Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Devil May Cry 4



Devil May Cry 2 was an awful game. They took a game that had little story to begin with and took that out, leaving what was essentially a series of (bad) Devil May Cry minigames. On top of that, the designers of the second game also decided to reuse art from the first game, which would be forgivable if the first game hadn't already reused it's own art several times over the course of the game.

Although the third game was supposed to be on a par with the first game, I never played it since the difficulty was supposed to be outrageous. This wasn't wholly unexpected since the first Devil May Cry featured an easy mode that had a tense difficulty, and a 'regular' mode that was reserved for those ever so rare gamers who enjoy nonstop Megaman levels of aggravation. And all that is quite a bit apart from the even harder 'Dante Must Die' mode that was designed by someone who hates humanity.

Devil May Cry 4 sets out to correct those sins of the past while updating the already gorgeous artwork and adding an additional fully playable character. Playing this game reminds of how fun the original Devil May Cry was. A brawler at heart, the game is all about using quick responses to take down multiple enemies at once.

This game also elicits nostalgia by reusing some of the same gaming devices that were used in the first one. Reusing entire levels? Yup. Frequent returns to vanquished bosses? Oh yeah. Firearms that are nearly entirely useless? You know it.

Any of those devices would be faults in any other game but so much care has been put into enemy design, level design, and the easy to master, though deep combat system that the throw-back devices come off as an intentional choice, rather than a cheap out. The designers sought to take what made the original Devil May Cry great and make it better, rather than reworking it into an unholy mess. It's in every way like the original: fun, but not involving; really good, but not great. An enjoyable ride if you take it for what it is.

However, outside of the review I do have something to get off my chest. It has to do with the character control scheme. This is something that's at fault in nearly every game with a third person perspective, including the excellent God of War games which borrowed heavily from DMC. To set this up, here's some in-game shots of DMC4:

In the first shot the character is fighting an enemy on the left of the screen while in the second a character is fighting an enemy that is at the 'front' of the screen in between the character and the person playing the game. The in-game controls work as you might expect with the player pushing left in the first shot and 'back' or 'down' in the second.

The problem comes in at the inevitable camera change when switching areas. Hypothetically the character on the left might fight his way into a new room which will require a new camera view. At this point the camera might be looking straight at the character instead of his left hand side. Now all of the sudden the enemy the character is fighting is no longer on the 'left' of the joystick, but 'down', leaving the player vulnerable while an adjustment must be made. What makes it worse, particularly in some of the beautiful wide shots in DMC4, is that you cannot even see your character in the new camera because they're behind a wall or whatnot. At that point there is no way to know which way to attack.

The DMC games have a closely related game in the Onimusha series. Same publisher, same concept, just with a different setting and a more patient, less frentic combat system. In the first Onimusha (at least, I cannot remember the others) the control scheme was that you pushed on the joystick from the perspective of the character rather than the player. Under this scheme, 'up' on the joystick always moves the character forward and 'down' always makes him turn around. This took some getting used to since the natural inclination is to push the character around on the screen like he's a glorified mouse cursor, but in the long it was far superior since camera perspective didn't matter: if the enemy was in front of you, which is normally the case, you just keep pushing 'up' irregardless of what way the character was facing on the screen.

Although I loved it, no one else did. Kid Sandmich in particular loathed the system despite my many attempts to sell it to him. Despite it's lack of popularity, it would be nice if it could at least be an option on "third person" games like this.

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