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'Devil May Cry 4' slices and dices with style

"Devil May Cry 4" marks the first appearance of Capcom's stylish action series on the new generation of consoles. But while the game takes full advantage of all the horsepower to offer some breathtaking visuals, it is anchored to some aging game play.
Image: Devil May Cry 4
Nero squares off against some pretty fantastical foes in "Devil May Cry 4" for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.Levi Buchanan / Capcom

"Devil May Cry 4" is a marriage of convenience between style and substance, although the former is certainly driving the relationship. This is the first appearance of Capcom's action series on the new generation of consoles — and while "Devil May Cry 4" takes full advantage of all the horsepower to offer some breathtaking visuals, it is definitely anchored to some aging game play.

A lengthy opening cinema sets up the intrigue. Knights and servants of a religious order are assembled in Fortuna City to listen to their leader talk about the fear of an incoming demon horde. Dante, a stranger to a gathered audience (but not franchise fans), crashes the ceremony and assassinates the leader in cold blood before making a dramatic getaway. You are sent after this assassin in what looks like an open-shut case of justice, but as you give pursuit, you learn that elements inside this theocracy are perhaps a little more sinister than let on to be.

The anti-hero of the franchise, Dante, is relegated to an extended cameo in the fourth chapter of the adventure. This might immediately put off some longtime fans, but the newcomer Nero is certainly a suitable replacement. Nero is something of an emo hero, disaffected by the chaos around him and always ready to dismiss danger with a dry quip. But he comes loaded for bear (demon bear, that is) with a demonic arm, a twin-barreled revolver called Blue Rose and his massive sword, Red Queen.

A giant sword, though, is not crazy enough for Capcom and the "Devil May Cry" universe. This blade comes factory standard with a motorcycle throttle, allowing Nero to rev it before plunging it deep into his enemies. This kind of quirk is a huge part of the "Devil May Cry" charm, something that you are either going to appreciate or simply not get. If any of these ideas make dropping $60 sound good – running through Sapphic demons, trading blows with a scientist who turns into an evil beetle, or ogling a buxom secret agent wearing a uniform that consists of a small curtain for her naughty bits – then "Devil May Cry 4" is an easy purchase.

Once you get around this kind of over-the-top aesthetic, though, you have to admit that the core of the game is very simple. Move Nero from one room or area to the next, defeat everything in the area, and then run to the next fight. Controlling Nero (and later, Dante) is easy to get your thumbs around, and a normal gamer can push through the game without too much trouble. Hack a demonic suit of armor here and shoot up an evil puppet there.

However, slicing and dicing demons without style goes against everything a crazy-cool hero like Nero stands for, so the game encourages you to hammer through enemies with combo attacks that fill the screen with explosive effects. Grab an enemy with your devilish arm, launch it into the air with an upstroke of the sword, rev the sword and bat it away, and then pump it full of bullets as it falls. The more combinations you string together (while the game real-time grades you with terms like Carnage, Brutal, and Smokin' Sick Style), the more style points Nero earns at the end of the mission. These points are then traded in for new moves and skills that increase your library of attack theatrics, thus allowing you to earn even more style points.

This is what will keep hardcore gamers coming back for more and more, and there is a sense of accomplishment when you do finally drive that grade all the way up to Smokin' Sick Style.

After several hours with "Devil May Cry 4" fans will discover the game's severest weakness – a lot of scenery and enemies are recycled. When you finally do reach Dante's part of the storyline, which is sure to be anticipated by his fans, you realize that he's largely covering the same ground as Nero. Dante has some fun weapons to play with, but it's not much of a condolence. The huge monsters that you fight at the end of several levels are frequently reused, too, and each time one appears its impressiveness diminishes.

"Devil May Cry 4" was originally a PlayStation 3 exclusive, but as the Xbox 360 routinely outsold the PS3, Capcom chose last year to release the game on both machines. The content in each version is exactly the same and you would be hard-pressed to find any significant difference in the graphics without a magnifying glass. So neither console owner is denied the incredible vistas the game provides in a strange jungle paradise or the intricate artistry of Gothic metropolises and manors. The animations are also incredibly fluid, giving Nero real flash when he's in the middle of carving up some demons.

Hardcore "Devil May Cry" players that followed Dante's exploits on three bestselling PlayStation 2 adventures will undoubtedly want to keep up the good fight on their new console. But outsiders considering a dance with this devil are better off just settling for a weekend rental. The game grows repetitive and doesn't offer much replay value to anybody that isn't obsessed with driving up those style scores by hacking and re-hacking the demon army over and over again.