In keeping with the current industry-favourite theme of ‘updates, remakes and remasters’, Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition is the latest title in a line of current-gen ports nobody asked for. But it’s alright, because now we all get to play as Vergil, so excuse me while I go hurl my wallet at the nearest Capcom employee.
Ultimately DMC4SE has left me feeling pretty stupid. Because like so many other fans of the franchise, the lure of strutting around Fortuna City, Yamato in hand, white-cutting my way through button-eyed sack-demons, was too enticing to resist; and enough to distract me from remembering just how frustratingly flawed the original DMC4 experience really was.
The game’s campaign is split into two parts, kicking off with franchise newcomer Nero, before swapping over to old-hand Dante for the second half. It’s in this mid-game handover that 4’s pacing is all but destroyed, as the ‘Dante’ half of the story is just the ‘Nero’ half in reverse. Locales are reused and recycled enough as it is, so being made to traipse through them on multiple occasions quickly gets dull.
The Special Edition considerately makes its three new characters and Legendary Dark Knight mode available from the off, so seasoned demon hunters can jump straight into the new content. Bloody Palace mode requires unlocking through story completion however, as do the various difficulties (assuming you don’t just pay for them with the micro transaction-esque DLC.) But regardless of who you’re playing as, the story remains the same, and Vergil, Lady and Trish all get to trudge though the exact same scenario with only one new cutscene at each end to provide any kind of context.
Perhaps we’re missing the point though. DMC4 is an action title first and foremost, and unlike some other aspects of the game, the combat is difficult to flaw. While the new characters do little to enrich the story, they do add some much needed variety to the original duo. It was hard not to feel as though Nero was just a simplified, straightjacketed Dante in the vanilla experience, but Vergil, Lady and Trish all offer unique play styles, with tremendous depth and scope for customisation.
Contrary to the ‘bull in a china shop’ offensive style of the base characters, Vergil offers an altogether more composed approach. Attacks and combos compromise almost entirely of blindingly quick swings and white-cuts, each rounded off with a satisfying ‘click’ as Yamato is re-sheathed. But the brilliant addition of a Concentration Meter means players have to stay calm and focused to really make the most of his power.
‘Concentration’ gradually increases during combat, which scales up attack damage, but only when moving at walking pace, taunting, or landing one of a few specific attacks. So fights become as much about role-playing the character as slicing up demons. Sauntering towards an enemy before decimating it with as little movement as possible is a thrilling experience, and one that feels refreshingly different to the frantic button mashing of Dante’s style.
Of the two ladies entering the fray, Trish is the easiest to get to grips with, delivering swift, lightning-imbued melee combos and broad swings with the delightfully oversized Sword of Sparda. Lady perhaps boasts the biggest style change though, inverting the usual formula of swords over guns. Her bayonet-equipped rocket launcher, the Kalina Ann, unleashes explosive, ranged barrages and comes with a built-in grappling hook to pull in enemies for close range assault. And for every other distance, the demon-hunter standard issue pistols and shotgun, function as her backups. Perhaps most interestingly is her Devil Trigger, where rather than switching forms (since she’s only human), Lady drops a circle of devastatingly powerful Steil grenades around her, obliterating most regular enemies and providing some much-needed breathing room in harder encounters.
Combat really is king in DMC4, so whether or not the Special Edition is worth dropping £20 on, depends on what you want out of the experience. Hopping between bladed marionettes, dropkicking angels, and shooting bullets out of the air in ‘Smokin’ Sick Style’ is a truly awesome spectacle, and one made suitably cathartic by the accompaniment of DMCs’ gothic-rock soundtrack. But the horribly repetitive nature of gameplay and crippling pacing issues, mean that players looking for an all-round experience rather than just a great combat system, will be inevitably disappointed.
No amount of current-gen polish and ‘1080p/60fps’ gameplay, was ever going to fix the inherent problems with Devil May Cry 4’s story design, but those seeking a hard-as-nails action-adventure with a meaty combat system, would do well to give this a look. Between the new characters, new-to-console difficulty level, added costumes and tempo-upping ‘Turbo Mode’, this truly is the definitive version of DMC4; just remember that still doesn’t make it a good Devil May Cry.