Devil May Cry 4

Mischief Maker 12/25/2008 

Devil May Cry 4'
A little treat for those of you bitching that Devil May Cry 3's Dante looked 'gay.'
This is ultimately a positive review, but only in the most angry and begrudging way possible. Remember when Civilization 3 came out? It was incredibly buggy. Large stacks of stone-age archers could sink a submarine. Everyone in the game had Sid Meier's face like that scene in Being John Malkovich. However, in the midst of the many, many fuckups in the game's design they added the feature of strategic resources. Suddenly, your economic juggernaut Democracy, which was peacefully turtling its way toward a scientific victory, found itself with an oil shortage, forcing you to invade an oil-rich 3rd world country, pissing off your citizens and the world community in the process. There was no way you could go back to Civilization 2 after that, could you? Devil May Cry 4 is like that, a huge disappointment in almost every category that nonetheless has a few key improvements that ruined its excellent predecessor for me.

Devil May Cry 3, one of my favorite games of all time, was criticized for being too hard, and for its "Ninja Turtle Academy" cutscenes. Never mind that the special edition addressed the issues of the learning curve. Not only were the cutscenes clever in ways that went over the heads of the reviewers, (like the fact the game is a prequel and Dante's outfit is straight out of the 80s (Who's bad?)), but they were created with a combination of motion capture and computer effects that resulted in scenes so awesome that -- when viewed back to back -- DMC3's cutscenes form one of the best action movies of the past decade. Unfortunately Capcom took this whining to heart and the result is a DMC game that's short a ball.

Someone at Capcom must really identify with Nero because the game looks and plays like author-insertion fan fiction. It's like a kid dreaming up his Devil May Cry alter-ego, then realizing he made an exact duplicate of his hero Dante, so he quickly changes small details to differentiate the two. Nero doesn't wear a red longcoat, his coat is blue! Nero doesn't carry two pistols, he carries a revolver with two barrels! Nero isn't half-demon, he's just had his arm turn demonic. (It's also an amusingly autobiographical touch that the author-insertion character's main attribute is having one really strong hand).

Gameplay-wise, Nero plays like Dante with training wheels. He only has one sword and one gun the entire game, and both revolve around charge-up super attacks. He also has his bionic commando demon arm, but the concept is pretty much wasted pulling enemies toward you, performing jumping puzzles, and executing canned grab-attacks. There's nothing particularly strategic or interactive about the grab attacks -- just sit back and watch Nero swing the lizard around like Bam Bam without any player input for the 30th time.

Nero's levels are seven kinds of awful. Since the hookshot arm doesn't do all that much in combat, they decided the best way to show it off is by involving it in a huge variety of odious puzzles. Okay, over-the-top action game fans! Who's ready to bat floating hockey pucks into key locks? You know you love those timed jumping puzzles with flying enemies and patented mega man disappearing blocks. The game really reaches its low point where the designers try to stretch out an already short level by adding a Chutes and Ladders-esque board game where you're supposed to bat a giant die around to move your piece to the end before the game lets you leave the room.

As far as the story, you will come to loathe Nero. He's supposed to be cool and laid back and super protective of his ditsy one-dimensional girlfriend, but he just comes across as a pissy little wanker. From the very first scene where he's fidgeting and whining to his girlfriend that he can't sit still in church, to the part where he's bawling and pounding the floor for so long that it stretches across two separate cutscenes, he's one of the most embarrassing designated protagonists since the boy named "Annie" in the Star Wars prequels. Even his mouthing-off at bosses is lame. Thrill as he tells the giant fire demon about his sensitive skin and allergies to synthetic fabrics. Of course, it wouldn't be author-insertion fan fiction if Dante didn't spend the whole game inexplicably talking the little puke up. In one hilarious part, Dante decides to let Nero keep a sword that is yet another key to opening the gate to hell because he can see that Nero can handle it... only for Nero to fuck up one level later, resulting in the sword falling into enemy hands, the hell gate being opened, and hundreds of innocent civilians being graphically murdered. Way to go, jagoff. Meanwhile this is the weepiest and most emo cutscene in DMC3.

Man, what a relief when Nero supposedly dies and it's up to Dante to save the day. Time to play Dante with his multiple weapons, two guns akimbo, and general awesomeness intact, let's rock, baby!

Devil May Cry 4'
As impressive as he looks, it's hard to take this boss seriously when Dante fights him, since you know he already lost to that pussy Nero.
Only for you to find out that Dante's levels are just A REPLAY OF ALL OF NERO'S LEVELS IN REVERSE ORDER! Complete with sloppy seconds against the bosses Nero already beat up. What a breathtakingly cheap move! How desperate were these assholes to make the next-gen release date that they'd pull something like this? On the upshot, most of the odious puzzles are already solved when Dante goes through, but the game tries pathetically to mix things up by adding things like portals that teleport you to random parts of the levels or filling the entire level with poison gas that slowly drains your health and covers the graphics in a green fart haze.

One final thing I must note, which is a design decision that can only be described as "Dick Move," is that when you unlock a new move for a character, the price of every other unpurchased move goes up. Goes up to ludicrous degrees. A move that cost 650 experience points at the beginning of the game can go as high as 100,000 points to unlock. Considering that the average level gives you a little more than 1000, and the fact that unlocking new moves in DMC games doesn't make things any easier, just more interesting, there is no good reason for adding this awful new system. Fuck everyone at Capcom for the extra hours I had to spend EARNING my way toward a fully-functional game and leaving out any cheat codes to take the edge off that chore.

So with the terrible level design, disappointing cutscenes, and irritating protagonist, how does this game still squeak through with a positive score?

1. Overall great enemy design. While it's disappointing that many of them where ripped wholesale from DMC1, all of them have interesting moves and behavior, some enemies combine to create nastier foes, some work in teams, and even the traditionally annoying "ghost" enemies that clip through walls can be "stunned" and comboed. There are no gaseous squids, barely-mobile chess pieces, or armored false angels. Every fight, when the game bothers to dole them out between the odious puzzles, is a good fight.

2. Small but noticeable improvements to Dante's combat model Dante can switch all 3 styles on the fly (Royal Guard is still an abomination never to be touched), he can double jump with all 3 swords, he can shoot all 3 guns from the air. Devil May Cry 3's combat system and Tony Hawk-inspired style system were great, DMC4's system is just a liiiiitle bit better.

3. Improved "Bloody Palace" survival mode. It now keeps score and gives time bonuses for killing enemies with a high style ranking, giving incentive to play for more than just getting to the end. Adding score was a big thing with me since I've become a huge arcade hound over the last year; your mileage may vary.

4. "Legendary Dark Knight" mode. Every DMC game has added a new novelty difficulty level (DMC1 had "Dante must die" where enemies devil trigger, DMC3 added "Heaven and Hell," where everything, yourself included, dies with a single hit.) The PC version of DMC4 adds LDK mode wherein the number of enemies is increased by a factor of 10 on average. This can lead to truly insane situations where you find yourself in a tiny room filled with baddies standing shoulder to shoulder, all of them trying to kill you. It's just so crazy it works.

So that's DMC4 in a nutshell. A huge disappointment of a game with terrible level design and a wanker of a protagonist that happens to have an aftergame that's just good enough to ruin the aftergame of its predecessor. If you want the best game in the series, get DMC3, no question. DMC4 is only recommended if you like the combat system enough to play for score.

Mischief Maker