Born out of a scheme to create a next-generation Resident Evil at a time when next-generation meant PS2, Devil May Cry took three games before Capcom got the formula right. Being well over the age of fifteen, I've always regarded Devil May Cry 3 as a bit of a guilty pleasure: a hyper-pumped, rocked-out devil hunting adventure that got more enthralling the less serious it took itself. There's something endearingly silly about the series' obsession with the gothic and the gory, not to mention Capcom's enduring school-boy obsession with the more pneumatic areas of the female form. Even though DMC3 was a bit of a hardcore gamer's game, I couldn't help but love it.
Maybe that's why I'm equal parts disappointed and relieved to find that Devil May Cry 4 is very much in the same grain. Despite a change of protagonist, this isn't an attempt to grow up, broaden out or redefine the franchise - it's basically an attempt to do a slightly more friendly version of Devil May Cry 3 with sparkling HD graphics, a grander scale and a few well considered tweaks. If you were looking for a riposte to Sony's God of War then you may be upset at the lack of progress. If you just want a game that rocks, you'll mostly be delighted.
At first, the new stuff may be unsettling. Our old hero, Dante, spends the first half of the game as one of Capcom's ambiguous anti-heroes, actually squaring up to our new hero, Nero, on several occasions. Like Dante, Nero has the blood of the traitor demon, Sparda, running in his veins and - also like Dante - he has a fondness for long leather coats, dubious hair styles, large calibre handguns and magic swords. The different selectable fighting styles of DMC3 seem to have gone out of the window, but in their place Nero has a new toy: a demon arm he can magically extend to grapple foes and generally smack them into the nearest hard surface. Throw in another ability - the power to lock onto blue glowing objects or targeted enemies and use the arm to drag Nero towards them - and it seems like Capcom has different plans for the series this time around.
Yet within a few hours it's clear that we're still in the same well-trodden territory. Basically, Nero roams through a series of environments solving fairly simple puzzles and battling demons with his sword and pistol. You start off with a selection of basic slashes and swipes, introduced by (shock!) a tutorial section, but develop a bigger selection of combos and enhanced capabilities by collecting demon souls, while harvesting bloody red globules of demon essence with which you can splash out on health packs (here stars) and other upgrades.