Devil May Cry 4 (Xbox 360) review
"Nero's no Raiden. Folks who were somehow dumbfounded by Metal Gear Solid 2's ending may have groaned the last time a popular series ditched its popular hero, but it's tough to argue that starting fresh for Devil May Cry 4 wasn't a great idea. The third game did everything there is to do with Dante. Six different fighting styles and ten different weapons, one of which was a fucking electric guitar that shoots lightning and bats—how do you top that? You don't. Not that Devil May Cry 3 was perfect,..."
Nero's no Raiden. Folks who were somehow dumbfounded by Metal Gear Solid 2's ending may have groaned the last time a popular series ditched its popular hero, but it's tough to argue that starting fresh for Devil May Cry 4 wasn't a great idea. The third game did everything there is to do with Dante. Six different fighting styles and ten different weapons, one of which was a fucking electric guitar that shoots lightning and bats--how do you top that? You don't. Not that Devil May Cry 3 was perfect, but Dante peaked and moving him out of the spotlight was absolutely the right move to make.
Nero, then. He wears a tight rubber suit and his feminine cheekbones compliment the long, blonde hair that teenage girls think is a wig if you overhear them talking to themselves by using the directional microphone. Actually, he's almost a carbon copy of Dante in terms of looks and personality. Every time you start to think he's being a pussy, he goes and makes fun of a stuttering villain for the way he “t-t-t-talks”, and it's just as well. DMC4 takes some unfortunate steps away from the pulp story aesthetic of the other ones, but Nero at least has the courtesy to keep the white-haired wisecracker box checked off.
Throwing in an exact Dante clone would've been pointless, of course, and Capcom didn't. Nero's sword Red Queen isn't quite the norm, for starters. There's a motorcycle engine built into it that you can rev up during combat (awesome idea) to set your attacks on fire, either by hanging back and slowly charging it up or by perfectly timing a tap of the button so that you use the resistance of slicing into your enemy to pull off an instant rev. The latter gets stupidly addictive--nailing every hit of a move where Nero keeps slamming his sword into some hapless devil is easily the geekiest thrill I'll get all year.
Nero's got an easier time of aerial combat, too, partially since Red Queen's got a few more tricks up its sleeve compared to Dante's boring old Rebellion. The four hit Aerial Rave comes as a standard option and all-new move Calibur is an incredibly useful midair dash, like a flying Stinger. Mostly, though, it's thanks to that demonically possessed arm he's got. Oh, right--he's got a demonically possessed arm. You know how those stories go, when you just shouldn't have had that last shot. Lock onto an enemy and you can reach out and grab it, either to yank the bastard in close and pound away or pull yourself over and make slick fights with flying enemies even easier.
Even radder are the context-sensitive moves you can pull off with it. Yeah, yeah--it's not very original, but it's damn fun. Appreciate DMC1's Frosts making a return appearance? Show it by smashing them into the ground until they shatter. Demonic knight putting you in a bind? Steal his lance and impale him with it, then send him shooting off into the distance before he explodes. It can even beat the shit out of two-story tall bosses like the flaming, sword-wielding centaur Berial. Wait for the fires on his body to die down, grab his head in midair to pick him up, and slam him into the ground--this game isn't for physicists--then pick him up again and send him flying through a row of wooden houses that shatter all over him.
“Down to hell you go!”
It's not just an instant-kill button, and there's a good amount of strategy to using it. You have to work for an opening on bosses, Berial's fire only actually going down once you've risked piling on some damage in a quick amount of time. Certain enemies have similar tricks, including the wonderful Blitzes. Electric energy crackles around their bodies as they teleport around, and you're in for a shocking surprise if you try to hit them with Red Queen. Apparently motorcycle engines are good conductors--this game isn't for physicists. Instead, you'll have to dodge the Blitz's lunges and knock away his shields with your charge-up magnum Blue Rose before grabbing him and giving him a good old-fashioned punch in the face.
(It almost goes without saying that DMC4's enemies are a huge step up from chumps like DMC3's Fallen and Soul Eaters, even if they're still not as ferocious or memorable as the first game's baddies.)
You might be waiting for me to mention all the rest, but don't hold your breath: that's it. Red Queen, Blue Rose, and that possessed arm are all there is to Nero and as much fun as he is, he's so shallow that you're sure to find yourself falling into a rut. The rut, I should say. Even DMC1 felt the tiniest bit limited for having twice as many options, plus an enemy roster that was a lot more forward about wanting to wreck your shit.
What's the problem? How did the same folks that made the ridiculously deep DMC3 not at least toss Nero a few new weapons later in the game to keep him interesting? The answer is, well, DMC3. I'd imagine it went like this: a Nero-only DMC4 was halfway done, but then some higher-up at Capcom took enough time away from paying to be a whore's toilet with the Resident Evil 4 profits to insist that Dante be included so that the casual gamers stay on board. The Madden crowd is this series' bread and butter, after all.
The two fights against him would have been enough for me, especially the second when he throws everything he has at you and almost makes you feel bad for being such an awesome bastard back in the other games. Instead, I think the developers had to call what they had down for Nero good enough and then rush to throw in a half-assed Dante to compliment the half-finished Nero. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's at least what it feels like--and considering that they used the multi-platform MT Framework engine, I doubt the move to Xbox 360 was behind the eight month delay.
Dante's inclusion as playable isn't for the better. Granted, he's got a pair of cool new weapons: throwing swords that you can move into formations and then detonate, and a briefcase that's shockingly well balanced considering that it turns into a Gatling gun, a laser, a missile launcher, a boomerang, and a fucking flying battle station that you can steer around.
But this time around he's sluggish and under-equipped. Surprise: his other two melee weapons are a sword and gauntlets. Plus, while I'll admit that switching your fighting style on the fly and even mid-combo sounded awesome when I first heard about it, it takes away the strategic thinking you had to do in DMC3 about how to prepare yourself for different battles and ends up feeling like a gimmick.
I could rattle off enough little critiques about the gameplay balance that an Ann Demeulemeester model would toss me a pity-fuck for being such a geek, but I'll settle for one: Royal Guard. It was my favorite style in DMC3, where those willing to really learn their enemies' little visual/aural cues were able to parry every single attack in the game. Incredibly risky compared to dodging, but your reward was that a good eight parries filled up a special gauge and let you unleash a powerful attack, or time it right to do a devastating counter-attack. You could even slaughter the bosses with it if you had the balls to, and it was just beautiful to see.
With DMC4's Royal Guard, on the other hand, it takes a good five minutes of parrying to fill up the gauge, and this time around the most damage you'll knock off is a fourth of any boss' lifebar. What's the point? Showing off, I suppose, but hitting a Blitz and immediately parrying the damage you'd take for doing it is the only legitimate use the style has.
Dante Must Die! mode is now a joke, too, and for both characters--so you wouldn't have much of a reason to go in-depth even if the combat was on par with DMC3's. Enemies aren't more resistant to your attacks like they should be, and they tend to show up in homogeneous packs even though they're only challanging the rare times they decide to mingle. You'll never see a single one of them devil trigger if you're decent, either, and you won't unlock DMD! in the first place if you aren't. Even the bosses won't kick your ass. YouTube highlights include Nero icing Berial in 45 seconds flat, Dante beating another boss by standing still and doing the same move for a while, and Dante himself in Nero's half of the game getting caught in one of a dozen simple loops.
I won't even get into the fact that Dante's half of the game recycles the already grating levels from Nero's, but backwards. Oops, I just did. Might as well go ahead and mention that you'll be fighting the same bosses a second time in the same places, then, and a third time during Nero's token boss rush level. Why not give him a shot at old favorites like Cerberus and Nightmare? That would have been too cool, instead Capcom decided to break up the rerun marathon with rounds of fucking Snakes and Ladders. Fucking Snakes and Ladders. After this and the chessboard fight in DMC3, I'm surprised the climactic battle with Mundus didn't take the form of Connect Four.
I'm being too harsh. Most people play these games to win them once and don't even know what DMD! is, so if I completely lost you talking about the more technical stuff then it's probably a good sign. Beating the shit out of things as Nero, dicking around with all the usual Trickster teleports and pistol juggles and jump-cancels as Dante--this is fun and it's certainly not a mess on par with that other game. Trouble is, “better than Devil May Cry 2” isn't particularly high praise. Devil May Cry 4 minus its recycled levels, dull DMD!, and half-assed character split could've been a tight mix of the first's unrivaled enemy design and the third's sick combat.
Instead, it's just... better than Devil May Cry 2.
Featured community review by mardraum (August 23, 2008)
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