Ever since we got our first glimpse of Devil May Cry 4 on the PlayStation 3, we've wondered what's become of longtime franchise hero Dante. Although newcomer Nero looks similar and plays quite closely to the franchise's white-coiffed poster boy, he doesn't have Dante's baggage. But longtime fans of the series that have grown attached to everyone's favorite demon killer shouldn't despair, as the series' original fancy hero is back and playable in DMC4. Following an update on the game and a showcase of Nero-centric gameplay at a recent Capcom press event, a trailer closed out the presentation and showed off Dante in action. Thankfully, Capcom had an updated version of the game for the PlayStation 3 on hand for us to try out, which let us see how the latest entry in the series is coming along.
The demo was an update of what we played at the Tokyo Game Show last year, and it also included a brief sampling of an area that had only been seen in a trailer and a boss fight. The TGS area had us guiding Nero through a city overrun with demons and onto a dock area. The game's performance has tightened up and was more consistent. Combat was still basically the same, but the demo did include new moves for Nero's mystically powered arm. These included the ability to grab distant enemies and jerk them in close for a beating, a context-sensitive throw attack, and the ability to power up your sword by revving it up with the shoulder button, all of which afforded some cool new combo options.
The two new areas were a snowy castle and an intense boss fight. The castle and the snowy path leading to it were seen briefly in the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo trailer but hadn't since been playable. This level let us run up to a massive castle in the distance and face off against icy enemies, who were best dealt with using the context-sensitive throw. In this case, the throw let us snag them and windmill them for a bit, which made it possible to throw them into each other. This was key to taking them out, because they were self-replicating menaces. Breakable pillars scattered around the area yielded life-restoring green orbs, which helped make up for the times when we weren't able to dodge out of harm's way.
The boss fight was one painful can of worms to open. The battle began with Nero innocently walking into a seemingly deserted town and meeting up with Berial, a foul-tempered demon not unlike The Lord of the Rings' balrog. One testosterone-infused verbal exchange later, and Nero was mixing it up with the massive demon. The battle required us to figure out how to extinguish the creature's protective afro of fire, leaving him vulnerable to Nero's context-sensitive attack. As we've seen in the previous games, DMC's boss demons are generally ill tempered and not what you'd describe as pushovers. Berial will uphold that tradition with a painful and varied array of fire attacks ranging from a flaming sword and explosive volleys of flame to a massive screen-filling explosion. Though Berial's run to kill Nero trashed the houses in the town (which at least yielded green orbs), you'll still have to put a lot of effort into not getting stomped. However, once you get his pattern down, the fight is challenging but doable. We also have to emphasize the incredible sense of satisfaction that's derived from Nero's context-sensitive butt kicking. The visceral pleasure of beating the snot out of a towering demon is great, although we have to say it made us miss rumble a little.
Beyond the playable demo, the presentation and closing trailer showed off Dante in action. Though details were somewhat scarce, it was revealed that he'll return with the fighting styles seen in DMC3 and its special edition. This time out, players won't have to stick to a set style, as you'll be able to switch between them all on the fly, which should make combat pretty interesting. As for when Dante will be playable, it sounds as though players will gain control over the veteran demon killer as the story progresses. Capcom is still keeping plot details mostly under wraps, but we know that Nero is part of an order of demon hunters who's been dispatched to take care of some problems--and that he'll cross paths with Dante. How that meeting goes is going to be interesting. We expect, at the very least, for Dante to ask about Nero's familiar sense of style--possibly before trying to beat him up...time will tell. We do know the game is set after the events in the original DMC but before DMC2, at least.
As we mentioned, Devil May Cry 4's visuals are coming together nicely. The TGS areas were more polished and the new locales had a nice, refined look to them already. Nero's fight against Berial was likely the most impressive thing we saw, due mainly to the sheer size of the demon. We were pleased by the game's performance overall, which stayed steady. The camera worked fairly well, although it got awkward in a few spots, most notably when Berial had us cornered. Still, for an incomplete game, the camera system managed to keep the focus where we needed it. Audio is shaping up equally well, with the now-familiar silence-and-rock formula we've come to expect from the DMC games in full effect. The sound effects, most notably Nero's gun and the death cries of demons, are all satisfying and suit the action well. The voice acting we heard was on par with the previous games, offering a mix of good and cheesy.
Based on our time with the work-in-progress version of the game, Devil May Cry 4 is shaping up to be a solid follow-up to the previous games. The expansion of the game's scope is a good fit, although we'll admit to hoping for a bit more interactivity this time out, and the gameplay is comfortably tight. The new gameplay elements are cool and fit well into the game's style. Fans of the series will definitely want to keep an eye out for the game when it hits the PlayStation 3, PC, and Xbox 360 in the hopefully near future.