Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Xbox 360 review: Devil May Cry 4

My first introductions to Dante came from Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and the Devil May Cry anime series. Devil May Cry 4 is the first game in the series that I have played, and I apologize in advance for not having much familiarity with the gameplay of the previous titles. I have, however, glossed over the major events of the first three games, so my knowledge of the Devil May Cry story isn’t entirely limited.

The game begins with Nero, a young warrior who is something of a hero among the people of Fortuna. A member of the Order of the Sword, Nero is not as by-the-books as his adoptive brother Credo, utilizing a combination of sword and gun combat along with his demonic right arm. The intro sequence shows Nero fighting a small group of scarecrow enemies, but aside from these minor threats it seems his life in Fortuna is relatively peaceful one. That is, until a man in red appears and interrupts a sermon, killing Sanctus, the leader of the Order of the Sword. While civilians flee, Nero faces down this man in red (whose identity as Dante is anything but a mystery to players), but ultimately is unable to beat him.

Walking out into the streets of Fortuna, Nero discovers they have become overrun with enemies, and proceeds to cut through them until he eventually comes across a Hell Gate just a short distance outside of Fortuna, and faces down its fiery guardian demon, Berial. From there, Nero proceeds to Fortuna Castle, and – after some time snooping around – discovers that some of the members of the Order of the Sword have intentions of using various forms of demonic experimentation that Nero does not agree with. Realizing that the Order’s actions could spell doom for the citizens of Fortuna and those beyond its borders, Nero lets go of his attachment to the Order to try and stop them.

A hack-and-slash action game that shows obvious roots in classic arcade gameplay, Devil May Cry 4 has a rather sophisticated combat system. Players can purchase new combos for their three attack types as they progress and – used in the proper combinations – these will quickly net players higher combos, and subsequently higher rankings on each level.

While there are two difficulties unlocked from the outset – one for newcomers to the series and the other for veterans of the Devil May Cry titles – players are not able to swap back and forth at their leisure. This means that if a player reaches the midway point of the game on the easiest difficulty and then decides they want more of a challenge, they will not be able to immediately access that mission in the next highest difficulty setting. Instead, they will be required to replay all the missions leading up to that point on the higher difficulty setting. It can be a bit annoying for players who may not be all that well-acquainted with the genre and take their time in mastering combos. But for gamers who like a challenge and plan on sticking with this title for some time to come, this element certainly adds a lot of replay value.

Players should expect the main game to take less than ten hours to complete on any given difficulty. Different requirements concerning specific missions and difficulty settings allow players to access a variety of unlockables, ranging from an art gallery to a timeline of the events of the other Devil May Cry games. Four more modes of difficulty after the default ‘Human’ and ‘Devil Hunter’ modes are unlocked in sequential order.

Devil May Cry 4 breaks the mold of the previous three titles in that Dante does not take the lead role until about two-thirds of the way through the story’s events. Dante is invested in the Order and the events that eventually come to unfold in Fortuna, but these are kept under wraps for good reason and the decision to deliver the game’s narrative through two different lead characters not only keeps thing interesting but also helps to pace everything out. That said, when players do finally get to play as Dante they can expect to do a lot of backtracking through areas already visited as Nero. The change in control style and abilities does bring some much-needed variety to the game, but by the time it is introduced players will likely be so accustomed to Nero’s control scheme that it may feel awkward for the first hour or so as they adjust to Dante.

Dante’s relaxed and somewhat sarcastic nature throughout the entirety of the game is a welcome break from similar stories that try and take themselves too seriously. The creators of Devil May Cry 4 obviously know how outlandish their game can be at times and are willing to poke some fun at it, but not so much that they risk losing their audience. Nero’s story has a considerably more serious tone to it than Dante's, and his relationship with Kyrie comes across as both forced and awkward. At the same time, it isn’t of major concern save for a few key points later on in the game, so it doesn’t detract the game’s atmosphere much.

While there are a number of cheesy one-liners throughout, Devil May Cry 4 also delivers some genuinely funny moments – more so from Dante than Nero. On top of that, the game should be very much commended for its cutscenes, as they deliver some wonderfully executed action segments. There is both a nice variety and degree of challenge in each of the game’s boss fights. True, some of Dante’s fights are rather straightforward revisits to the ones Nero took on earlier, but the climactic faceoff against Sanctus’ Savior – despite it looking like a Raxephon wannabe – is nothing shy of epic.

Graphically, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. Character models are incredibly detailed and realistic, and their motions seem natural and lifelike. While enemy designs are somewhat limited, they too are very nicely detailed. The environments, however, suffer at times from grainy textures and blocky objects. Load times are practically nonexistent in the Xbox 360 version. The soundtrack is a combination of metal and opera sounds, which complements the game’s art direction very well. That said, some pieces are used over and over again, and the battle themes in particular can become annoying after a while.

With regards to the game’s art style, it is an appealing mix of the exaggerated and eye-catching with realistic sensibilities. The first Devil May Cry title was born out of one of the earliest concepts for Resident Evil 4, and because of this the series share similarities in graphical stylings. Some level designs will bring about a sense of déjà vu for fans of the Resident Evil series. But whereas Resident Evil’s story tries to remain within a more realistic world setting, Devil May Cry aims for a no-holds barred thrill ride – even if that means becoming a tad ridiculous along the way.

My rating: 8.25 (out of 10)

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