If you haven’t played any of the Devil May Cry games before the latest installment, don’t worry. The story stands on its own, and characters from the past games (excluding Dante) are almost relegated to cameos, because of how little they contribute to the overall plot. The biggest difference, and what makes the story easy to grasp for newcomers, is that Dante isn’t the main protagonist anymore. Instead, you take control of Nero, a brash, punk-ass character. He initially comes off as annoying and overloaded with angst, but as the game progresses, he becomes somewhat likable. He’s a competent replacement for the aging Dante.
There isn’t a lot to the story in the first place; it’s more of a vehicle for the gameplay, but at the very least, it won’t bore you. The game begins with an assassination of a member from the Order of the Sword, a group that worships the god Sparda. Surprisingly enough, Dante is the assassin. Nero and Dante end up duking it out briefly, before Dante escapes. It’s a compelling start, especially for long-time fans, and the story progresses without much in the way of twists or turns. It’s still well-told, however, with a fitting script filled with cheese and fantastically choreographed cut-scenes.
Enough about the narrative, though. If this is your first time playing a Devil May Cry game, there’s a lot to learn. Your objective is to cut and shoot up anybody or anything standing in your way and – this is key – looking cool while doing it. It’s what scores you Proud Souls, currency to buy new moves, and Red Orbs, currency to buy new items. Devil May Cry 4’s fighting system is obviously combo-centric, encouraging you to chain attacks together for huge combo strings. Much of it takes place in the air, as you initiate an aerial combo by performing a High Roller, which sends you and your opponent into the air. You then unleash your arsenal of moves on your unlucky foe, and then you repeat the process on another one. It sounds simple, but the combat system is incredibly deep, as you attain a well of new moves and abilities. It’s an extremely rewarding system, and as one learns the intricacies of Devil May Cry 4’s combat, it only gets deeper. Once you learn the art of jump cancelling, the ability to stay in the air longer by literally jumping off your enemies, your combos are sure to get absurdly long, and they’ll probably wow anyone watching, even yourself.
Another facet and something that’s new to Devil May Cry 4’s combat is Nero’s Devil Bringer, his demonic right arm. It has many uses, but in combat, he is able to pull enemies from normally unreachable distances, send them into the air, or slam them onto the ground. It’s also usable in the middle of an aerial barrage, because you can pull them up into the air again, dishing out more pain. It’s a nifty tool, but once jump cancelling is mastered, many of its abilities become irrelevant. The move to pull enemies towards you remains pretty useful throughout the game, though. Another new feature is the ability to rev up Nero’s sword, the Red Queen, to dish out even more powerful attacks and break through the defenses of your foes. It’s not especially crucial to charge the Red Queen, but it’s a strong start to a combo. Finally, there’s Nero ability to activate the Devil Trigger, which can be activated when you take or dish out enough damage. It’s basically a buffed version of regular Nero, and, when activated, Nero will unleash all sorts of pain. All in all, the new gameplay mechanics are nice wrinkles in Devil May Cry 4’s combat, even if they are small ones.
You’ll play as Nero for the most part, but Dante is the playable character in seven out of twenty missions. His style of fighting is different than Nero’s, but not so much that his section of the gameplay feels foreign. Dante has four fighting styles – Trickster, Royal Guard, Gunslinger, and Sword Master – and he’s able to switch in and out of each one at will, making him versatile. He offers a nice of change of pace to the combat, because you’ll have to adapt to his style-shifting fighting.
Now, purely as a hack-and-slash, Devil May Cry 4 is a rousing success. It is when it tries to do something else other than combat that the game stumbles. The platforming is mediocre at best, thanks to Nero and Dante’s spastic and odd jumps. It works for combat, but once you apply the same physics to platforming, it gets frustrating. The puzzles only serve to pad out time, and none of them are particularly rewarding. Thinking isn’t in demand here, as it just asks for some common sense and patience, because you’ll be itching for some more combat. There’s also the issue of excessive backtracking. It’s an annoying and simply cheap device to lengthen the playtime even further. The boss battles, which are spectacular the first time around, are less so the second time, and it really takes away from their impact. It’s a shame Devil May Cry 4 couldn’t get all its other gameplay aspects right, because this takes the game down a notch.
…if you don’t have a gamepad, then maybe another notch. WASD controls movement and the IJKL keys act as the face buttons. It works, but the lack of analog precision hurts, especially on higher difficulties, when precise and specific control is required. Get a 360 or PS2/PS3 gamepad for Devil May Cry 4; you’ll probably use it for future games anyway. Once you hook up the gamepad, your game will virtually identical to the console version, and if you have a nice PC setup, it’ll look better too.
Devil May Cry 4 simply looks better on the PC. Its system requirements are very, very tame, and any mid-range computer should be able to max out the game’s graphics settings. The shadows have less of a pixelated look on the PC, and higher resolutions guarantee the PC version looks better. The game’s audio is the weakest component of the presentation. The voice acting is good enough, and sound effects pack a nice punch and add to the intensity of the combat greatly, but it’s the trashy and generic music that takes the audio score down. It’s run-of-the-mill thrash metal, and after a couple hours of play, it sure does a numbers on the ears. Frankly, the game’s soundtrack is bad.
The game lasts around 10-15 hours, which is a decent length for an action game. To add value, the PC version has a couple of extra modes that are worth going through. The Turbo Mode amps up the game’s general speed even more, forcing you to be even more nimble with fingers and really driving the point home that a gamepad is necessary to survive this mode. There’s also a new difficulty mode, called Legendary Dark Knight, which pits waves after waves of enemies, literally crowding the screen with dozens of enemies on-screen at once. Good luck with surviving through that.
Ultimately, Devil May Cry 4 for the PC is for players who are new to the series or if they don’t own a console to play it. Just get a gamepad, and you’re set for one of the premiere action series in the market. There’s a lot about Devil May Cry 4 that could use improvement, but the game’s combat practically lessens the impact of such deficiencies.