Devil May Cry 4
Doesn't quite live up to its promises, sadly.
Xbox 360, PS3
I nearly gave up on Devil May Cry 4. Despite the outstanding visuals that try to convince you that this is a modern game, much of the gameplay wouldn't be out of place in something from one or even two generations ago. Still, the overall package is worth playing, even if it's just to see what all the hype is about.
What I liked about the game is its pacing. You'll play around half the game with newcomer Nero before switching to a more familiar face. The game isn't particularly long and shouldn't take more than about 10-12 hours to finish, depending on your playing style. The story is broken into 20 missions of roughly equal size, none of which takes much longer than half an hour to complete. During most of these missions you'll learn a new technique or earn enough souls to upgrade to a new ability, and this helps keep the experience fresh.
This rapid rush of new things to do is not only one of the best things about the game, it's also one of the worst. Worst because I found the gameplay lacking in nuance. Sure there are many different moves to pull off but you could just as easily mash away at those buttons and come out in the same shape. In a few of the earlier boss battles I did just this. In one section I hadn't yet become comfortable with the many things Nero could do, but I saw off the second boss, Echidna, a giant plant-slash-woman, just as easily as if I had put thought into it. It's an inherent problem in the genre and even God of War II takes a similar approach to abilities, but Sony's brawler does it with more style than this and the move set is better thought out.
In many ways, Devil May Cry 4 is unapologetically old-school. It's not just the gameplay, but also the constant reuse of the same enemy types and the sometime clumsy level design. New enemies are gradually introduced as you hack your way through the perfunctory story but the old ones keep popping up all the way through, with only their combinations changing.
The two main characters, Nero and Dante, play quite differently. I enjoyed using Nero's Devil Bringer, a demon-powered arm that opens up all sorts of doors. You could say that Nero's arm is the defining component of the game. But Dante brings quirks of his own, such as his four playing styles (Gunslinger, Trickster, Sword Master and Royal Guard), which you can switch between on the fly with the D-pad. Assuming control of him was quite jarring though, because by that point Nero was quite strong and getting used to a relatively underpowered Dante took me a while.
I played through the game on the Human difficulty setting, which is more forgiving than the Devil Hunter mode Capcom has put together for series experts. This was my first time spending more than a couple hours with a Devil May Cry game and I'd heard bad things about the difficulty in some of the previous ones. I found the normal mode to be just right, though no amount of balancing would get rid of the throwback design decisions that occasionally pop up. I'm all for accuracy and skill development, but I don't see the point of forcing players to repeat sections over and over again because they've placed a foot wrong.
That said, I can't say I was not expecting the game to play like this. What did come as a surprise was the feeling of discomfort that came with every gratuitous scene involving one of the female characters in the game. I'm sure the teenaged boys that are the core demographic for Capcom's design team lap up this nonsense, but I didn't appreciate having to look at ridiculous bouncing breasts and just-so crotch shots of plastic pseudo-women quite so often. There's a case to be made for games maturing in the 21st century but this shouldn't be within 100 meters of that case.
In the end, what Capcom has done is to serve its audience. There are few surprises here, little to push the action game genre forward, and scarcely anything that Sony didn't already do better in God of War II [and for that matter, that Team Ninja didn't already do better in Ninja Gaiden - AD]. That's fine if what you're aching for is an action game to enjoy on your shiny new console, but for me this isn't the giant splash that Capcom would like people to believe it is.