Oh, Devil May Cry. How my desire for over-the-top storylines, unapologetically exaggerated cinematics, and non-stop frenetic gameplay has missed you. How my bruised, mistreated fingers have dreaded your return.
Devil May Cry 4 marks both the series' first foray into this iteration of the next-generation console era and the first cross-platform release of a DMC game. The latter is pure business—given the PS3's slow start, developer Capcom decided that a multi-platform release would best get their game in as many hands as possible. The former is just a sign of the times, and Capcom uses the tools of the times to their advantage. While the first three DMC games weren't hard on the eyes, DMC4 finally has the processing power behind it to give the same level of attention to detailed scenery that was once reserved for the games' larger-than-life characters.
The storyline, as I mentioned before, is unrepentantly melodramatic, but in a comically self-aware way that deftly evades the forehead-slapping seriousness that it threatens to evoke. Introduced to the series is Nero, DMC protagonist Dante's long-lost younger second cousin once removed who, having no ties to the family business, has fallen in with all the wrong crowds. With no strong role models during those important post-pubescent half-demon years, Nero has turned to the church for guidance, becoming (with the help of the church's military unit) a stereotypical brooding young loner who takes on all comers to prove that he's good enough to take the team to the playoffs if Coach will just put him in the game.
All this changes when Dante inexplicably attempts to assassinate Nero's high priest. As this interrupts a conversation between Nero and his Obligatory Love Interest, Nero is bound by Emo-Kid Law to either hunt Dante to the ends of the earth or to write self-indulgent pop-punk about how the unfairness of the world makes him feel. As this is a DMC game and not Guitar Hero: My Chemical Romance Edition, Nero thankfully chooses the former path. Along the way, he learns some of the truth about his origins (the rest probably being saved for DMC5), racks up a ridiculous kill count, and finds that his benefactors aren't as benevolent as he's been led to believe.
Nero's gameplay innovations consist of the Devil Bringer, his demonic right hand which serves as a multipurpose grappling tool, and the Red Queen, a combination of sword and motorcycle that is singlehandedly awesome enough to earn Capcom unilateral forgiveness for the disappointing Devil May Cry 2. Like Dante, he wields a firearm as well (a pistol named the Blue Rose), but the abilities gained from the Devil Bringer and Red Queen make the addition of a vestigial ranged weapon seem like an afterthought meant to satisfy aesthetic notions.
Most of the game is spent zipping around as Nero, using his Devil Bringer to hurtle from one horde of demons to the next like a sword-slinging, steampunk Bionic Commando with a surly attitude and a MySpace profile. It's fun, but a bit repetitive. Nero's pre-boss slaughterfests suffer from an overabundance of nigh-invulnerability, as creative use of the Devil Bringer easily keeps him one step ahead of the game's unending tide of cannon fodder. Combined with the sometimes annoyingly difficult boss fights, this gives Nero's levels the uneven pace of a lawn-mowing session interrupted at random by Jason Voorhees.
Adding to the ride's bumpiness is the mid-game character transition. Playing as Dante in a Devil May Cry game isn't exactly unexpected. What I didn't expect was how after 10 levels of playing as Nero, I would actually prefer to continue with him instead of having to re-learn Dante's moveset for half a dozen more levels before having to re-learn Nero's moves again for the game's finale. Granted, Dante is faster and stronger than Nero, he largely removes the difficulty from boss encounters, and his nonchalant, arrogant swagger had me snickering through his cutscenes, but Nero's Devil Bringer-aided maneuverability adds a level to the gameplay that Dante's tried-and-true formula just can't match. In DMC4's world, Dante is more fun to be but less fun to play.
Throw in the gripes typical of the genre—the laborious "kill all enemies to proceed" phenomenon, the late-game "fight all the bosses again" level—and you end up with a game not without its faults. It's definitely not the worst in the series, though, and if you think you can get through it without strapping ice packs to your controller, you're by all means encouraged to try.