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Devil May Cry 4

The next-gen debut of Capcom's successful punk-devil fighting franchise leaves every thread in place: stylish action flick aesthetic, cool-as-hell heroes, creepy Gothic vibe and adrenaline-rush destruction.

The next-gen debut of Capcom’s successful punk-devil fighting franchise leaves every thread in place: stylish action flick aesthetic, cool-as-hell heroes, creepy Gothic vibe and adrenaline-rush destruction. “Devil May Cry 4” isn’t too welcoming to rookies, but should more than satisfy the hardcore crowd by returning the series to its roots while also changing things up a bit with the addition of a new character, and his cool new abilities, against the backdrop of gorgeous, stunningly detailed environments. Solid sales amongst action game devotees seem assured.

Call it “devil may care”: Even though debut protagonist Nero’s new to the ongoing saga, he maintains prior lead Dante’s insouciant attitude and penchant for whupping demons with cool, casual aplomb. He’s got a subtle quietude and is mellow on the backtalk, though he’s not so smooth with the game’s numerous pretty ladies. Alongside Dante, who’s gained a bit of gravitas since his portrayal as a callow youth in the previous game, “Devil May Cry 4” gives the distinct impression that the series has grown up some.

But not too much. Action film conventions are what the Devil May Cry series does best, and the latest maintains the same gruesome marionette-style demons, implausible but thrilling acrobatic fighting sequences, and flesh-flashing, top-heavy babes gamers have come to expect. It then adds just enough new touches to the mix to mature the franchise without ditching its hallmark features.

Interestingly, the game initially presents Dante as a mysterious aggressor, but as the mystery unfolds around a dark, demon-worshiping cult, lines of good and evil get harder to draw. Beyond a few twists, though, the plot is relatively simple, which provides a welcome liberation from some of the more overbearing and unnecessary story elements that have dogged previous “Devil May Cry” titles, notably the second one. This episode mercifully focuses on the Gothic vibe and expansive, puzzle-laden areas to explore that helped make the first game a hit.

That’s a particularly welcome choice because “Devil May Cry 4” is graphically jaw-dropping on both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, flaunting breathtaking environments rendered in meticulous detail that’s almost unprecedented on either console. Snow-dusted stone, luminous mosaics and shimmering patinas greet the player at every turn, at times lanced by stunning sunlight filtered eerily through ominous clouds. Detailed furniture and elaborately-wrought candelabras look so pretty that players may be loath to smash them up, though the game provides so many opportunities for gleeful destruction that it’s hard to resist.

The audio choices aren’t as strong, however, particularly a grating techno-rap song that plays over and over during battle, eventually imprinting itself on players’ memories against their better judgment.

Though Nero looks like Dante — easing discomfort for players used to the marquee hero — his supernatural “devil bringer” arm pleasantly refreshes the gameplay with a suite of grabs and throws. Dante himself, playable at later points in the game, can amass an arsenal of new weapons, amping the superpower factor that makes the combo-driven melee play so appealing.

Experience in action games is a must for making it through such an intense game, but the controls are friendly to series newbies and introduce new skills on a relatively forgiving curve. But the game demands extreme tolerance for repetition — players have to navigate the same challenges numerous times, at times crossing back through places they’ve already visited, or sending Dante up against the same grueling boss creatures that Nero seemingly already destroyed. Those in search of groundbreaking innovation will get bored, but hardcore brawl addicts will thrive on the endless opportunities to hone their skills, especially at the nearly suicidal difficult levels that can be unlocked after multiple play-throughs.

Devil May Cry 4

Rated M. $60.

Production: A Capcom presentation of a game developed by Capcom for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Rated M. $60.

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