This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Devil May Cry 4 Capcom's action franchise sequel that "delivers polished, fiendish thrills that eclipse other games in the series, and almost all contemporaries in the genre," according to reviews.
After finding success on the PlayStation 2, Capcom's Devil May Cry franchise makes its multiplatform debut on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with Devil May Cry 4. This new entry notably replaces the series' standard and well-liked protagonist Dante with a new character named Nero, who possesses an entirely different array of weaponry and abilities.
Though Dante remains playable in portions of Devil May Cry 4, series fans have wondered if Nero would be as likeable a character as Dante, and have expressed concern over the resulting shift in gameplay technique. Critics have responded well to the change thus far, and average a score of 84 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
Joe Juba at Game Informer rates Devil May Cry 4 at 9 out of 10, emphasizing that Nero is a good fit for the franchise. "I'll just get this out of the way: Nero is awesome," he assures. "Any reservations fans may have about the young upstart replacing Dante as the main hero will evaporate in the first hour of Devil May Cry 4."
Juba explains that Nero brings more than cosmetic change to Devil May Cry 4, and that his gameplay serves as needed advancement for the series. "Nero delivers all of the combo-driven action you would expect from this series, but he also opens the door for new mechanics that will make it difficult to go back to previous installments," he says. "Dante established the stylish combat at the core of the DMC, but Nero is taking it forward."
"Nero's demonic arm may appear to be a gimmick at first, but it opens doors to the most thrilling and intricate combos you can imagine," he continues. "By bringing enemies to you, the arm minimizes travel time between foes and increases your opportunities to unleash barrages of sword slices and bullets."
Juba is so impressed with Nero that he notes that playing as Dante is less exciting in comparison. "It's great to see him back in action, but without the Devil Bringer, his gameplay feels a bit outdated when compared to the tricks up Nero's sleeve," he writes.
"Not everything about Devil May Cry 4 is an improvement," Juba says, noting issues with late-game backtracking and boss repetition. However: "Devil May Cry 4 delivers polished, fiendish thrills that eclipse other games in the series, and almost all contemporaries in the genre."
GameTap's Giancarlo Varanini also expresses frustration with Devil May Cry 4's latter half in his review scored at 8 out of 10. "The second half isn't just filler," he warns, "it's also an exercise in tedium with a severe case of déjà vu."
Varanini feels that Devil May Cry 4's second half, which grants players control of Dante, feels less inspired than the initial Nero levels. "To have a Devil May Cry game where the sardonic demon slayer isn't a playable character would be blasphemous to most fans of the series," he admits. "The end result is a compromise that doesn't amount to much more than shallow fan service."
"Sure, Dante is here and playable in all of his red-leather, sass-mouth glory," Varanini continues, "but he has to backtrack through the same levels, fight the same enemies, and vanquish the very same bosses that Nero did just a few hours prior."
In comparison, "Nero's demonic right arm (called the devil bringer) does more to evolve Devil May Cry's gameplay than anything in Dante's arsenal," Varanini says. "Not only does it make more elaborate attack combinations possible, but it also makes them more accessible."
"Still, working through the game the first time as Nero is definitely fun," Varnini concludes, "and his portion of the game (which lasts about six to eight hours) definitely shows how Devil May Cry can still be relevant in an increasingly competitive (and complex) action game genre."
Kristan Reed of Eurogamer rates Devil May Cry 4 at 7 out of 10, noting that it comes up short in comparison to the previous chapter. "Despite [Devil May Cry 3's] awful music and dialogue, we were happy to dish out 8/10 for what was one of the best hackandslash fighting systems around," he recalls. "Refining the 2001 original into something truly fleshed out and compelling, it did the job."
"That said, a lot's happened in the last three years," Reed continues, "not least the arrival of next generation consoles with a larger, unforgiving audience, and some serious competition from two God of War games."
Reed explains that Devil May Cry 4 manages to keep up with the current crop of action titles in its shift to multiplatform release and its inclusion of lower difficulty levels and tutorials, which makes for a more accessible experience than its predecessors.
"DMC4 is eminently playable even if you're a self-confessed button-masher, yet pretty challenging for series veterans, with a further four difficulties to unlock for the truly committed," he says. "It's easier from the off, and the move-set is less convoluted, but the payback is that the learning curve is smoother, and the game allows you to make (and alter) upgrade choices without giving you the impression these are bad decisions."
However, Reed finds that Devil May Cry 4's loyalty to series traditions often makes for frustrating shortcomings. "In many respects DMC4 is far too faithful to its existing design template," he writes.
"The game can't decide whether to opt for a fixed camera perspective or to give you freedom," Reed cites in example. Additionally: "There are other areas where the gameplay feels old - like the way you're penned into a predetermined area to fight demons, which respawn upon your return but with no requirement to fight them other than as a means to harvest more of the game's currency."
In all, Reed expresses disappointment in Devil May Cry 4's lack of innovation, despite its expected solid gameplay. "The visuals are better, the combat's more accessible, the upgrade system's pleasingly flexible, but in practically every other sense Capcom has passed up the opportunity to do something new and exciting," he concludes. "DMC4 can still fall back on rock-solid combat mechanics and some standout moments, but it feels as though it's comfortable to slowly refine what was good about previous versions rather than evolve into something spectacular."
A lack of new features may not be of much concern for some series fans, however, and many will likely be pleased that Devil May Cry 4 does little to interfere with its established gameplay conventions. Those expecting the franchise's jump from the PlayStation 2 to the Xbox 360 and the PS3 to result in a radically different experience may be disappointed, but critics feel that Devil May Cry 4's gameplay is solid enough to make up for its faults.
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