Devil May Cry 4
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom
Box Quote: “As if Baz Luhrmann adapted the Necronomicon into a video game” -- Iroquois Pliskin, versusclucluland.blogspot.com
Full Disclosure: I played Devil May Cry 3 for the Playstation 2 back in the day, and I have two memories. First, that game was an ass-kicker. It didn't have check points, so if you died you had to play the whole level over again; because the first boss was in-fucking-sane, it took me almost four hours just trying to get through the first level. The game made you spend your precious orbs in order to buy mid-level continues. Who does that? Second, I remember that the main character had this move where he would chant “Blastoff!” and knock these demons into the air. “Why is that dude saying 'blastoff!' all the time?” my roommates would ask. “That's what you say when you're fighting demons, and you're unconcerned about your safety.” I replied. The main guy was totally intent on looking cool as he fought these hellbeasts, apparently unaware that I was sending him to certain death yet again.
Gameplay: Ninja Gaiden designer Tomonobu Itagaki once derided Devil May Cry by saying that it's not an action game, it's a combo game. This is true, but it shouldn't count as a knock. The combat system in Devil May Cry isn't as complex as Gaiden's, and it's not as spectacular as God of War's, but it has a unique fluidity. The enemies aren't really there to kill you; they're a canvas for you to weave interlocking sequences of stylish attacks, dodges and juggles. Making it look good is an end in itself, and the mechanics reward your commitment to style over substance. This approach to character action is exceptionally smooth-feeling and satisfying, which is fortunate given that the game has some serious deficiencies in the level and enemy design department: after you've battled through the first twelve or so levels of enemies and bosses, be prepared to hang a uey and play the exact same levels and fight the same bosses in reverse. The final level also contains a japanese-action-game convention that has become my personal bete noire: the final-level tour de bosses. This means that you will have fought every boss three goddamn times by the time you finish. However, these boss fights should challenge your reflexes and pattern-recognition skills to their limit; even after my third tango with the demon frog I found myself pumping my fist in exultation. Good times.
Story: The problem with video game stories isn't even that most games don't aim at realistic drama. It's that so many try for genuine pathos with such a blithe disregard for their own cliche-ridden scripting and boldly mannerist voiceacting. Devil May Cry, on the other hand, makes lemons out of lemonade by basking in its own ludicrousness There's more than one dude in a trenchcoat to control this time around, and you'll run around killing demons with guns and demonic hands and implausibly large swords. No-one seems too intent on portraying real human beings, and this frees all the characters up to spit corny dialogue at each other and display a careless attitude towards death. It's the Ocean's Thirteen of video game narratives: everybody just seems happy to be there. They show up, chew some scenery and take home their paycheck. There's a plot in there too, and if the faux macho posturing doesn't hook you, the rampant anticlericalism might do the trick. Coletta Factor! At the end of the game you kill the pope. Good times.
The Takeaway: Devil May Cry 4 protagonist Nero sez: “Now I know what this hand is for: it's for sending guys like you back to hell!” No, seriously. He's not just jerking you around. That is what it's for.