I bought Devil May Cry 4 during one of these frequent Steam sales that are designed to separate me away from my money. Normally I wouldn’t waste my hard earned cash on a game like this, but and thanks to the deep discount it cost me a few bucks. I figured that even if it was abysmally horrible, it did not cost me more than a sufficiently fancy cup of coffee at Starbucks. So it was not huge loss.
As far as I was concerned, the game had a few things going for it. First off, it had nice and long cinematics which looked very, very pretty on the highest resolution settings. Secondly, it had a lot of them, which to me suggested at least a half decent story and characters. After all, you wouldn’t make 20 minute cut scenes if you didn’t have at least something to say, would you?
A while ago, I watched this Unskipable episode, and while I couldn’t really follow the story, it looked somewhat intriguing:
Secondly, the game play looked kinda fun. I was actually looking forward to launching my enemies into the air with my sword and then keeping them up there with a sustained barrage of gun fire. The crazy sword and gun antics looked great. So I figured, why not give it a chance.
I was wrong on both counts. To me, Devil May Cry 4 is essentially a case study in:
- how not to port console games to PC
- how not to make games in general
- how to lose the player’s interest in the first hour
Let’s talk about how the game was ported to PC first. But instead of droning complaints, I will try to re-enact my first few minutes with the game in the form of an imaginary dialogue. This is pretty much how it went down:
Ok, let’s do this!
“Very well. First I will need you to plug in your X-box controller.”
“You know, your X-box controller. Don’t tell me you don’t have one?”
Why would I have… I’m on PC! Why on earth would I need… WTF game! No controller, this is MOUSE AND KEYBOARD country!
“You don’t want to play with mouse and keyboard, trust me”
Fuck you game, I don’t have a controller so it’s either mouse and keyboard or nothing
“Sigh… Fine, but it’s gonna suck for you.”
Whatever. I’ll deal with it.
“Riiiight… So lets go over controls. You move with WASD…”
Duh! SKIP TUTORIAL!
“No wait, this is important!”
Sigh… Jesus. Fine, what else. How do I jump?
“You will jump with I, shoot your gun with J, and swing the sword with K”
WHAT… THE… FUCK…
You do realize that these keys are on the opposite side of the keyboard, right? How am I supposed to hold the mous…
“It’s fine, trust me… Though if you had an Xbox controller…”
Shut up with the controller! Fuck the controller. Ok, here is the deal – you expect me to steer with the mouse, then lift my hand over to the keyboard to pres J,K and I and then… Shit… Can I rebind these? Fuck, I have like 5 button mouse – that will work, right?
“Oh, you won’t need the mouse in this game.”
“No mouse needed.”
How is that even… You are supposed to be a PC port. I don’t even… How am I going to move the camera around then?
No, I heard that but… WTF? So I have to take my hand off the combat keys if I want to look around? Who the hell designed this?
“Well, see if you had an Xbox controller this would not be a problem…”
As you can probably deduce from the above, I did not enjoy the game play as much as I could due to horribly ported control scheme. It probably would have worked with a console style controller, but playing with just the keyboard was awkward and uncomfortable. Not to mention the game isn’t all that fun to begin with.
The opening cut scene features 4 prolonged combat sequences, and you don’t get to participate in any of them. You just get to sit there and watch your character performing these incredibly bad-ass take down moves, bouncing off the scenery and talking smack. Then when you finally get the controls, your job is to run around linear corridors and mope down low level mooks. And you can’t even do any of the cool special moves you just seen your character do in the cut scene. Your combat sequences are boring, by the numbers ordeals – nowhere near as spectacular as the pre-rendered fights.
You can clearly tell that the game designers were having way too much fun animating fight scenes, because they wrestle the controls away from you every chance the get. Whenever there is a boss fight, you get to watch a very flashy, spectacular martial arts sequence both before and after the actual combat sequence. The combat itself is really just a short “mash buttons to DPS and dodge attacks” routine between prerendered animations. You don’t really get to do much on your own. As a matter of fact, the only time the game gives you control over your character is when it is time to do some boring stuff – like run around the world, collect power ups, solve boring puzzles or deal damage in the mid portions of each fight. And as soon as it even looks like fun is on the horizon they serve up another cut scene.
Which wouldn’t be that bad if these cinematics were actually interesting. Now, don’t get me wrong – they definitely do look very good at high resolution settings. In fact, when I started playing the game my brother was quite impressed with the graphics. He actually thought I was playing a brand new release and not a 3 year old console port. The problem with these scenes is that despite their considerable length, they are almost completely devoid of content.
You would think that the 20 minute opening cut scene would deliver all the exposition and character introduction one would need to understand what is going on in the game. But no. They spend most of it between 4 prolonged combat scenes, and the rest of the screen time is used to establish that your character is a bit of a jerk, and that he seems to have a crush on this girl who likes him back, but they both lack emotional maturity to actually even acknowledge it. So they are having some sort of middle-school like, semi-platonic relationship that I didn’t really have any patience for.
You get to watch these two love birds shooting each other pining looks across the room, blushing, carefully avoiding eye contact, etc… Then some guy shows up an starts a fight. Then he runs away. Then rag-doll monsters show up… Then you go go somewhere and run into all kinds of monsters and demons. And no one actually bothers explaining any of this.
I played the game for about 2-3 hours, got through two boss fights and I still had no clue what was going on. I was becoming more and more confused. I had like a growing list of questions that no one bothered to address because all the cut scene time was filled either with the middle school romance shit, or fighting.
- Why was the city infested by monsters?
- Who was the guy in the red jacket who looks exactly like my character?
- Who is my character? Like, what is his role in all of this? What does he do when he is not pining for his would-be girlfriend or fighting monsters?
- What is my goal? What am I supposed to do?
- How long until the guy with the goat tee will turn out to be a traitor…
I know, I know – this is a fourth installment in a long running series. It is probably fair to expect that the players will have at least some knowledge of the game world and the characters by now. But would it kill them to include some quick re-cap or exposition dump for people who never played previous games? It seems that most sequels at least try to introduce the newbies to the setting in some way. Sometimes it is an exposition spouting NPC, sometimes it is an info dump in the opening cut scene, and sometimes this information is delivered by some sort of in-game encyclopedia/codex. This game has none of that.
Perhaps I did not play long enough. Perhaps all the relevant back story is delivered at some later point in the game. All I know is that after spending several hours with Devil May Cry 4 I hated absolutely everything about it. I hated the controls. I hated the game play. I hated the way it would wrestle the control from me every time something interesting happened. I hated the characters. I hated the story, mainly because it was incomprehensible. I just could not be bothered to finish the game.
I’m sure that someone will say that I can’t judge the game without actually playing through all of it. Sure I can. To me this is a strong indication of the overall game quality. The initial 2-3 hours are supposed to hook the player in, introduce him to the game world, and make him care about the characters. Devil May Cry 4 failed to do that for me. I was annoyed, bored and discouraged. I had no interest in spending any more time with the game. To me this is a game design failure.
Of course this is just my personal opinion. Obviously the Devil May Cry saga has many fans – otherwise it would not have over 4 installments. So if you are a fan, could you please explain to me what the hell is this game really about? I tried looking it up online, but Wikipedia only has a play-by-play plot synopsis which did not answer any of the questions. Like what is going on, who is my character and why should I care about his shit?