Even by Capcom's legendary standards, the Japanese veteran is taking its sweet time getting Devil May Cry 4 out of the door. Following on from the E3 2005 teaser video, we got to play the game in Tokyo last September - normally a sure sign that game's a few months off. And then, last month we got the chance to play an even more fleshed out demo at its annual Gamer's Day in San Francisco. Surely the game must be out soon? Not so. Fans have a further nine months to wait until it finally emerges sometime in "Q1 2008", our Capcom rep regretfully informs us.
Hopefully the lengthening development cycle will be worth the wait. The last game, 2005's Dante's Awakening, was, after all, the best game in the series to date, and beloved by the hardcore for its varied, flexible and punishing combat system. But as great a game as it was, after three games in little over three years, it felt like a good time to put the series out to pasture. The arrival of next generation consoles would Capcom the perfect chance to reinvent the series, and come back with a game that will not only keep the die-hards happy, but attract a whole new audience too.
It's a shame, then to find that the 30 minute demo demonstrates precious little in the way of new ideas or a meaningful progression for Devil May Cry. At best, the game is an impressive refinement of what was already in evidence last time around, but mostly it just screams "more of the same" throughout, as if Capcom is content to stick to the tried and trusted formula and give it a delicious high def makeover. Is that really enough to get us palpitating with excitement?
Devil May not be much different to last time
Objectively, there are no major changes in literally anything we came across in the demo, from the delightful gothic art style to the often unhelpful camera system to the well-honed combat mechanics. In much the same way as Capcom stuck doggedly to the same gameplay template in Resident Evil for almost eight years before finally freshening it up, Devil May Cry is heading down that same tried and trusted path. By the time the game hits the shelves in 2008, the series will be heading for its seventh year in existence: a sobering thought.
Nevertheless, Capcom producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi was on hand during the unapologetically bombastic demonstration to run through the new fighting styles, and some of the new weapons which will feature in the game. In case you've missed the ongoing coverage of the game to date, the main character goes by the name of 'Nero', although at first glance you'd be forgiven in thinking it was Dante. To all intents and purposes, it may as well be Dante, mind you, because the look, feel and move set is consistent with our platinum blonde devil hunter.
But, as they say, the devil is in the detail, and the real DMC buffs will notice the new lead character only uses a single revolver (called the Blue Rose, fact fiends) instead of the usual dual wield. On his back, the traditional gigantic sword (the Red Queen) makes an appearance, and can be powered up in the usual way via the collection of the red orbs which spew forth from the souls of your slain enemies.
More interesting is the unique new power Nero harbours in his right arm, the Devil Bringer, a technique that allows him to grab enemies from afar and launch them. With three major weapons available at once, Capcom has managed to offer even more combat flexibility without disrupting the fluidity of how the game feels when you play it. Unlike last time out, you can switch between fighting styles on the fly, so there's hopefully no sense of missing out on any element of what the game offers.
Devil May have pretensions to being a superhero
The first major new power we saw during the demo is Snatch, which basically allows Nero to reach out further away than usual and take out enemies with the usual stylish aplomb. Another new athletic technique which you gain within the first few minutes is Hellbound, which enables the main man to leap vast distances by grabbing hold of glowing orbs floating in mid-air. As a result, the game looks and feels more akin to a dark superhero adventure, with an even greater degree of improbable athleticism and supercool swordplay, gun pyrotechnics and frantic close quarters melee mayhem. As ever, you can't deny the spectacle is another feast of balletic brilliance.
Equally undeniable is how architecturally stunning the whole game world looks in high definition. Remember how much of a technical leap DMC 1 was when it first came on the scene in late 2001, at a time when developers were really struggling to get the most out of the console? DMC 4 does a similar job of creating picture postcard environments, only with added next gen sheen, luscious lighting effects and the benefit of pin sharp resolution. As per usual it's a Gothic overload, with intricate architecture, and moody, discordant tones echoing around the magnificent locations as you run and leap to the next face-off with a rag-tag gang of hades minions. Emerging out onto a harbour at sunset is a moment evidently designed to remind you that this is a new generation of technology. The sunlit reflections and the water effects bathe the scene in a rich golden glow, and as Nero strides purposefully across the pier, and launches himself across large gap with his Hellbound leap, the panning, swooping camera angles do their bit to heighten drama and tension. The gothic ballet never lets up.
But as glorious as the game looks throughout, it's one of those elements of the game that you quickly tune out from. More likely, once you're engaged in furious blade swinging combat you'll be reminded of the irksome frustration of the way 'dramatic' camera angles never seem to prioritise the player's viewpoint, and at times can make it a real pain in the arse to see what you're facing at crucial moments. If you're hoping that DMC 4 will fix these series bugbears, then think again - the game hasn't changed one iota in that respect. It's also a game world lacking a sense of interactivity. The scenery might look beautiful, for example, but there's no sense of being able to wreak havoc on it and smash it to bits - apart from, say, during a boss encounter when it suits the game to do so.