(Capcom; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
GAMER Video games are often pilloried for expressing a particularly juvenile kind of male fantasy, where chain-mail thongs and Kevlar corsets comprise the latest in bulletproof lingerie and mindless, balletic violence is the order of the day. Despite the efforts of more high-minded game designers, every so often a game comes along that confirms the worst of these stereotypes. Devil May Cry 4 is exactly this game. The latest in the wildly successful Capcom franchise abounds with lovingly rendered cleavage, in which cup size is dwarfed only by the polygon count, huge phallus-substitute swords the size of stepladders, and inanely macho dialogue. Players assume control of Nero, an apprentice slayer who replaces Dante, the hero of the first three installments. The plot is effectively nonsense and its function is identical to that of a porn movie, with the sex swapped out for violence. It establishes who will be fighting, where they will be fighting, and the various configurations they will fight in and then gets the hell out of the way.
Game play is built around a satisfying beat-'em-up system that harks back to classic arcade side-scrollers. Using his monstrous sword, his trusty pistol, and a magically imbued left arm known as the Devil Bringer, Nero unleashes all sorts of punishment on waves of enemies. Stringing together attacks without taking damage allows you to build "combos," which the game grades on a scale that is undoubtedly familiar to its core player-base: eighth-graders. The most pedestrian pwnage will earn you a "D," for "deadly." More complicated attacking will allow you to garner "C" for "carnage," "B" for "brutal," and "A" for "atomic," all the way up to SSS (higher than A), which stands, of course, for "super sick style."
The combat system is abetted by the game's purposely cartoonish physics, which are tweaked so that firing your gun or using your sword after jumping actually enables you to stay in the air longer than you otherwise would have. This kind of jumping is escapist fun. Unfortunately the game also relies on another kind of video game acrobatics, the dreaded "jumping puzzle." Occasionally Nero will have to perform a series of choreographed leaps to continue his quest, while the game ratchets up the annoyance level mercilessly by adding time limits and enemies that spawn every time you screw up.
These challenges are further complicated by Devil May Cry 4's frustrating camera system. Although a freely roaming perspective has been de rigueur in 3-D games for some time, Capcom decided to stick with a fixed viewpoint during most of the game, obscuring important items and areas in order to pimp the game's admittedly lush environments. When the angle does change, it is often an infuriating 180-degree shift, so that the joystick direction you were just using to move forward now moves you backward, making basic actions like walking through doors disorienting in the extreme. Devil May Cry veterans disappointed in the new protagonist will be happy to learn that Dante appears as a player character about halfway through the game, along with his arsenal of weapons. Once Dante appears, however, the player is inexplicably forced to play through the same levels he or she just completed as Nero, except in reverse order.
This kind of backward-looking regression sums up Devil May Cry 4's flaws. Working in a medium that is getting ever more sophisticated, Capcom has made a game that cloaks yesterday's tired, game play in today's fancy graphics and hopes no one notices. I, for one, will not stand for this kind of ... hey! Check out the rack on that Dominatrix Ninja from Hell!