that the literature places on fighting stylishly, the only manifestation of this in the game is the rewarding of random strings of different attacks, instead of relying on the same move continually. This slight memory challenge, however, fails to distract from the monotony of the game’s combat.

It’s not impossible that these two men are related.

At the time of release, most discussion of the title centred on the second half of the game, in which Dante retraces Nero’s footsteps exactly, in order to finally put down the demons that the younger man encountered earlier. Defenders of the title were quick to argue that backtracking is not in itself a videogame sin, and that Dante’s differing move set ensured a new gameplay experience was provided. The issue here, however, is not that of backtracking but level recycling, a far more insidious element. The first Halo title was roundly attacked for its re-use of earlier maps, and that was for just two of the game’s ten chapters. Devil May Cry 4 has a good 40% of its content made up of such material. Even more damaging is the way that the slight restructuring of some stages damages the integrity of the environment, The old-school Resident Evil use of doors to move between stages makes the game feel slightly disjointed, but this sensation is highlighted by the retread of the forest section, which uses teleporting to turn the area into a random array of corridors.

The backdrops can be breathtaking at times, but feel curiously pre-rendered and uninteractive, but it’s the moments that the player only watches which provide the most entertainment value. Describing a game as being saved by its cut-scenes sounds like the most grotesque insult imaginable, but once Dante gets his teeth into the scenery during the second half of the title, his encounters with the game’s bosses quickly becomes its redeeming feature. From his mock-Shakespearian exchange with a mad scientist to exploring to full potential of the Pandora Briefcase, the star easily dwarfs the unconvincing and wooden main plot.

It’s hard to think of a section of its potential audience that won’t be disappointed by the title. Hardcore Dantists roundly attacked Nero’s dumbing-down of the flights, while first-time gamers were baffled by a number of legacy problems within the title. Not recommended.

2 Stars

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