Devil May Cry 4
Devil May Cry 4 is a stupid bitch. And we don’t mean that in the kind of offhand way you’d use it to describe a promiscuous millionaire heiress, or a call centre advisor at a British telecommunications firm or, y’know, your nan. We mean it in a very carefully thought-out, deliberate way. It’s stupid and it acts like a bitch, therefore it is a stupid bitch. But you’d no doubt like a bit more explanation than that, so we’ll start by explaining why DMC 4 is stupid.
The story, the setting, the characters – all utter, utter nonsense. You couldn’t count all the WTF (as in ‘Why, That’s Flabbergasting!’) moments on all your fingers and toes, even if you were a demon with loads of fingers and toes. Virtually nothing that happens in DMC 4 happens for any good reason, unless perhaps you count ‘for the sheer hell of it’ as a good reason. DMC 4 certainly thinks this is a perfectly good reason and actually does make a pretty persuasive case for it, too. Most, although not all, of the idiotic garbage you’ll come across here is the kind of idiotic garbage that manages to be irresistibly brilliant because of, and not despite, its own complete and total lunacy. The ‘SoBadIt’sGood-o-Meter’ we’ve assembled for you over the page should give you an idea of what we’re talking about, but really that just represents the tip of one exceptionally silly iceberg.
So yes, for the most part Devil May Cry 4 – like Forrest Gump, or a Big Brother winner or something – somehow manages to make blithering witlessness into an endearing quality. But there are occasions when you just wish you could get some sense out of it, so that you might be able to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s on these occasions that you wonder is it being genuinely dumb… or is it just being a bitch? We suspect the latter, and here’s why…
It’s unreasonable, inconsistent, illogical, temperamental, unforgiving, aloof and unfair. It takes your devotion for granted and forces you to prove yourself worthy to play it, not just by demonstrating skill, or even persistence, but by demonstrating your tolerance for being wilfully messed with. It seldom tells you what it wants from you, and insists on punishing you harshly for failing to read its totally illegible mind. It’ll have you running in circles trying to figure out which hoop it wants you to jump through next, then, when you do, it tells you to jump back through it. Only when you turn around it’s moved the hoop and it won’t tell you where to, because if you don’t already know then you don’t deserve to know, because if you really loved it like you should you’d just know, okay!? Yes, Devil May Cry is a stupid bitch. But it’s a really hot, stupid bitch. Really, really hot.
Devil May Cry 4 thinks it can get away with using exactly the same environment for three ‘different’ levels – making you play through it forwards, backwards, and a horrible combination of forwards and backwards in which the exit to each area leads to the entrance of a completely different area to the one it should. And there’s a reason it thinks it can get away with it – it can. It can, because it’s amazing and it knows it. Honestly, what a bitch.
We don’t want to call the combat in this game perfect, because we want to keep our hope alive that videogames will keep getting better in every way for the rest of our lives, but we really can’t think of anything that’s wrong with it. No one in the world does melee combat better than Capcom – fact. Street Fighter, Onimusha, Viewtiful Joe and, of course, Devil May Cry. To call the combat in these titles well balanced would be a disservice. It’s not just balanced, it’s poised. Elegantly poised. In Devil May Cry 4’s case the combat is spectacular to look at, incredibly fluid to play and, most importantly and impressively, designed so that frantic button bashing is never, ever your best option. That’s not to say you won’t find yourself button-bashing from time to time – it’s the natural beat-’em-up reflex after all, and it can sometimes be fairly effective – just that a more considered, disciplined approach is always rewarded, usually with immediate and abundant effect.
For those obsessive, hardcore types there’s oodles of depth waiting to be plumbed and mastered through hours of repeated play throughs, but the real beauty of DMC 4’s combat system lies at its simplest level, where anyone can appreciate it. It’s not just about the moves, combos and controls, but also the way your enemies, and the scenarios in which you encounter them, are designed to encourage you to vary your methods and techniques. What works when you find yourself surrounded by a large gang of mannequins will be useless against a pair of airborne wraiths, and vice versa.
As you progress, you won’t just meet enemies that are tougher versions of ones you’ve already faced, you’ll meet completely different enemies requiring completely new techniques. And we don’t just mean buying a new move or two. While most individual moves in DMC 4 are pretty useful in themselves, you have to experiment, combining them with other skills and methods, in order to unlock their full potential. There are no set, sequential combos – this ain’t Tekken – it’s up to you to figure out which works best with what against who, and doing so is a remarkably accessible and rewarding process.
Want some examples? Of course you do. We’ll begin with the land sharks. You first meet these fellas in a tunnel, visible only by their large dorsal fins zipping around all over the place, walls and ceilings included. You’ll soon discover that they’re too nippy to get with your sword or grab moves, but draw your pistol and start letting off some rounds into a fin and you’ll notice it’ll slow down. Patiently walk towards it while continuously shooting until you’re close enough for a grab and/or sword strike and bingo… you’ve caught yourself a fish. Well, it’s fish-ish.
Next up, let’s talk guardians. These guys carry long lances and thick shields, so they do heavy damage, have long reach and are totally impenetrable, but only from the front. So you need to get behind them. You could just run around them, as they can’t turn quite as fast as you can run, but this is quite slow, could make you vulnerable to other enemies and, apart from anything else, doesn’t look very cool. Grabbing one by the face with your extendable spectral arm and pulling yourself over the top of it, on the other hand, looks very cool. Especially if you then repeatedly stab it through the belly with its own lance. The icing on this beautifully brutal cake is that you can then use the lance to launch your victim across the room, causing severe damage to any others foes that might get in the way.
What we really like about these examples is that they require you to think about what you’re doing, but the solution is satisfyingly simple in both cases. And what we especially like about our second example is that it takes full advantage of Nero’s ability to grab stuff and to fling himself all over the shop, often at the same time. Yes, some of the best things about DMC 4 are things that new hero Nero brings to the table. In what will probably be a major relief to long-standing fans of the series, Capcom has handled the tricky business of introducing a new character masterfully. We’re not going to bang on about how no one in the world introduces a new character like Capcom because we’ve gone down that kinda road once already, but it’s probably a fact, too. Anyway, Nero is both just enough the same as Dante, and just enough different, which is exactly what any DMC fan in his own mind would want. We’re even going to stick our necks out and say we like him more. His Devil Bringer arm (or ‘grabby hand’, as we call it), combined with his overall speed and agility makes his style of play especially fluid and intuitive – fast and frantic, without ever becoming too chaotic or confusing.
The grabby hand is used in two main ways. If you activate it while targeting an enemy it’ll reach out far in front of you and grab your target, then either pull it towards you or pull you towards it. This alone is classic Devil May Cry – a simple device with tons of different uses. You can use it to leapfrog the armoured guardians, or to pluck flying enemies out of the air, or to bring a foe you’ve just smashed across the room back to your feet so that you can continue the same combo on it. Basically, it’s fantastic.
Even better are the moves you’ll pull off when you go, go grabby with an enemy in front of you, but not targeted. Exactly what happens will be dependent on what kind of enemy it is, and what it’s doing, but whatever grab move you do, it’s sure to be a joy to behold. The lance blast is a favourite, but Nero can also perform a double suplex, a flying uppercut, a devastating powerslam and a good, old-fashioned pick ’em up and swing ’em around yer head. Purists may say that making such powerful moves available at the tap of a single button is simplifying matters too much, and they may have a point, but it sure is fun, and there is a downside to grab moves anyway. They’re slow and tend to break up the flow of your combos. The art of working a combo into a grab move and continuing the combo after the grab is one that will take practice to master. Yet again, a simple addition that presents potentially enormous depth.
But if you’re not some sort of scoremongering perfectionist would you really give a flying fart about the length of your combo anyway? Well yes, you certainly ought to. See, the higher your combo the better your rank at the end of each stage, and the better your rank the more Proud Souls you earn and it’s Proud Souls – and not Red Orbs – that you use to buy new skills in DMC 4. Red Orbs are still used to buy items, but if you wanna get skills you gotta have soul. Using separate currencies is a positive change as you’re now no longer forced to make the hard choice between fancy new moves and boring, but essential, health power-ups. The new system forces a budget on you for each type of purchase, but it’s a welcome enforcement. It’s also worth noting that you can now sell everything at the same price you pay for it, allowing you to ‘shop with confidence’ and making the upgrade system much more flexible than ever before.
Proud Souls become even more important when you switch to playing as Dante at about the game’s halfway point. He might not quite have Nero’s finesse and agility, but he does have a lot more options when it comes to combinations of fighting styles and combat gear. At first Dante feels somewhat limited and clunky – the uber-sour orange juice, to Nero’s refreshingly minty mouthwash – and his introduction to proceedings marks something of a slump in the game’s overall quality, coinciding as it does with the worst of the backtracking, aimless trial and error and, y’know, bitchiness. But at the end of each of his stages, Dante gets a new weapon, each more extravagant than the last, and each turning the fun factor back up another notch. We still, on balance, prefer Nero’s slick simplicity, but anyone who fancies experimenting and tinkering ad infinitum with different Dante setups will be in hog heaven by the end of the game. Even if you don’t unlock any super, special secret stuff you’ll have four different swords, three different guns and four different fighting styles, all of which work differently in combination with each other. The possibilities are huge, if you really want them to be. If you don’t you can still have a great time just keeping it simple.
If only the same clarity, simplicity, flexibility and expansiveness that make the combat and upgrade systems so sublime had also been applied to the level design, we would have had nothing to complain about and this review would have concluded in a pure, unreserved recommendation. Instead, what we have is a game that, at times, actually makes you resent it for being so good. If it weren’t for the outrageous, action-packed cut-scenes, the truly flawless combat and the promise of ever more enticing unlockables, you’d happily just put it down and tell it to piss off. You wouldn’t even call it a cab.
But this is Devil May Cry. It doesn’t work like that. You’ll beg it to stop messing with you, you’ll demand to know why it has to be so cruel, and you’ll protest that it isn’t fair and you don’t deserve to be treated this way, but whatever you say or do, one fact still remains: you want more.
While we’re confident that the vast majority of gamers will willingly ignore, tolerate, forgive and turn a blind eye to DMC 4’s bitchiness while playing it, we can’t justify doing the same in reviewing it. For this reason it does fall just short of Play’s ‘must-have’ watermark of 90%, but we’d still ultimately consider it a must-have. Just know that it’s a must-have that wilfully and gleefully frustrates you, annoys you, wastes your time and makes you suffer pointless tedium for no good reason.