Developer: Valhalla Game Studios
Platform: Wii U
The ravenous and often worrying state of play that is Devil’s Third‘s development is never too far from inspection. With a switch of game engines, its then-publisher THQ falling six feet under and the ongoing saga over whether North America would even get a release, the debut title for Valhalla Game Studios – an assembly of former Tecmo and Team Ninja employees, more prominently Ninja Gaiden lead Tomonobu Itagaki – hasn’t had the best of starts pre-release. What’s more, with its hyper-violent, hack-and-slash-and-shoot mixture standing toe-to-toe (or at least attempting such) with the Wii U’s steadily growing roster of titles, there was always a case to argue Devil’s Third would stick out like a sore thumb, for better or worse. You can’t fault Nintendo for wanting to add a little variety to their current-generation machine. What’s more, with Itagaki’s CV reading like a perfectly surmisable philosophy on what makes an entertaining flustercuck of guns, swords and all-over-the-place action without compromise, the premise at least speaks promisingly on a Nintendo-backed third-party project that can, if not rake in the green, make for a satisifying, high-quality product.
The truth, sadly, is that Devil’s Third is neither satisfying nor high-quality come the end of the game’s nine-mission main campaign. Procuring all the unwanted hallmarks of a low-budget launch title for the PS3 circa-2006, the game arrives too far from its own timeline and despite its best efforts, is a victim of its own ridiculous novel fusion of western shooters and eastern hack-and-slash genres. Devil’s Third puts you in command of Ivan, a renegade smoking, sunglass-wearing, tattoo-addicted prisoner sentenced to umpteen life sentences under the accusation of terrorism. Character-wise, the game’s story is a kinda Japanese looking-in-from-the-outside of Kill Bill without all the flare, style, personality and presentation that comes with it. Essentially what the first Metal Gear Solid did great at. You’ll get your charismatic, philosophy-babbling big bad’s, but a monologue here and fighting grunt there, rarely are characters – good or bad – fleshed out beyond non-static stage props.
There is credit to give on the gameplay front as Valhalla’s push for combining gun and melee combat – a chalk and cheese of in-game mechanics – makes up a vast majority of the playtime. And in all fairness, pitted against a select wave of enemies, there is fun to be had shifting back and forth from shooting in first-person, to slicing enemies in third-person and then back into first-person to finish distant foes. There are no extended bases such as combo-building, upgradeable moves or the like to show hence the combat appears relatively shallow. But for what minimal presence it shows, figuring out the best course of action does pose some relatively short-yet-sweet interest. Yet such moments are often spoiled by the situation surrounding, especially when the game is caught so much in the past it’s hard to ignore. From enemy/NPC animations to slowly-loading textures, to frame-rate drops, to generally uninspired environments, the locale featured in Devil’s Third is sub-par at best – rushed, unfinished or devoid of engaging ideas or memorable presentations to make the player feel in any way immersed.
It’s the drab set-pieces that signal the game’s sheer desperation in being this super-slick showcase and then some. As if following a check-list of modern military shooter tropes, every mission in the campaign is littered with moments of confined objective-fulfilment from firing RPG’s at a set amount of tanks, defending a key NPC as he hacks/unlocks a door, destroying mortar installations. All of which seen a thousand times over and accomplished a lot better (even if, to counter, they themselves have become equally stagnant in recent times) by big-hitters in Call of Duty or Battlefield alike. When you have more fun playing around with a rather comical [horribly-tested] segment involving your character’s disfigured arms, you’ve got a problem. Had Devil’s Third been purely about the guns and the high-decibel range, the problem perhaps wouldn’t be as evident. But it only gets worse as the story introduces further narrative elements that only convolute and dilute the structure evermore. A viral outbreak, nuclear weapons, backstory on character relations that are never resolved, it’s a chop-and-change of seldom worthwhile and/or memorable events that come off worse as a sum than they are a concrete whole.
But the game’s frustrations are rooted even deeper than the throw-back story or lacklustre level designs, and it comes in the form of the unfathomable difficulty spikes that not only give players lack of time to climbatize towards, but are undoubtedly some of the most broken and ridiculously unfair segments of the entire game. To say one-hit, insta-kill attacks aren’t even the bane of a player’s experience at times is alarming; to recall boss fights involving horrid hit-mark detection, disjointed animations and completely unavoidable attacks come either side of fights that are mere bullet-sponges, transcends (or devolves rather) Devil’s Third delivery to that of fridge magnet-tossing and seeing which ones stick.
For those having finished, or simply having lost faith in the main campaign, Devil’s Third comes with an online multiplayer component which, on surface, sets out to achieve the familiar heights of the major AAA shooters in terms of mode diversity and longevity. And there’s definitely a degree of charm and subsequent challenge in pitting one’s self against human components with, at the very least, some degree of intelligence. As opposed to…ohidunno…enemy AI whom stick certain limbs out in plain sight or merely materialize out of thin air so as to meet requirements for yet another horde of baddies set-up. Multiplayer varies in tone and style, from the traditional deathmatch-style accumulation to the rather whacky but atypically-Japanese variety of customisation possibilities. The presence of microtransactions, while frustrating, aren’t persistently off-putting throughout. But much like the main campaign, multiplayer levels leave a lot to be desired on visual fidelity despite the in-game folly.
But aside from a curious snicker or a means to prove…yes you’ve actually, genuinely played it to experience it…Devil’s Third is far below the expectation of quality control and gameplay standards Nintendo’s library often meets and has regularly met for some time. Far afield as a modern-day shooter it may look here, Devil’s Third doesn’t even have the luxury of both looking and feeling like a game set first on solid foundation and built up thereafter. Nearly everything from the visual presentation to the gameplay to the in-game segments and sequences leaves Itagaki and co’s efforts being as sturdy as a sandcastle during high tide. And for someone who can be credited with respected franchise names like Ninja Gaiden, it’s as much a disappointment because of what could have been, as opposed to a mere low-end product here and now. For all the morsels and crumbs of interesting or otherwise objectively good moments, Devil’s Third sits shamefully yet profusely at the bottom of the Wii U’s catalog.