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Devil May Cry 4

Hard, insane, and totally convinced it's right - has DMC lost it?

Devil May Cry 4 doesn't care about you. It doesn't even particularly like you. If it was your girlfriend, it'd stay out all night and never call, drink gin and dye its hair pink, invite you to see its band and then flirt with other boys right in front of you. It's going to do whatever it likes, and it isn't bothered what you think of it. But you've got to admit, sometimes that's sort of hot.

Tough as old boots
Here's the thing: if you go into DMC4 with expectations about fairness, checkpoints, structure and rewards that you've got from God Of War, you're going to end up all hurt and confused. Most games these days tend to hold your hand all the way through, never making you play the nasty bits more than once and usually making sure you've got enough health to have a fighting chance at any boss.

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Devil May Cry is not like that. It'll throw a million demons at you because it wants to, put in half a dozen arbitrary fights in a 30-foot stretch of map, force you to survive for ages on a tiny sliver of health... and then give you a D at the end of the level because you weren't doing enough combos. Insecure types should look elsewhere.

The obvious example is Nero. After three instalments, Dante's been relegated to supporting character - at least for the game's first half - by a kid who looks like his younger self but cries a lot more. Nero might seem identical at first, but he actually plays with slight differences: he can pull off big aerial combos, for instance, and his charged shot knocks enemies off their feet.

Most importantly, he's got a massive demon arm that means that, for the first time, the DMC series has throws in it: up close he can slam monsters into the ground, or at range he can yank them in or set up an air combo. These are all moves you'll be able to do fairly easily, but he's also got a handle on his sword that lets him rev it up like a motorbike - and this is the part where DMC4 stops caring what you think.

See, at first, it seems useless: revving the sword takes a couple of seconds of holding down p, only works for one slice and seems to ruin any combo you're in the middle of. But then it turns out you're doing it wrong - eventually you realise that if you hit the button about halfway through the first sword-slash of your basic combo, you'll rev up your sword instantly. And then you realise that every sword attack has a rev-window like this - although they're often much harder to find and hit - so in theory, you can go slash-rev-special-rev-special-rev-special-forever.

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You don't need to do this at all - we completed Nero's section on a first playthrough and barely scraped the system's surface - but it's a perfect example of how DMC4 encourages obsessiveness with beautiful combos. By comparison, the mighty God Of War lets you get away with murder.

And OK, DMC's tried to change. One of the biggest complaints about part three was that you never really knew whether the dozens of moves and styles on offer were useful or not until you bought or upgraded them, and by that time it was too late. That's been dealt with: now you can sell abilities back for the same price you paid, so you can road-test different styles, shift things around and see what works.

Even better, now you use different currencies for buying different things. Red Orbs are used for health - as usual - but you buy abilities with Proud Souls, earned by fighting well... or, in DMC's one show of sympathy for the weak, when you die a lot.

That means no worrying about whether you'll have enough health to take on the boss if you buy that saucy new combo you've had your eye on, and no fretting that you're missing out on a spectacular move just for the sake of keeping your health topped up. It's a simple change, but important.

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