Back in the early days of the PlayStation 2, Capcom released a little gem by the name of Devil May Cry. It was a game that made no apologies about its hardcore challenge; bone-crunching violence; and demon slaying protagonist with a big attitude. A mediocre sequel and an awesome but way-too-hard sequel were both released in the years since. With the rising cost of game development, Capcom has decided to move Dante away from his exclusive PlayStation roots, and hop onto the Xbox 360 and PC as well.
I was given an opportunity to step hands-on with a recent build at X'07 Canada, and the first thing I noticed was how glorious the graphics for the game looked. Dante begins the demo in a cathedral, which is brought to life with fantastic art design and extremely high polygon models. There is nary an aliasing error to be found, and everything looks crisp, sharp and clean. As I progressed through the demo, I also explored the streets of a city that looks very much like Paris. Little details litter the environment, and many of the items you encounter are fully destructible. As I raced against the ten minute time limit, more and more enemies came out of the woodwork. The last section I managed to play through was an alley way that formerly consisted of cafes and shops, was now overrun by dozens upon dozens of demons. The fact that the frame rate stayed smooth despite the absurd amount of action going on is a testament to the superb engine that Capcom has constructed. Both Dante and his enemies are phenomenally animated, and the very smooth frame rate helps enhance the realism.
That's not to say the game is realistic, because it certainly isn't. This game is all about in the action in that wonderful Hollywood blockbuster sort of way. If you've played any of the previous DMC titles, you will be right at home. Each of the face-buttons corresponds to jumping, guns, sword slashes, or demon power. Notice a pattern there? With so many ways to attack your enemies, it becomes a whole lot of fun to experiment with all the different ways to take them out. With a push of the demon power button, I managed to lift an enemy over my head, only to slam him down and empty several rounds into his head that was stuck firmly underneath my boot. The game controls are smooth, and make it easy to begin some bloody mayhem right off the bat.
One problem that has plagued DMC in the past is the insane difficulty that only the most hardcore gamers could overcome. That seems to be at least partially corrected in this sequel. The enemies don't put up quite the obscene fight that they did in previous titles, and there are fewer adversaries than I was used to in my experience with the previous games (the climactic alleyway not withstanding). At the same time, the enemies didn't seem to need as much punishment to fall as in the past. This may only be the case in the demo, and I'm sure that at the very least there will be a hard mode for those who are DMC purists. Making the game easier can only be seen as an improvement as more people will be able to play the game and have fun at the same time. Accessibility to a wider audience is very important for a game's financial success, so hopefully Capcom has taken this under advisement.
The game isn't perfect, however. I found it quite difficult to find where I needed to go next, as doorways and exits are sometimes quite obscured by items or odd camera angles. Also, Dante's jump pattern has some odd timing to it that makes some of the jumping puzzles annoying. Also, despite the variety of attacks Dante has at his disposal, the game could theoretically fall into the repetition trap, although the entertainment level of the previous games makes this unlikely.
The game plays a lot like the Devil May Cry games of yore. Therefore, if you're a fan of the series, you will not be disappointed one bit at the tweaks that Capcom has made to the tried and true formula. On the other hand, with its (apparently) slightly toned down difficulty, this could very well be a very good place for a newbie to start. With its solid graphics, controls, audio, and attitude to boot; Devil May Cry 4 is looking like a fine addition to its well respected brethren. Despite looking and playing like it is close to completion, you'll have to wait until January 2008 to get your demon killing skills a workout.