devil may cry 4

a review of Devil May Cry 4
a videogame developed by Capcom
and published by Capcom
for Microsoft Windows, the microsoft xbox 360 and the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by Ario Barzan

2 stars

Bottom line: Devil May Cry 4 is “heck . . . yeah?”

I guess the point where I really started to expect more of the Devil May Cry series was the point where I got to God Hand. Recently, I had to economize my belongings for a move, and DMC3 turned up in my bin of games. I’m, uh, sure I grabbed the first few games on top of my Playstation 2 Game Stack, which is in a state of categorical flux, and stuffed them into the cardboard, so . . . it wasn’t a super-conscious choice. Now, I’m not aiming to label DMC3, its prequels, or sequel, as wretched things (maybe 2, on second thought). Most things in life just aren’t as good as God Hand. And, yeah, I sort of did bring DMC3 along because I know that a handful of the missions are tight and right. Yet the problems of Devil May Cry, itself, have been there from the get-go. Instead of being exterminated, they’ve become unsavory icons, and having God Hand around, with its conviction and rock-hard impact, only makes them flash in brighter tones of neon.

The first released footage of Devil May Cry 4 showed an older-than-DMC3-Dante standing in a wintry landscape, faced by a castle. General reactions involved talk of “going back to the series’ roots,” because there was an Older Dante and a Big Castle. Later still, screenshots surfaced and exhibited a Dante with a five-o’-clock shadow clashing swords with what looked like a younger doppelganger, purportedly named Nero. “Theory” threads began emerging on forums; all of a sudden, spots of the Internet burned with the flames of speculation. In hindsight, and foresight, this was as silly as people getting all curious-like whenever a new Castlevania game showed a protagonist who looked like Symphony of the Night’s Alucard and ended up not being Alucard or a dhampir. It was silly, most of all, because the canon of Devil May Cry has always been something to swat away with the proverbial hand. Still, here were people coming up with family trees and whatnot to preemptively explain Nero’s similarity to Dante, furrowing their brows, serious as a heart attack in their affair with the clunky characters and timeline of a video game . . . stuff that’s pretty synonymous with “Serious Business.” And then Devil May Cry 4 came out and pandered to that Serious Business. I could only shake my head.

Really, I don’t know what happened. Maybe employees at Capcom witnessed the Internet-centric reactions to Neo Contra’s special epilogue movie. In the movie, a samurai cuts the world in half, and then swims through the debris in space with another man. Both of the men are wearing loincloths, and an omniscient being is humming. I swear, that was worthy enough of an event to be put on a graph of human history. Yet it had a certain enraged group questioning their sexuality upon its closure, asking out loud, “Whoa: am I, like, gay?”, swiftly going to a man-on-man pornography site, waiting to see if they attained an erection, and then wiping off a teaspoon of sweat when their fears were put to rest with flaccidness. Later, they would arrive at Youtube to remark on Neo Contra‘s cutscene with hate and disgust.

Devil May Cry 3 was like a god-damned revelation after the I-piss-tears-and-stuff-icicles Dante of Devil May Cry 2. It seemed, with DMC3, that Capcom was ready to do away with one of The Terrors – the weighty pretensions of character and plot – and let the series exist in a more natural form: in the irreverent, bombastic swagger of a guitar-wielding punk who slams his fingers in the car door. The game began with Dante juggling pizza, fighting scythe-wielding demons in his shop, and watching said shop crumble after he sneezed. Later, players saw Dante running down a tower, slicing up wave after wave of huge bats, at one point throwing his sword, spearing several of them on his blade, and firing a bullet at its handle to make the sword go faster. At the apex of the violence, Dante leapt off the side of the tower and was matter-of-factly swallowed by a flying whale. The game’s makers recognized the ridiculousness inherent in their ideas, and detonated them in awesome-stupid events. The pants fit better than ever.

Devil May Cry 4 ditches this humor for its first half and shoves itself into pants five-sizes too small. In the second half, it brings smidgens of the dopey glee back, though when fifty-percent of your product is all business, and the other half is, well, half-hearted in itself, you’ve got a hell of a counter-intuitive balance act to perform. Capcom couldn’t hope to pull it off, and we shouldn’t have to work our way through hours of bone-dryness to get to something that doesn’t make us want to blush . . . not very hard, anyway. I think I knew stuff was going to hit the fan with too much reverence when Nero spoke, and I realized it was the same guy who did Vash the Stampede’s (lol he likes donuts!!!) voice, and that he has never been involved with something that didn’t make me irritated.

I’m kind of joking, there. Kind of.

Remember how DMC3 began with you kicking the piss out of crews of demons in a junk yard? And then near a bar? And then inside of a strip club? And then how you fought a huge, three-headed dog? And then how . . . you got to the tower and, uh, had to figure out how to unlock doors and make gears click. What was that about? Who was responsible for that? Honestly — the more realistic these games get, the more banal and unbelievable these fetch-quests become. I mean, how do Dante or Nero, with their textured hair and glossy coats, process these things in their heads? How does Dante – how do we — know to walk through a blue door, through a green door, through a yellow door, fall down a pit, enter a red door, head through a door on the upper level, walk back to the central room, use the Astronomical Board on a pedestal, get the Vajura, use it on a crank in another room, acquire the Soul of Steel — I mean, what the hell is all of that? There is no internal logic driving any of it, and Devil May Cry 4 does the same god-damn thing: getting you geared up with a couple quick missions, putting you in an awesome castle, and then having you track down “Gyro Blades” to break a barrier.

That Devil May Cry keeps pairing autistic sleuthing with its Stylish combat almost feels more wrong than if it were totally based on “exploration.” At least be consistent, for christ’s sake. No one buys a Devil May Cry game and thinks, “Be still, my quivering genitalia! I sure can’t wait to look for keys in this latest installment of a critically acclaimed franchise!” (and if they do think like that, they should probably be put under the care of Science). People are buying a Devil May Cry game because they want to beat up waves of enemies and feel good about it. Such joyless hunts reek of the developers being scared stuffless that someone out there wouldn’t notice the care put into the environments’ visuals if they didn’t insert points of dead time, instead of just letting us, you know, play the game and trusting in our priorities. I’m not calling for the abolishment of quieter moments – the act of just walking up to certain monuments in Devil May Cry 4 can be exciting. But when we’re walking up to something because we have a piece of metal and maybe we have to stick it in the statue’s mouth . . . It’s time for the divorce, Devil May Cry. You’ve been abused long enough by this relic from Resident Evil.

And then there’s the music. Some of it is thrashing rock-trash that has a guy grunting what is, no doubt, a mess of “hardcore” verbiage. Some of the other songs are well-produced electro-beats that might as well be thumping in the background of a liquor commercial. Some of the rest involves ambient doodles with low-octave piano notes and wind through a pipe. It’s the first type of song that makes my skin crawl. The “rock” in Devil May Cry 4 is as rancid as ever. It sounds like Nine Inch Nails taking a shower. It sounds like the soul of a man who, when hungry, reaches into his pocket, pulls out a live rat, and bites its head off. DMC3’s official OST has a monstrous number of tracks, though if you think about it, really hard, even, the game seemed to harbor less than four songs, and two of those were pieces that played when you fought anything at all. So bad were these songs, they gained the ironic status of “Minor Internet Meme.” If someone on a message board posts about Devil May Cry 3’s music, either negatively or positively, you can bet another poster shall respond in kind by copy-pasting a section of a song’s lyrics in capital letters and letting that fragment speak for itself.

I tried playing Devil May Cry 4 in front of my roommate and felt the walls, the curtains, the whole world collapsing around me. Before anything worse could happen – I had the notion he was about to punch my face and throw the game system out the window – I grabbed the remote and turned the volume down, two notches above silence. When Devil May Cry crawled from the darkness and merged its gothic veneer with electric guitars, it was kind of quirky. With Devil May Cry 4, it becomes glaringly apparent that the styling needs to get a sense of humor and take itself more seriously, already. At this point, the sound designers are likely into the swing of the option for custom soundtracks, and they might’ve figured if anyone didn’t like what came out of the speakers normally, they could go into their play-list and override it. With that attitude, though, why even bother producing the official music? And if anyone is going to argue that blood, sweat, and tears were put into the music, it’s surreal as hell to imagine a human stepping back from the Satan-scaring rock and boring Others, nodding their head, and truly being happy with the work. Nowadays, there’s the idea that once an initial game sells a lot, the company has to remain beholden to that initial “feel.” Kick this atrocious music into the trash, Capcom – track down that Belmont’s Revenge guy who disappeared – and insert things we, as people who have gotten over black-haired Neanderthals cursing to axe-shredding (or knew it was bullstuff to begin with), can groove to; stuff that lives for what it’s been placed into.



The real sore spot, I suppose, could’ve been that, in between the pretensions, relic-hunts, and embarrassing sound, Devil May Cry 4 was an amazing piece of work. But it’s not: it’s just okay. The previous title stressed a “choosing of style.” DMC4 gets interested in the idea of juggling enemies, in the idea of a self-perpetuating, chain-linked violence; a Japanese ad for the game translates to “How cool will my action get?” That sounds splendid, so start the game up and get into a brawl: knock an enemy in the air with your sword, jump up, use your Devil Arm – Nero’s left arm extends/grabs if you press the circle button – to slam it back down, use the circle button again to drag it up while boosting your aerial time, give it a few slaps to send it away, grab another ground-based foe before you get too close to the ground, bring it up to you, beat it with a flurry of sword swipes, fall to the ground, juggle it with a few gun shots, wait for it to meet your eye level and do a dash-strike, et-cetera. Dampening all this, though, is the fact that the stock enemies aren’t as aggressive as the ones from DMC3, even on harder difficulties, and the new emphasis on catching air conflicts with their inability to overcome gravity. Devil May Cry 4 is objectively better when you’re controlling a crowd of higher-ups, like the lance-bearing angels, and not when you’re dispensing with the dorks.

Another problem is that when you get to the second half — once you get to controlling Dante — you realize what you’ve been missing out on when you played as Nero (though . . . you might’ve already noticed this if you had played Devil May Cry 3). With Dante, there’s a selection of weapons and styles that opens up more routes for improvisation and exploration. Nero’s Devil May Cry, even in its “objectively better” bits, never seems to encourage you to substantially transcend the techniques you use in the beginning. Which is troubling on two levels: one, because of what I, uh, just said, and two, because the game never allows you to move beyond those initial mechanical stages anyway. Here is this fascinating system that blazes onto the scene in a sleek car, steps on the red rug in clothing that would make your mind melt out of your ears, a cigarette dangling coolly in its mouth . . . and proceeds to keep standing there on that red rug with its hands in its pockets. Move your ass, hot shot, and show us what you can really do. On the one hand, I applaud the developers for miraculously daring to lessen the load of a sequel. On the other hand, Devil May Cry 3‘s variety wasn’t a load, so much as it was what it was, and when you take all that away and decide to focus on just a couple things, you’re going to need to make those couple things work their rear ends off. Even with the Exceed and Timing elements, DMC4 doesn’t get the A-OK to launch into the atmosphere.

I’m not going to get into any lengthy ideas as to what the series “should become,” but it’s always going to be a struggle until it ditches the ugly baggage. If you’re wondering, the game looks about as good as the last one, except with more detailing and better textures. Not to be snide, since Devil May Cry 3 had dandy graphics. Now and then, it will let you know all about its ability to apply the Next-Gen Sheen, which has the unfortunate tendency to plasticize figures. Finally, to the people who flooded their house with tears over DMC4‘s installation — look: my friend and I got the game, put it in, and then sat on the couch and talked as the bar increased in length on the television set. And then we played the game when it was done. Can you imagine that?

–Ario Barzan


11 Responses to devil may cry 4

  1. I played DMC3 because I heard it was sort-of similar to God Hand. I only got half way through the game. I don’t think I’m compatible with bullstuff fetch quests and kleptomania. They really do kill a game for me. I think RE4 is the only Resident Evil game I’ve ever finished, actually.

  2. The only reason I slogged my way through DMC4 was because I was somehow misled to believe that once you finished it you could play as Dante the whole way through. What a God damned disappointment it was to find out I was mistaken. Is it my imagination or is DMC4 worse with the fetch quests than DMC3? There sure seems to be a lot more back tracking.

    Oh, also, I knew that there was going to be trouble with SERIOUS BUSINESS when watching the intro and hearing that song that is TOTALLY wrong for this game. There’s not even a remote hint of sarcasm to it. It’s very sad.

  3. Great review for the most part, but seriously, not a single mention of the Devil Hand? It added a whole new level to the gameplay. I thought the exact opposite about the second half of the game: You wait all that time to finally play as Dante, only to realize how *boring* it is slogging away with those same 2 combos over and over. And constantly having to stinger back and forth around the stage because you can’t just shoot your demon hand out and yank a guy back in after you’ve blown him across the room.

    I liked the rebalancing of Dante’s styles and being able to change them on the fly was a nice touch, but the Devil Hand is definitely the future of DMC. Just a shame that it belongs to Raiden…er, Nero 🙂

  4. I liked Nero’s devil arm combat. It was so fun. I liked watching my arm reach across the screen like a demented Looney Tunes character to wallop some poor chump. To bad such a fun weapon is in a game with so many flaws. By the way, I hate Mega Man 9. The weird thing is it does everything a Mega Man game should do. Maybe you just can’t go home again.

  5. thanks for the DMC3 tip. been stuck there for nearly 3 years.

  6. This review really hits the nail on the head in terms of why Devil May Cry games never quite work for me. That cockroach in the toiler is ALWAYS there in every game.

    I still remember years ago when I first got DMC1. My PS2 library was really small, and I wanted to find out what was the best the system had to offer since I’d been out of the loop for a while. That was back when I still actually thought that if a game got straight 9’s from sites like IGN and Gamespot, it couldn’t possibly be bad… HA!

    So I picked up a copy of DMC1, played for a few hours, didn’t really hate it, but didn’t see what was so great about it. It was just Resident Evil with button mashing melee fights and Mortal Kombat-seque background music. Boring. So I thought “maybe it’s just dated, the sequel is already out”. So I took it back to EB and got DMC2. I don’t even remember playing it, but it couldn’t have been anything other than the exact same game as DMC1, but with slightly better graphics. I took back DM2 and got something else…probably Killswitch, which was pretty damn awesome and went on to get ripped off by Epic in and sell millions as Gears of War.

    Anyway, I didn’t even touch DMC for years after that. I had written it off. DMC3 came out and I ignored it. However, over time, it got so damn much praise as a “deep action game” that my curiosity was peaked just a bit. Finally last summer some time, I figured maybe I just hadn’t given the series a chance, it couldn’t possibly suck so bad if so many people said it was brilliant, and I picked up the special edition of DMC3.

    Since I had bought for it’s reputation as a “deep fighting game” I immediately cranked up the difficulty pretty high and began slogging through the first level tooth and nails. The enemies were relatively aggressive and there were a lot of them, so it actually was fairly tough…even if a lot of the toughness just came from the fact that enemies had lots of health and you had to sit there beating each of them on the ground for 2 minutes before they would die. I learned the combos, got the technique of dodging and rolling down, and eventually conquered the alley, the street, the bar, the strip club, and finally, the 3-headed dog. I didn’t quite like all of it, but I was like “damn, I guess this is a pretty tough fighting game, even if the redundant combo porn factor is worse than MvC2″.

    Then I got in the castle, and it was like…”heck this”. Stupid puzzles and fetchquests aren’t fun in modern Nintendo platformers, and they’re definitely not in action games…particularly when it’s still running on an RE1-3 style static camera, there’s no/&^#$#ed plot, and the environment is still heavily hemmed in by things like invisible walls.

    Ad to that, the combat is just not worth it. Even though the enemies are relatively aggressive, 90% of the challenge is still just over-inflated health bars. Beating the same dude over and over again with the same combo for 2 minutes till he finally dies is not fun, even if you occasionally have to dodge some other dude’s attack while you’re doing it. Capcom cleared thought that while you were beating the same dude over and over, you’d be doing different combos for “style points” and having fun thusly, but that just not fun. It’s like being stuck in MvC2’s practice mode doing combos ad-infinitum, except every once in a while your practice dummy dies and a new one jumps in a pretends to attack you a bit before you start wailing on him. Then after you go through 40 or so practice dummies, the music stops and you have to solve some lame puzzles before you can start “fighting” (aka doing combo practice mode) again.

    The boss fights are largely very lame as well. If the HP inflation was bad on the regular enemies, the HP inflation on the bosses is 50 times worse. It’s not a real challenge, it’s just about remembering not to forget to pay attention while you’re wailing away on the boss’s flashing weakpoint, so you can dodge his eventual really slow yet overpowered attack. Dodging it is not actually that hard, you just get so bored wailing away with the same combo on that same weakpoint that when the attack finally comes, you’ve practically fallen asleep. This same problem plagues bosses in virtually all modern action games, even in RPG’s like Odin Sphere. What happened to the days when bosses were hard because they actually fought well, not because they had 5 million hit points and put up such a weak defense that by the time they fought back, you had forgotten to defend yourself?

    Developers have not really figured out non-1v1 fighting games yet. Whether it’s God of War, DMC, Ninja Gaiden, or whatever, these games are far less about fighting mechanics and far more about redundancy – doing the same canned combo against the same dude over and over till some other dude comes and tries to knock you out of it. Or even worse, level grinding by beating dead horses for glowing orbs so you can get some new special attack or combo, which essentially just equates to a new animation you can watch while you’re mashing out combos over and over. It’s not really any deeper than the legions of Final Fight-esque beat-em-ups which proliferated in the early 90’s, it’s just dressed up with combo counters, experience points, and overblown production values (ie awesome-stupid cutscenes).

    Lastly, I just want to say that the only thing dumber than retaining the lame puzzle/”exploration” mechanic of Resident Evil in this games, is retaining the lame inventory system of Resident Evil in these games. Who the heck thought it would be fun to make the player stop in the middle of combat and sort through a menu full of healing items? What is this, an RPG? A card game? Maybe if the enemies weren’t so bloated with redundant pools of HP, you wouldn’t be forced to rely on redundant pools of healing items (accessed through a menu) in order to stand a fair chance. Ideally, if healing items are going to be incorporated in fighting game at all (after all, where’re the potions in Street Fighter?) it’s better implemented as the plate of chicken you have to fight your way over to than as an excuse to pause the game and sort through some lame RE/MGS-esque menu system.

    This is why the only truly decent action games to come out these days tend to be FPS, because they aren’t infused with so many lame mechanics like fetch-questing, menu-sorting, level grinding, awkward camera, clunky controls, redundant combos, etc etc. as every other genre.

  7. The best I can say about this game is that the jungle environments are really pretty, pixelated shadows and all.

  8. i dig the rant. the thing about bosses applies equally well to DMC and Castlevania
    DMC3 had so much stupid fun stuff that didn’t get supported by the levels. swing around on strip club poles! surf on dead enemies! shoot bats from an electric guitar!
    but you were doing this all in generic environments. the whale thing reminded me of the Cave from Perfect Dark. just black and annoying
    i got to Beowulf and couldn’t be bothered beating the game. i may, someday

  9. I played the first Devil May Cry and then God of War and came to the awful conclusion that “I don’t like these kind of games”, which was actually a polite way of saying “these kind of games are stuff”.

    Then I played God Hand, which put everything into perspective.

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