Devil May Cry 4
As many of you might already know, Devil May Cry is the action series that made its appearance on the PS2 in 2001 and was received by critics and audience as one of the best action franchises of all time, thanks in large part to its main character, Dante, a half-demon Devil Hunter with a kinky sense of humor and a backpack full of great lines. In the fourth game, we get to meet a new character, Nero and witness the power of his mysterious right arm.
First of all, Devil May Cry 4 is NOT a button masher. It is possible to play the game in a more, let's say, "careless" fashion but the real joy and rewards lie in getting to know the abilities of the characters you get to control and successfully applying them into combat. Since the beginning of the series (with the exception of the -according to the writer - non-existent second installment) Devil May Cry has always been all about tactical, masterful and stylish action-packed fights against hordes of demonic creatures bound to opening the way for their masters to enter our human world. The gameplay is fragmented in combat sequences that require of the player to crash all opposition to proceed to the next area.
It's the battle system involved in crashing said opposition that puts this series apart from most other action game IPs. In similar series (like Ninja Gaiden or God of War) a fair amount of skill is required in order to survive the situations thrown at you, but in my first example (and after spending tens of hours on both NG Black and NGII) you are constantly faced with the realization that the game practices cheap methods and imbalanced mechanics in order to exterminate the player, while in the second example combat is not as fast and precise. Truth be said (and while I am a great fan of both said series), Devil May Cry 4's combat system is chess-like. With the exception of the involvement of two kinds of enemies every single encounter in the game is perfectly balanced and (even in the highest difficulty settings) NEVER feels cheap. Even if the user gets her/his head handled to him/her, one will never feel like the game is using stupid tactics in order to bring the player down. It's all about said player's skill and once you reach a certain level of understanding concerning the game's mechanics no feat will be out of reach. To make this simple and plain, there is a specific difficulty setting involving instant death for the player while the enemies are tuned on "Hard" (Son of Sparda for those who've played a previous Devil May Cry) and is still very much beatable if you know what you are doing.
Surely, Nero was not the kind of character to threaten Dante's position in the series but between the two, we are certainly looking at a killer combo.
It becomes apparent that the game's winning points lie in this perfectly constructed battle mechanic and it is this mechanic that will make you want to play the game again and again. Combined with two playable characters, a ton of moves and abilities to master and use along with some of the coolest (and most bizarre) weapons ever seen, replay possibilities become near-endless.
Aside from the combat sequences the game offers some over-simple puzzles (often involving the press of a switch) along with some platforming sections that, in most cases, are the main reason of frustration. The thing is, like in previous titles in the series the environments are semi-two dimensional (remember RE: Code Veronica?) which means that while the camera makes good work of following the character around and introducing some breath-taking views, it tends to switch it's position out-of-the-blue causing you to fall into a pit or lose track of the enemy. While this problem remains throughout the experience it is more often than not subtle and totally unable of undermining the game as a whole.
All things said about the gameplay; let's move to the technical part. In terms of graphical presentation there are few games that can stand up to Devil May Cry 4 and not fall short. It is a blend of high resolution textures, great animation, believable expressions, stunning characters and vistas along with a cohesive artistic direction that really puts you in the protagonists' shoes. The game runs on a solid 60 frames per second (with the exception of one forested space) even when chaos ensues in front of your eyes. The engine's two (and only) weak points are the shadows which are not thoroughly detailed and the lack of quality anti-aliasing (in some cases).Overall, it's a superb looking game sporting some of the most beautiful character/enemy models you could ever ask for. In case of the later, you will really be stunned by the quantity of pure imagination that was put into creating them. They are absolutely gorgeous (no metallic, laughing worms in the sub way here if you know what I mean...).
The sound is also quite fantastic; the musical scores being a mix of death metal and industrial tunes accompanied by crystal clear sound effects and - in most cases - 100% professional voice-acting. In simple terms, the sound as a whole does great work of pumping adrenaline or drama into the action wherever they are needed.
Surely, one of the worst thing in Devil May Cry 4 is the amount of repetition and backtracking that you will have to endure, a thing that proves that the game was initially designed with Nero in mind and that the same levels are used with "that other character" again as a result of the development team not having enough time in their hands to make new ones for him. One other problem is that you will have to battle specific bosses up to three times, but friends of the action genre should have grown accustomed to this generic fact by now.
Closing comments: Some people might think that Devil May Cry 4 is not as fast or challenging as they would like it to be, but this would possibly be due to the small amount of time that they would have invested in it. On the higher difficulty settings it will prove tough enough for even the most demanding of players and its speed is perfectly measured so that you will be able to understand where every attack comes from without making you curse simply because "cough" exploding shuriken "cough" will be coming to you from every direction. With a list of hard-to-earn achievements and a lot of unlockables (art, backstory info, special chars, difficulty modes and more) this game is surely a value purchase. As stated above, entertainment comes from knowing the game and once you get to know it you will hardly ever put it behind you.