Stylish action at its best
Five months after its release on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, Devil May Cry 4's release on the PC seemed to be of little consequence. After all, the last DMC game released on the PC, Devil May Cry 3 SE was hardly a huge success. And while Devil May Cry 4 for the PC is arguably the best version of the game on any platform, it still seems to lack any significant PC-only exclusives that you would expect, and hence there would be little incentive for players who have already played the game on a console to buy it again for the PC. In other words, it feels more like a well-done port rather than it's own game. However, as stylish action games on the PC go, this is top notch stuff and while it may not attract those who have already played this game on a console, for first-time players, it's a worthy addition to your game collection.
Now then, what are the differences between the PC version and the console versions? Well, the biggest and most noticeable difference, especially to those who have high-end systems, is the visual presentation. On a capable system, DMC4 looks aboslutely gorgeous with highly-detailed textures, superb lighting and smooth-as-butter frame rate. In fact, this is probably one of the best optimized and yet best looking console-to-PC ports in recently memory. While both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 versions looked great and had smooth framerates, when comparing playing the game at 1280x720 (whether it was upscaled to 1080p or not) versus playing at 1920x1080 or above with a higher level of detail and yet still having consistently higher framerates, there really is no contest. Moreover, in a game like DMC4, performance is actually pretty important as any sort of lag can have seriously implications on playability (as some situations can be very frame-specific like a fighting game). After playing the game for over twenty hours, I had yet to encounter any serious lag (and barely any lag at all) nor any game crashes. And aside from a few graphical glitches (which may or may not be video driver related) there weren't any major bugs either. CAPCOM, at least, was smart enough to polish the game to the point where a patch doesn't even seem necessary. In an age of same-day patches and glitch-filled PC ports, this is a refreshing sight indeed. (Note also that I was playing this game at 1920x1080 with max settings on a Core 2 Quad 3.2 GHz / 512MB 9800GTX machine with 8 GB of RAM, which is considered a mid-range system) Unfortunately, the DirectX10 version, while looking slightly better than the DirectX9 version offered very little benefits while at the same time ran just a little slower, meaning that there are no real tangible benefits in running this game in DirectX10. Again whether this is an issue with the game engine or with the video drivers has yet to be seen.
Yet aside from the significant visual improvements, there isn't really much that sets the PC version apart from console variants. You still get the same 20 missions, the same ranking system, the same number of abilities, etc. The only difference is the additional difficulty mode entitled "Legendary Dark Knight." (As some players will remember, this was the name of a costume that could be unlocked for Dante in the original DMC and DMC3) In this mode, the number of enemies onscreen is greatly increased, which incidently can greatly increase the difficulty of the game. While this mode is certainly fun and clearly PC-exclusive (such a mode most likely cannot even be implemented on consoles due to technical limitations), it doesn't offer any new content as you're basically just playing through the original 20 missions, only with more enemies. Moreover, this mode really only appeals to hardcore or highly dedicated fans of the game, which, as common sense would probably tell you, are most likely console game players, not necessarily PC game players. In addition, the various Xbox 360 achievements are carried over into the PC version along with one extra achievement (for completing the new difficulty mode) though no points or Games for Windows Live! features are implemented. Not surprisingly the online ranking feature is missing from the PC version most likely due to technical reasons (i.e. the existence of mods or trainers)
In fact, the game still feels very much like a console game. Despite the keyboard support and mouse support for menu navigation, no part of the gameplay feels right when playing with a keyboard. Now it's understandable why it would be difficult to implement mouse controls into a game like Devil May Cry 4 but yet it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect SOME integration of mouse controls into the actual gameplay. Not that I minded playing the game with a gamepad, but it would have been nice to be able to play this game with a mouse and keyboard instead of having to choose between keyboard only or a gamepad (as the gamepad is the clear choice). Speaking of gamepads, controller support in Devil May Cry 4 is pretty excellent. Both my wireless and wired Xbox 360 controllers worked perfectly exactly as they functioned whe playing the Xbox 360 version. In fact, the button cutomization is actually superior to the Xbox 360 verion. And if you plan on playing this game only higher difficulty settings, using a gamepad is definitely recommended.
Gameplay wise, this is still the same fast-paced, stylish, and slightly repetitive action game. Success still depends on fast execution of various combos as well as the accumulation of style points/style rankings which increases as you kill more enemies in increasing stylish ways. The way the game measures your style ranking is based upon a number of factors including the power of your attacks, the variation of your attacks, the speed at which you can change your combos, how much you taunt the enemy, etc. This style ranking ranges from "D" rank, the lowest, to SSS rank which is the highest. This style rank only displays when you engage in battle with any nearby enemies and will disappear whenever you leave a fight and decrease rapidly when you are hit by an enemy. Now what's the purpose of the style ranking? Well, the style ranking effects several things. First, it effects how many red orbs are dropped when an enemy is killed (red orbs are used as a sort of currency which is needed to purchase items). Second, it effects how many style points you receive for each attack which is eventually tallied at the end of each mission. The total number of style points are then used to help determine your final mission ranking. As you have no doubt gathered by now the style ranking doesn't impact whether or not you complete a mission but rather is a general measure of how well you are doing in any particular fight and eventually how well you have completed each missions. Speaking of mission rankings, after each mission is completed you are given a ranking on on well you've done. This rank ranges from "D" rank, which means you did pretty terrible, to "S" rank which means you did very well. This is also based on several factors including the time it took for you to finish the mission, the number of style points accumulated, the number of free-floating red orbs you found (many of which are hidden), and other factors such as whether or not you used items, whether or not you had to continue from a checkpoint, etc. Your final mission ranking will also determine how many "proud souls" you get, which can be used to purchase skills such as weapon combos and special abilities. The gameplay, for the most part, is faced paced, incredibly fun, and can be very addictive mainly due to the fact that you are being graded for every attack that you throw at an enemy. Aside from the actual combat itself there are also various 12 secret missions in the game, as well as hidden orbs and items scattered throughout the game world for you to find. All in all the overal gameplay is very satisfying.
The difficulty level is also pretty well implemented as the game missions will gradually increase in difficulty from beginning to end as more enemies are introduced. The learning curve isn't incredibly high either, as after just one play through I was good enough at the game that I could breeze through the earlier levels without a sweat. Though admittedly, the first three difficulty settings do seem a little too easy, especially compared to some of the other difficult settings. For instance "Son of Sparda" (the third difficulty setting) is a far cry from "Dante Must Die" which itself is a far cry from the extremely difficult "Hell or Hell." The results of this is that may players who have managed to beat the game on the first three difficulty settings without much trouble may find themselves smacking straight into a wall when they get to the "Dante Must Die" setting.
The story unfortunately, isn't quite so well polished and well executed as the gameplay. While in-game cinematics are always entertaining to watch, the story itself just feels very cheesy and very melodramatic, which I suppose is what you would probably expect from a stylish action game. But it would still have been nice if the various plot threads were explained better or better connected so that the various plot twists wouldn't seem quite so ridiculous. But hey, nobody plays a Devil May Cry game for the story right?
Another gripe that can be levied at the game the inability to save the progress of a mission as it is still in progress. Now you can save your data any time you want (i.e. all the orbs, items, and skills you'ved garnered or any secret mission you've completed will be saved) but you still have to play each mission through its entirety every time you load a game. Obviously the reasoning behind this is due to the mission ranking system, and indeed the game does save checkpoints so that when you die you can continue not far from where your left off. However, for people who would like to save their progress on any paricular part of a mission are out of luck and must either complete the mission or play through the whole thing again when they load the game. While this wasn't a big deal for me (not being able to save in the middle of a mission is not uncommon amongst Japanese-developed titles) it can be frustrating if for some reason your game or PC crashes and you're forced to replay the entire mission.
Finally, the game reuses many of the same envrionments, often with very little alterations, especially when you switch characters from Nero to Dante. The boss battles, which were spectacular the first time around aren't quite as neat or as fun the second or third time around. It's understandable that there will be a certain amount of repetitiveness in any action game of this sort, but using the same environments and the same bosses so many times seems almost like laziness on the part of CAPCOM.
Still, despite it's shortcomings, Devil May Cry 4 for the PC is an excellent and stylish action game that has plenty of replay values whether it's for more casual game players or hardcore fans of the series. However, it's only recommended for those who have never played the game on other platforms.