Friday, February 29, 2008

Devil May Cry 4

The last generation of game consoles has a lot to answer for. They brought us the guitar sim, the open-world sandbox, and, relevantly, the "stylish action game".

Putting aside that "stylish action" is a crap name for a genre, I've still never really been a fan of Prince of Persia or God of War. All those parkour performances and ancient Greek orgies were just shiny cover for my sworn nemesis, the platform game.

But I've got a soft spot for Devil May Cry. With the exception of the universally reviled Devil May Cry 2, this is a franchise that knows that nothing should ever, ever get in the way of killing demons.

Devil May Cry 4 is a sequel in the finest traditions of "more of the same". If you enjoyed DMC 1 or 3, you're going to feel right at home here, as everything you liked before is back and looking to pick a fight. It's a game about going from A to B, and killing every ill-tempered hell-loving fiend that gets in your way in the most implausible, frenetic, and cinematic way possible.

This time around you'll be playing the first half of the game as Nero, who is essentially what you'd get if you made series protagonist Dante a little less macho and gave him a giant "devil arm" that acts as a kind of magical grappling gun. You'll take Nero through to the halfway mark, after which you get control of Dante, who doesn't have the grappling gun but does have access to a bewildering array of of diffferent fighting styles and weapons.

You may be the kind of person who'll feel offended that you don't get Dante right from the outset, but here at The Dust Forms Words we have a name for that kind of person, and it is "nutjob". My experience was that Nero is significantly more fun to play than Dante, partly because the devil arm is surprisingly well integrated and partly because Dante's weapon-changing stance-shifting style is annoying complex and ill-suited to the XBox 360 controller. However, even if that's not your take on the situation, you'll still likely find that both characters are fun to play and equally worthy of the franchise.

The franchise's last outing was known for a range of frustrating difficulty issues, with initial Japanese and US releases being, apparently, eye-gougingly hard. Australia got the kiddy version, which later saw store shelves in the US as well. Thankfully, this time around the difficulty is just right, with a stupefyingly easy "Human" difficulty for the talentless and prepubescent, and an appropriately challenging "Devil Hunter" mode for those experienced with the series. Finishing Devil Hunter naturally unlocks further levels of difficulty which go right through to the insane "Heaven or Hell" mode.

The game theoretically features a plot, wherein a mad cult intends to use the Yamato blade to open a hell gate and create some kind of living god, but it's not really terribly interesting and mostly just serves as framing for the excellent cutscenes and fantastic boss fights.

Speaking of the boss fights, you'll be fighting each boss three times. The first time is as Nero, where the tactics focus on the clever use of Nero's grappling maneuver; the second time is as Dante, where you're deprived of the grapple and have to come up with new strategies that integrate Dante's strengths. These first two fights with each boss are fun, and really bring the differences in the characters to the forefront. However, you then have to fight all the bosses again, back to back, in the second last level of the game, for no particular plot reason whatsoever, which is probably the only moment in the game that'll have you hating the developers. It's one time too many and it feels like a frustrating and unnecessary level of padding added to the game's length.

That gripe aside, I can heartily recommend Devil May Cry 4. It features combat that feels fun, looks great, and has a surprising level of depth, and better yet the game knows its strengths and plays to them, serving up endless action without plunging you through platforming or minigaming tedium. The whole package utilises the XBox 360's graphical capabilities well, and it's the sort of game you're probably going to want to come back to when you're finished to attempt the harder difficulties.

Basically, if jamming buttons and killing demons sounds like the sort of thing you'll enjoy, then you're unlikely to find a better execution of it that Devil May Cry 4.

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