The reason I bought Devil May Cry 4 in the first place was because I played and enjoyed the demo. Unfortunately, a couple of hours into the full game and I realized that that demo, which essentially just showcased the combat, was in fact showing me the only good part of an otherwise very mediocre game. And hell, even the combat could have used some work. Sure, it was fun as hell, but with just a little more work and some actual creativity and innovation, they could have made it downright amazing, rather than just very good.
The game is actually not that hard, considering the Devil May Cry series is famous for its difficulty. The only difficult points are some of the boss fights, and even then it's only because the camera's a piece of **** that'll have your character actually off screen more often than not.
If you want the plot: you're Nero, a half-demon twenty-something year old with nice voice acting and a standard-issue "wise-cracking cocky jerk" attitude. Wait no, because they do occasionally try and give him some character by reminding us that his girlfriend's been kidnapped, but since A) she's a cardboard cutout more two dimensional than a layer of veneer, and B) these attempts at characterization generally amount to him screaming out her name and then using the power of his love to rise up against impossible odds, I honestly feel insulted by Capcom expecting me to sympathize with their protagonist. The story didn't actually make much more sense to me than that, mainly because I'd never played any of the previous Devil May Cries. Incidentally, this being the first DMC on the XBox 360, wouldn't it have made more sense to make the plot at least slightly accessible to newcomers? Anyway.
The combat is, as I said, the best part of the game. It set out to give us "stylish" action, and boy does it ever deliver. No matter how bad you are at the game, it is virtually impossible to have a fight that doesn't look like something that took a Chinese fight choreographer 6 weeks to create. The action transitions fluidly from shooting to slashing to swinging your enemies around your head and slamming them into the ground, and every second is delicious candy for your retinas. You can aquire new techniques to use in combat, and none of them require button combinations so long you need to pause the game every time you want to use them, but unfortunately that upgrade system is where the combat starts to slip into shittiness, as new techniques cost so much you can afford one or two maybe every 5 missions. Other parts where the combat falls on its face include the lack of enemy variety, with a roster composed of 90% the same old boring scarecrow things you fight all the time, and 10% the occasional new guy thrown in. Capcom seem to think that having different kinds of enemies is some sort of wondrous thing, since they announce every new menial creature type with a dramatic cutscene. That must be why they released so many Resident Evils, after all, no one can complain about the lack of variety in a zombie horde (note: I have not played Resident Evil). By the by, every time you come across some enemies the game will play the same metal-ish track, which I thought was actually quite good, but it also gets old after the first few dozen times. Would it have been so hard to make, I dunno, 4 or 5 different combat themes?
You should know that the review will be strictly negative from this point out, now I've got the combat out of the way. Oh sorry, did I say combat? I should point out that doesn't include boss combat. During the boss fights the game basically strips away everything fun about the regular fights, which is the ability to stack up fancy-looking combos. The bosses in DMC4 are all several stories high, so obviously you couldn't be flicking them into the air with your sword like every other stabby-ragdoll type enemy in the game (although that doesn't seem to stop Nero from doing it during the cinematics). Still, if the objective of the DMC series is to let you take out enemies in stylish and spectacular ways, why does fighting a boss feel like fighting an unusually aggressive brick wall? As you slash your gigantic anime sword against their ankles, the bosses don't react, they don't recoil, hell, they don't even have the decency to bleed. If their health bar wasn't visible at the bottom of the screen, I'd think I was doing something wrong. Really though, even if they did react to your onslaught, that wouldn't be enough to make them interesting. There's nothing "stylish" about hacking away at some gigantic demon's shins, feeling like a tarted up gnat. Eventually the boss will get tired of you and swat your irritating gnat ass away, and you'll just have to run back and slash away some more, lather rinse repeat. Why can't I climb up onto his back, or get him to swallow me and kill him with sword-induced stomach ulcers, or hey, even do that whole overdone death-by-chandalier lark? Before you move on to the next paragraph though, you should know that the boss fights are still reasonably fun, and quite impressive at times, they're just not as fun as the regular combat.
When you're not fighting bosses, you're wandering the game's levels, wishing Capcom had included an "Objectives" screen, or at least a better map screen. The level design is very poor. Sometimes it's confusing, occasionally causing you to backtrack without realizing it, and other times it's just plain bland. You never really know where you're supposed to be going, since your objectives as given before each mission are extremely cryptic and never seem to have much to do with the plot, so you just stumble around waiting for a cinematic to happen to let you know you're on the right track. The game seems to know where it's going at least, but us players will have to be content to just follow it without a word, and don't let me hear "are we there yet" one more time or we're turning this action game right around. I mean, blind exploration can work well, the Metroid series has shown us that, but for it to work well the levels have to be non-linear, not confusing, and perhaps most importantly, nice to look at, which these most certainly aren't. The environments can only be described as "forgettable", being overall very average and at times actually quite ugly, complete with invisible walls all over the ****ing place, and a fairly annoying fixed-camera. Combined with unremarkable music, the game has no sense of atmosphere and does absolutely nothing to immerse the player. Basically, you will never experience anything approaching enjoyment while wandering the corridors of the Devil May Cry universe, which is unfortunate because you do quite a lot of that.
See, the combat is the game's strong suit, but it doesn't seem to realize that. Rather than play to its strengths by filling every room with a wide variety of enemies, which would at least make the linear level design less monotonous, they try and crowbar in jumping puzzles and other assorted crap, which like everything else in the game apart from the fighting, is excruciatingly boring. It's like they spent so much money on the combat programming and animation that they didn't have any cash left over for anything else. A creative game design team would have gotten around their weaknesses by innovating, and, say, making DMC4 into a full out arcade-style action-packed linear hack and slash with fantastic polish, but, well... they didn't. Every now and then you'll come across some kind of "puzzle", which usually amounts to nothing more than flipping a switch to open a door. You never really know what a switch is going to do until you've activated it, you just have to follow those familiar Pavlovian instincts that years of gaming have instilled in you: press glowy thing. Actually, it's more "stab glowy thing" since Nero, like many action game heroes, has forgotten how to interact with anything or anyone without getting out his sword (one wonders how he approaches job interviews or making love). You'll also sometimes get clues in the form of rhymes so poor they'd have gotten laughed out of a limerick-writer's convention.
I'd like to mention one last thing about Devil May Cry 4, and that's the cinematics, or at least some of them. There were a number of cinematics in the game which were admittedly very pretty, but the only thing I could think (and yell at the TV set) while watching them was: Why am I not the one doing this? To explain, there are several points where DMC4 apparantly gets caught up in the excitement and forgets it's a game, slashing happily away at a boss or a swarm of enemies while all I could do was watch and wait for it to return to its senses. Remember how I criticized the boss fights earlier? Well, when Nero climbs up onto the back of a giant snake flying at full throttle through the jungle, running along its spine like a cowboy on the roof of a train, dodging tree branches and generally attempting to wrangle the fearsome beast, I can't help but think that if they did that sort of thing during the game instead of just the
cutscenes, the boss fights would have been a hell of a lot more interesting. New rule: if you're making an action game, and you've included action in one of the cutscenes, make it interactive instead. And quick-time events don't count.
Devil May Cry 4 delivers fun and intuitive combat mechanics, and tedious everything else. I do have to give it marks for originality though, god knows I'm sick of games about space marines or jaded gangsters, and the Devil May Cry series adds a nice to touch of color to the monochrome action game genre. Overall though, if you're looking for a satisfying gaming experience, this is not the game for you. If you just want to have fun, download the demo.