June 4, 2007 - We'll be honest with you. Devil May Cry 4 (DMC4) is not the bastion of progressive game design. It's not trying to reinvent the wheel, nor is it trying to compete with the likes of God of War. Nope, with the fourth instalment the series is going along its merry - and very Japanese - way, and honestly, that's okay with us. The series just has an infectious vitality that we find hard to resist, and DMC4 continues that tradition, with tight, juggle-intensive combat mechanics, gorgeous environments and a lead character with a sword that's bigger than he is.
Speaking of the lead character; gamers, meet Nero. Nero, gamers. Dante's taking a rest at the moment, but fear not because he'll be back and playable at some point in the final game. And by 'rest', we of course mean 'bungee jumping from a zeppelin while firing twin pistols at giant marauding demon bees'. Or something along those lines. For now though, it's all about newcomer Nero. And boy, talk about a radical design shift. These two guys are as different as night and, erm… later that night.
When parallel universes collide.
Despite the similar looks, there are a few core differences between the two. For starters, Nero doesn't wield twin pistols like Dante. Instead, he just has the one massive revolver - Blue Rose, while his other arm (you can't miss it - it's the glowing demonic one) wields - say it with me - the DEVIL BRINGER! Sorry, that's just such a cool name I can't help but capitalise it. Devil Bringer is essentially a ghostly arm that adds spice to combat and movement. Assigned to the circle button, Nero can use it to uppercut enemies, reach out and grab them from a distance, pick them up and swing them around, and even to grapple between designated points. It's a cool inclusion that mixes in well with the gunplay and swordplay to keep the combat fast-paced and interesting.
Indeed, the combat in this series has always been a glorious marriage of tight mechanics and stylish theatrics, and within moments of picking up the controller in DMC4 you'll be in the thick of it once again. One moment you're jumping, whipping an enemy up into the air, holding it there for several seconds as you unleash slashes and uppercuts before slamming it back down to the ground shouting "slam dunk" (not you you, that is, your character you), the next you're reeling an enemy in, then sending it flying before following up with a devastating dashing slash. Combat is as intuitive as you'd expect, with only the vagaries of the camera occasionally fighting against you, and experimentation is usually rewarded with something cool.
In fact, you'll probably come across the new Exceed system before the game tells you about it. You'll tap the L2 trigger to see if it does anything, and notice that Nero literally revs the handle of his sword - like a motorbike handle - as it's slung over his shoulder. Test it some more and you'll discover that by holding and releasing a few times you can build up a metre above the health bar which then saves up to three charges. By the time you've maxed it out your sword (which, incidentally, is known as the Red Queen) is glowing red. No prizes for guessing that your next attack will be an uber one. It's a bit of a strange inclusion, but brings some strategy if you want to use it - Nero moves slowly while you're revving so do you try and do it in the middle of combat? Or do you pre-charge it in anticipation of the next fight?
Go Go Gadget Arm! (Thank you, thank you very much. No really, your silence says more than applause ever could).
The majority of enemies we've gone up against so far are what we've termed "Stitchlings" (in honour of Clive Barker's Abarat series of books) - ugly creatures that look to have been cobbled together from mismatched pieces of material and other bits and bobs. They cackle and they lurch, but they also play fair and rarely attack in packs of more than a few at a time. These then, are the grunts, and while they come in a few different forms - some larger than others, some with a peg for one leg and a massive arced blade for the other, they don't present much of a problem. Thankfully, we also went up against some tougher foes. Namely, Frost Demons - resurrected from the first game and much more menacing this time around, these beasts attack in pairs, firing ice shards at Nero, defending using ice shields and dashing across the ground on a bed of ice rimmed with jagged shards. It's an ice thing. With some judicious evading (R1 to lock on, then X in different directions to dodge) however, even these abominations became merely red orb fuel for Nero.