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Devil May Cry 4 (Xbox 360) artwork

Devil May Cry 4 (Xbox 360) review

"Still rockin' a decade later"

The latest entry in the canon DMC series (not counting that dead horse of a reboot) left on a rather high note, if a bizarre one. It tries to focus on a weak plot and is very weak in the level design department, all bad signs that could be attributed to budget and under-staffing. So the game's no good, right? Thankfully, that is most certainly not the case here, mainly due to the gameplay.

We get a taste of what to expect from the gameplay courtesy of another sweet intro cutscene, but we also get a strange, somewhat interesting setup. Plot-wise, Devil May Cry 4 takes place after DMC3 and DMC1 and that throwaway anime, but before DMC2. Also, we play as a new guy who may be Vergil's son, and Dante just killed the Not Pope for some reason. Confused yet? Don't worry too much, the game fills you in on recurring characters pretty painlessly. However, the writing proves much weaker than DMC3's, focusing more on some poorly handled plot twists and religious themes -- how many stories have a dull, evil preacher as the antagonist? There's less storytelling to give the game momentum than in DMC3, so one who plays DMC4 will most certainly show up for the gameplay, which is taken to even greater heights.

Above the plot and everything else, DMC4 is a refinement of gameplay. Newcomer Nero has no Style moves to use at the touch of a button but instead a devil arm in the place of that mechanic seen in DMV3. Not the Devil Arms that are the weapons in the DMC universe, mind you; his arm is like a demon's! What Nero's Devil Bringer lacks in appeal for lotion commercials it more than makes up for in its ability to grab enemies from afar and allow for new ways of attack. He also has the Blue Rose, a slow but powerful firearm to attack enemies the Devil Bringer cannot reach, but more notable is his sword, the Red Queen, which has a motorcycle handle that can be revved up to allow for more powerful attacks, instantly so with proper timing. Eventually, Nero gets a Devil Trigger state that doesn't really transform him but rather gives him a Jojo stand to swing around a sword and create spectral blades to surround various targets in battle. When mastered, Nero's approachable moveset, especially the Devil Bringer, allows one to position enemies anywhere he wants on the battlefield, a fantastic tool for setting priority for threats and continuing combos. This, along with the aforementioned mechanics, makes Nero an ideal character moveset to introduce others to the genre, while giving veterans something to master.

Oh, and just one more thing about the Devil Bringer; with it, one can interrupt certain enemy attacks and follow up with a super-smackdown counter, accompanied by suitably spectacular animations. What's great about this (aside from the obvious appeal) is that the game respects your intellect enough to not break the experience with quicktime events. Instead of a fourth-wall break in the form of a button prompt hovering over the enemy's head, DMC4 respects you enough to not only discern when to counter, but also to find these opportunities in the first place. Isn't it so much better to respect the player's intelligence and allow him the sense of accomplishment by finding these optional counter opportunities by experimentation, as opposed to a creatively bankrupt, immersion-shattering quick-time event?

As if the combat wasn't deep enough, Dante himself becomes playable about halfway through the game. This time, you can switch styles on the fly, instead of having to wait until reaching a save point to do so. That's about means that, compared to DMC3, Dante has roughly four times as many options at full capacity! In addition to some series mainstays, there are two new weapons that add even more depth to his moveset. Sharing the name of a bad role model, Lucifer is a demon backpack that carries exploding swords, creating area-of-denial zones in combat. The other new weapon is Pandora, a suitcase that can transform into a host of other weapons; talk about a TSA-nightmare. This firearm has a huge variety of attacks and a meter that allows for more destructive attacks after certain combos, a mechanic so ludicrously complex that it could work as its own system in another game. Here, though, it's just an extra dessert plate in a four-course meal.

It is the mastering of combat that gives DMC4 its replay value. Experimentation is rewarding and complemented by the game's upgrade structure; all the extra attacks can be purchased in stores, but you can refund moves for ones better suited to preference or difficult situations. The amount of time one can put into DMC4 is mind-boggling, but combat is so nuanced that there is always something to learn. Too bad the level design doesn't work in its favor.

The major flaw of this game is its brevity. It's not The Order: 1886-levels of insubstantial, but gameplay this deep demands more playgrounds to romp around in. This is by no means helped by the fact that, halfway through the game, you must backtrack through all the levels you just completed as a different character. Gameplay is more important than almost every other aspect of a game, but a lack of levels to use the gameplay in really kneecaps DMC4. Even moreso than previous titles, most of your time here will be spent obtaining a better grasp of the deep gameplay rather than anything else, so if you're into fighting games, this probably won't be too much of an issue. Still, it saddens me to see what seems to have been a lack of investment on Capcom's part compromise what could have been so much better.

What levels we do have are very good, at least. Secret labs, frosty castles, and evil forests all sport fantastic art direction and a color palette much more vibrant than previous entries. DMC4 has the technical muscle to make the most of these environments, too. Beautiful textures, fantastic model detail, 60 FPS on even consoles, and some of the best lighting you've ever seen make one fine-lookin' 2008 game more visually appealing than most games made in the ten years following it. As if this wasn't enough, Capcom released a Special Edition to this game in 2014, adding three new playable characters -- good to see you again, Vergil! -- new game modes, and even more graphical touchups, albeit with slightly inferior optimization. I find it bitterly ironic that they made the gameplay even deeper when a lack of places to use it in was the big problem, anyway. Hey, it's still cool, as long as you don't get sick of the same levels and enemies. Quality over quantity is what you get in DMC4; just be ready to stick by that motto.

Let's hope that the upcoming DMC5 will keep up the innovation while adding more extensive campaigns and content. Until then, we've still got some sweet games with unparalleled gameplay, rockin' tunes, rich atmosphere, hugely entertaining romps, and larger-than-life characters. Now that's what I'm... talkin' 'bout!


Follow_Freeman's avatar
Community review by Follow_Freeman (September 09, 2018)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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