Devil May Cry and Newcastle United fans have a lot in common. They are both die hard, passionate, and never shy to vent their anger at the "management" when they don't like what they're seeing. And so, just as Newcastle fans let Big Sam know what they thought of his "direct style" of play, so did DMC fans let Capcom know what they thought of Nero, the brand new and unknown demon hunter who was to replace fan favourite Dante in the upcoming fourth version of the game. Let's just say it wasn't pleasant.
You can understand it of course. Gamers have been slicing up, air juggling and capping demons like it's never gone out of fashion for seven years now, and across three games. DMC's hyper-stylised Japanese style combat and the hard rock soundtrack that accompanies it is without rival in game land - if you like that kind of thing. This is Dante's patch. Who does this Nero guy think he is?
Time to suck it and see. It's now time to give him a chance, what with DMC4 nearing launch and a demo out. So let's dig a little deeper. Nero, who is part of the Sparda-worshipping warrior cult called the Order of the Sword, is meant to be a cross between Dante and his twin brother Vergil, which fans will remember as the chief bad guy from the last game. He's not best pleased with Dante either, after he saw him slaughter some of his mates from the Order of the Sword. It's debatable whether Nero will prove as likeable as Dante - he's certainly got a more wise-cracking "I'm too cool for school" attitude. But what can't be denied is the fact that he's a dead ringer for Dante, with a big sword called Red Queen, a revolver called Blue Rose and, get this, white hair. Dante "lite" you might say.
But Nero has something Dante does not, and that's a burning demon grapple arm. It grants him upgradeable Devil Bringing powers - at one point in the game Nero comes across a mysterious orb called the Evil Legacy, a crystal described as holding the power of an ancient evil. It's clear that Nero's arm won't be used for helping little old ladies across the street.
Apart from the typical new spectacular Devil Bringer attacks, Nero's demon arm is used to reach what would otherwise be impossible to reach areas, an action available when he stands on a clear blue circle. There isn't much skill to it - it's simply the case that you lock on and press a button. Nero will then very quickly transport to another platform or higher area. It looks flash, but won't live long in the memory.
What does look flash however is the special attacks the demon arm opens up. Unlike Dante, Nero can grapple enemies from a distance and drag them to him, or drag himself to them. He also has a Buster move, like a close-quarters throw which slams enemies into the ground. All this provides added variation to DMC's already strangely addictive combat, but it doesn't change its core. Veterans of the series will instantly feel at home, and dispatching a set number of spawning demons in order to open up new paths will feel like a very familiar past time.
If you're still not convinced by Nero, fear not. Dante will be a playable character. What remains to be seen however, is how much time we'll get to spend with everyone's favourite demon slayer. Will it be enough to satisfy DMC's loyal fans?
So on to how DMC4 plays. Essentially it's very similar to past games - the sheer visceral thrill of slicing up demons, knocking them into the air and keeping them up there with subsequent sword slices - remains. Nero's moves feel easier to pull off - his lock on attacks are simpler and extended chains often go uninterrupted. We haven't had a chance to get some hands-on with the game's later levels however, so an ultimate judgement on whether the much rumoured change in difficulty extends throughout the entire campaign.
What is in no doubt however is that the game looks gorgeous. DMC4 runs at a glorious 60FPS. It looks stunningly smooth, with not a tear or millisecond of slowdown in sight. Capcom might not have pushed the hardware particularly hard with the game - DMC4's hyper-stylised look is more Japanese anime than gritty realism - but in terms of performance it's right up there. It's safe to say that the game will blow your socks off on a HD TV.
We only got the chance to fight a few of the game's bosses, but rest assured they are big, bad and extremely intimidating (as you've no doubt seen from the already released Devil May Cry 4 trailers). One, a giant fiery demon lord called Berial, has an amusing cut-scene with Nero before the action kicks off which really helps to give the player a feel for his wise-cracking nature. During the battle, Nero can use his grapple arms to swing onto Berial's back, avoid his fiery sword and start hacking away at his burning demon skin. Jolly good stuff.
Despite what Capcom has said about expanding Devil May Cry's audience, there's little here that will change the minds of those who have already tried and dismissed it. The gameplay is the same, the sometimes frustrating camera is the same, the awkward jumping is the same and the gothic Japanese-ness of the whole thing is the same. This may be more than simply DMC in HD, but it's no revolution.
Playing DMC4 rekindles memories of playing Metal Gear Solid 2 in a way. Then you had to play as a slightly feminine-looking sword-wielding white-haired action dude called Raiden when all everyone wanted to do was play as Solid Snake. And here, with DMC4, you're forced to play a slightly feminine-looking sword-wielding white-haired action dude called Nero. It's not long now before fans of the series will be able to get their sweaty mitts on the final version of the game, and decide whether all they want to do is play as Dante. For the rest of us, DMC4 looks like it'll simply be great fun.
Devil May Cry 4 is due for release on Xbox 360 and PS3 on Friday February 8, with a PC version due to follow.