In the past year, we've had plenty of hands-on time with Capcom's Devil May Cry 4, but most of that has been in non-linear chunks that haven't really allowed us to get to grips with the storyline and how newbie Nero gets to replace veteran Dante as the series hero. But we recently got an early Christmas present in the form of full review code for the PlayStation 3 version of Devil May Cry 4, and we can now report just exactly what goes down in first five levels of the game.
The opening cinematic of Devil May Cry 4 shows Nero--hiding his Devil Bringer arm in a sling--running through the streets whilst battling a group of demons. His destination is a large church where the Order of the Sword is having a meeting-cum-recital, with Nero's beloved Kyrie singing up an operatic storm. But just as Order leader Sanctus takes to the podium, Dante--the hero of the previous three Devil May Cry games--bursts in through a glass ceiling Batman-style and promptly pops a cap in Sanctus' face. This, of course, sends the Order into a frenzy, and it's at this point that you get to take control of Nero--apparently a member of the Order of the Sword himself--as he tries to take Dante down.
This opening one-on-one fight serves as a tutorial, where players are introduced to Nero's various moves, having to perform them properly before moving on (execute three jumps, roll-dodge successfully three times, and so forth). After you've dealt enough damage to Dante, the game cuts to another cinematic where Dante flees before reinforcements from the rest of the Order arrive to help Nero. It seems poor Sanctus is well and truly snuffed out, and the Order's second-in-charge Credo orders Nero to track down the assassin, who is apparently heading towards Fortuna Castle.
The end of the first level was also our first glimpse of Devil May Cry 4's level-up system. Just as in previous games in the series, red orbs collected throughout a level can be used to buy items such as health stars or even increases in Nero's life bar. Proud Souls--allocated at the end of each level--are what are used to upgrade abilities for Nero and his various weapons (the Devil Bringer arm, the Blue Rose revolver, and the Red Queen sword).
The second level of the game is the same one which has been demoed several times already in the previous year, and is the one which sees Nero traversing city streets, a wharf area, and finally ending up in a boss battle with a massive fiery boss named Berial. This boss battle is a great example of the effectiveness of Nero's Devil Bringer arm, particularly the Snatcher ability which allows him to grab enemies from afar as well as launch himself at distant targets. In general gameplay, the Snatcher worked best when staying away from mobs of enemies, grabbing one from a distance, and pummelling them before repeating the process with another hapless opponent. In the first boss battle, we found using the Devil Bringer arm to propel Nero to the back of Berial's head in order to avoid his sweeping, long range attacks an extremely useful tactic.
Glimpses of the third level have been seen previously, including the snowy mountainside where Nero takes on two ice wolf-like creatures and his first meeting with the butt-kicking (not to mention extremely anatomically enhanced) Gloria. After this, Nero heads inside Fortuna Castle itself, which serves as a hub area of sorts for the next few levels of the game. The interiors of Fortuna will be familiar to veterans of the Devil May Cry series, and features the same dark hallways, open cathedral-like spaces, and gothic look which has become a hallmark of the previous games. After dispatching a few enemies, players will run across the first "puzzle" of the game, a large torture chamber with spikes on the ceiling that Nero has to fly through using the Devil Bringer arm's Snatcher. The puzzle is more difficult than it initially looks--quick reflexes are needed in order to glide from one snatch point to the next, as even a second's hesitation will steepen the angle of Nero's approach to the next point and send him crashing into the ceiling spikes. At the end of the third level, Nero squares off against a large, armoured opponent with a wicked-looking shield and lance. This One Winged Knight is practically invulnerable to head-on attacks, so players will once again need to use the Devil Bringer arm to quickly propel themselves behind the enemy to do maximum damage.
Defeating the Knight will earn Nero the ability to move large statue-like objects called Gyro Blades around the castle. Most of the fourth level of the game requires players to find and move these Gyro Blades to a certain spot in order to open up the door into the next boss fight area. The blades--which are moved by punching them with Nero's Devil Bringer--can also be "charged up" with a few sword strikes, which then does greater damage to any foe that touches the blades. The boss that Nero squares off against in the open courtyard is a large toad creature named Bael.
After the intense Bael fight, the fifth level seems a little more sedate, and essentially has Nero exploring the castle further before uncovering a new ability which allows him to jump to high, out-of-reach places. Acquiring the Wing Talisman will activate special jump pads scattered throughout the castle, an ability Nero uses to jump to a high chandelier in the castle's main entrance, which he then swings into a wall to reveal a hidden area: a secret laboratory.
We'll leave Nero now and jump ahead a few levels in the game to instead focus on Dante. As stated in our previous coverage, players will switch from controlling Nero to Dante about halfway through the game. This particular level--the 13th in the game--sees Dante running around a strange forest, and fans of the series will be happy to know he controls and feels much as he has done in previous games. All of Dante's abilities seem to be intact, including his four attack styles of Trickster, Sword Master, Gunslinger, and Royal Guard (which can easily be switched around on the fly using the controller's d-pad). This forest level features one tricky puzzle which involves having to find the right path through a series of similar-looking intersections. At the end, Dante has to square off in yet another of Devil May Cry 4's big bosses--this time it's a gigantic creature which looks like a cross between a dragon and Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. This boss--as befits an opponent much later in the game--is more than a bit tough, but it gave us a chance to try out a new weapon for Dante: the Lucifer, a set of red blades which hang mysteriously in mid-air, only to strike all at once at Dante's bidding.
Devil May Cry looks set to deliver more of the same over-the-top action fans of the series expect. Our early play throughs have all been fairly positive, although we did find one annoying feature with the PS3 version. The game needs to install a large chunk of files on the PS3's drive, and it takes quite a lot of time (roughly 20-30 minutes by our count). This obviously only happens the first time you play the game, but it's still quite a jarring experience to be faced with a PC-like install process on a console game.
Devil May Cry 4 hits the US, the UK, and Australia in February 2008.