Our nearly hour long play session with Devil May Cry 4 left us with more questions than answers, but not the typical ones. Even with the press materials in our hands, we weren't left wondering when it was coming out or what the connection between playable characters Nero and Dante was. Our questions were more troubling. Was all that outrage worth it? Do people really just love to complain? Was Dennis Dyack right all along?
Its predecessor, Devil May Cry 3, launched a year after Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden and right alongside Sony's God of War: two games that redefined how action games should play, much like how the original Devil May Cry did back in 2001. It's a series that had once set the bar and had since been demolished by time.
We're not going to attempt to intuit the future. The bar, as of today, remains unscathed.
It isn't about looks. It isn't about the ridiculously trite circumstances involving the story and characters (Nero and Dante are the new Sora and Roxas). This is about style. It's about evolution. It's about progress in design when the rest of the field has left you in the dust. The aforementioned action titles reminded us why we enjoyed action games to begin with. That yes, it was okay to do nothing but mindlessly slay creatures as long as the encounters were epic, tough as nails and our moves were flashy as hell.
What Devil May Cry 4 lacks is proper flow and in the face of something like Ninja Gaiden it appears archaic at best. Nero isn't the most responsive guy in the world, turning would-be combo orgies into exercises of stop-and-go frustration. Techniques to artificially keep your combos going (the "snatch" hand and pistols) keep the pace at somewhere between molasses and your Sunday drive to Wal-Mart. Even after an "expert demonstration" and countless attempts to make it exciting ourselves, we were left with an empty impression.
And then we remember what Yousuke Hayashi, director of Ninja Gaiden Sigma said regarding the Devil May Cry series. That in an action game, it's about a battle to the death and the sense of accomplishment when defeating tough foes. That empty feeling we had was a severe lack of accomplishment. Even after slaughtering countless enemies and bosses that we were told "would most certainly kill us" (said producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi), we realized that nothing really put up a fight. They were simply put there for us to slap combos on.
Adrenaline should have been pumping through our veins so hard we'd be sore by morning, but we were blank. That was Devil May Cry 4 and it was completely uninteresting. Watching Nero hop around and slug out another canned attack is like watching Hulk Hogan go for "one more match." We aren't sold when we see him take a punch today, much like we're not sold on DMC4.