At first glance, it's easy to think of Devil May Cry 4 as a soulless cash-in. Between its uninspired level design, confounding camera, and new protagonist who looks almost identical to series' hero Dante, it would seem as if Capcom had drawn too often from the same well. As Eurogamer pointed out in its 2008 review, DMC4 "feels like a high-def re-skin of a 2001 game design". It's no wonder Enslaved developer Ninja Theory has been hired to breathe some new life to Capcom's flagship demon hunter.
Let's get this straight: of all the hackandslash games of recent years it's been the Devil May Cry games that have best held my attention. I like their ambivalent tone and their over-designed world: the baroque-modern towns with magic swords and buses. It's a grand contemporary fantasy, and it doesn't falter. It's also a mechanically pleasingly fighting game. Guns and swords: it's all about how the fighting looks, and you have to respect that in a game. Devil May Cry 4 certainly doesn't get shy on that front: savaging multiple enemies with a giant, blazing sword and a gigantic, ammo-free pistol is once again the central beat of the game. The frenzied demon-killing doesn't seem to have lost its touch.
It ended with a bang. At the first Capcom Gamers' Day to be held in Europe - our own fair capital of London, to be precise - it looked for ten excruciating seconds like the big reveal of an extremely lengthy press conference really was going to be the announcement of a PS3 version of Lost Planet. But we should have known better.
Hiroyuki Kobayashi is a producer of many talents, having worked on everything from Resident Evil 4 to the original Devil May Cry to, er, Blinx 2. We managed to catch a few minutes with the man in Leipzig as Devil May Cry 4 finally nears release after recent delays, and talk about his approach to taking the series forward.
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.
Whatever else you may feel about the Devil May Cry titles, there's no denying the astonishing level of polish and style with which Capcom has executed each instalment in the series. With both environments and lead character dripping with near-fetishistic Gothic style - the former laden with brooding architecture and stained glass, the latter clad in rich leather and bondage-like straps - the series has sailed through all arguments about style over substance by simply providing so much style that you're not even sure you care by the time you get to the second clause.