The game opens with Nero watching love interest Kyrie's opera performance at the church. The series' leading character Dante suddenly breaks through the ceiling and assassinates the High Priest of the Order of the Sword.
You take control of Nero and your first task is to battle Dante. Both Dante and Nero look and dress very similar, so it's a very confusing start to the game - during cut-scenes and the opening gameplay. Although Dante is a powerful swordsman, he plays a passive aggressive style which allows you to follow the tutorial to learn the controls.
You move with the left thumb-stick, jump with A, shoot with X, sword attack with Y. B uses Nero's Devil Bringer (a cursed hand) which allows him to grab from range. Outside battle, this is used as a grappling hook in specific areas. You can lock on an enemy with RB, which allows you to dodge sideways with A.
You need to chain Sword, Gun and Grab moves into a combo to attack with more style, but actual defined combos are lacking - so I found myself pressing different buttons just to mix things up, rather than for creating great combos. During battles you'll hear industrial music but this soon grows tiresome since it's the same song again and again.
The game very much reminds me very much of Bayonetta. Gothic architecture, hack & slash game-play, and over-the-top action. It has a very arcade-feel to it; very much like a Sega game.
The gameplay sees you go from room to room, usually exterminating the enemies within to proceed to the next area. There are areas where the door opens up by solving a 'puzzle' but this is usually simplistic like hitting a switch or moving an object to a specific location. The camera can be troublesome since it is usually locked like the old Resident Evil games, so you move off the screen and are now running at a completely different angle. Some rooms allow you to pan the camera using the right analogue stick, but this feels very arbitrary when you can do this.
The thing that was a huge annoyance is that there's lots of disruptions. Each area is small, and going through a door pauses to load. The action is further interrupted with lots of cut-scenes. I thought this would ease off as you progress through the game, but it's consistent throughout. It's even more frustrating when you go through doors (wait to load), move forward two steps, watch cut-scene. Why doesn't it just go straight to the cut-scene when you reach the door?
There's plenty of destructible scenery which gives you red orbs to collect which are also dropped from enemies. At the end of the level, you are given a rank which determines how many Proud Souls you are awarded. These can be spent to unlock new moves. The cool thing about this unlock system is that you can get a refund on moves if you decide you don't like them. With the red orbs, you can purchase disposable items like health restoration and revives. With each one you purchase, they become progressively more expensive which penalises less-skilled players, so I found this a bit of a strange mechanic.
The game consists of 20 chapters which usually last between 10 and 25 minutes. There's only three themed areas, and once you see all the locations by chapter 13, you will switch to Dante and have to essentially work backwards through the levels again. His levels aren't direct copies though, but rather remixed with new and stronger enemies, although you will meet most of the same bosses again. During the penultimate level when you take control of Nero once more; you have to battle some bosses a third time!
Dante has multiple fighting styles which are changed with the D-Pad. This switches out the ability that is mapped to the B button (which was Nero's Death Bringer attack). Dante also has a couple of different guns he can switch between. The lack of Death Bringer makes playing as Dante feel a lot more difficult since you can't pull enemies towards you, or pluck them out of the sky or ground if they are flying, or underground-based enemies respectively.
Overall, I felt Devil May Cry 4 is a decent game, but it has its limitations and doesn't really excel in any way. Other hack-and-slash games have had a better combo system, better stories and have had less repetition in stage design.