Great action, not-so-great camera in DMC4

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Games sure do look pretty these days. The creators of “Devil May Cry 4” must understand just how pretty it is, because they make sure to show off the visuals. It’s even fun to play — when you can see what the hell you’re fighting.

There’s yet another white-haired, trenchcoat-wearin’, gunslingin’, wisecrackin’ demon hunter in town: Nero. The visual differences between him and series’ poster boy Dante are minute, but when players get the opportunity to control Dante again, the gameplay differences become crystal clear.

The game combines its premise, a gothic apocalypse, with a love story and over-the-top fight scenes into a single narrative, and the results are quite odd. For every scene that shows Nero or Dante performing fancy footwork and talking smack, there’s another intended to be serious or touching.

Problem is, there’s almost no context regarding the plot itself. Even the game’s big twist, Nero’s arm of demonic power, never receives an explanation or origin story. Capcom hopes your response to all of the story questions is, “Who cares? The cutscenes look awesome.”

And do they ever. DMC4 is pure eye candy. The framerate never dips below a buttery smooth 60 fps, and the sense of scale in the environments is massive. In the aforementioned cutscenes, Nero and Dante pull off such impossible feats as loading a six-shooter with one hand and blocking bullets with swords.

Which brings me to the game’s biggest flaw: a camera that stays fixed on cool-looking environments when players need control of it the most. The camera can be manipulated in select areas, but when players can’t figure out the positions of the things trying to murder them, the lack of a controllable camera is inexcusable.

On the other hand, enemies who actually fight back are of a rare breed in DMC4. Most enemies act like slow, walking punching bags. Granted, when players crank up the difficulty, the damage done by a single blow from an enemy is quite large, but on the whole, DMC4’s combat philosophy is one of relentless offense.

The series has always rewarded players for stringing together combos on enemies, and Nero exploits that system with a demonic arm that can perform throwing maneuvers and pull enemies toward him to continue combos. Dante, in exchange, wields four distinct fighting styles and a bit more speed. Either way, the game ranks the player’s style based on the diversity of attacks and how often enemies land hits.

The incentive for good style rankings? More lost souls, the currency with which to obtain new abilities and attacks. Nero seems pretty vanilla at the start of the game with only a few attacks at his disposal, but once players spend lost souls on new moves, and since those moves carry over when starting a new game on a different difficulty, the combat gets more intense and fun the more time players sink into the game.

DMC4 also takes repetition a bit too far. Namely, it forces players to literally retread Nero’s ground as Dante, but in reverse. The environments and bosses are undeniably cool but eventually wear out their welcome.

When the camera doesn’t get in the way, “Devil May Cry 4” is a treat both to watch and to play. The fighting is deep and satisfying, and the series hasn’t lost its dramatic flair. Still, even in a new generation of hardware, Capcom refuses to abandon its unfriendly and unintuitive camera system. Check it out for the action and visuals, but expect some bouts of frustration along the way. And some terrible hardcore rock music.

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