I usually have a pretty solid rule when it comes to games – and this is in direct contrast to Mr. Miyamoto’s famed quote. Delayed games have a greater potential to turn out, well, not so good. Devil’s Third is unfortunately one of those games. Previously announced for the older generation of consoles, before quietly being shuffled over to the Wii U as an exclusive (for now), the strange and kooky hybrid shooter from controversial auteur Tomonobu Itagaki unfortunately fails on almost all fronts. But why, you ask? There’s a few reasons, for sure, but its clear this project wasn’t all that it was originally cracked up to be.
Those who have been following the project since its inception will remember that very over the top and yet cool gameplay trailer featuring both female and male protagonists. The action was stylish and hyper violent. Unfortunately, almost all but the violence has been removed from the final product and what’s in its place is a very lacklustre, uninteresting husk of its former self.
The story of Devil’s Third is without a doubt ridiculous. Not Hideo Kojima so-ridiculous-its-good fashion, but just all out ridiculous. In the world of Devil’s Third, satellites in the sky have been destroyed and this debris has destroyed both civilian and military installations in space. The result is a story that’s heavy on forced political themes at the beginning and then messy by the end. You play as Ivan, a Russian prisoner from Guantanamo Bay who has been released to combat the forces who threaten the world. Oh, and he’s covered in Japanese tattoos. Because edge. It’s really just a dumb excuse to push the action forward, and I guess in that regard it’s successful.
The first thoughts most players will have when playing Devil’s Third is just how old it feels. You’ve played games like Devil’s Third before – most likely during the middle of the PlayStation 2 generation. You move from the beginning of a level to the end, either shooting or beating up enemies how you see fit. There’s some elements where you can certainly see what the developers were going for in terms of mechanics and “game-feel”, however, everything feels soulless. Ivan appearing in the middle of the screen rather than a now traditional over-shoulder-view is a defiantly old school design choice, but just adds to the game’s dated feel.
The combat itself is actually somewhat enjoyable for the first hour or so. You can run and gun to your hearts content, or slash and bash whenever you get close. Every attack is punctuated with a (admittedly dull) flourish of blood or an underwhelming sound effect. This is the strangest thing about Devil’s Third – while not personally being a fan of Ninja Gaiden or Dead or Alive, Itagaki’s previous franchises – there’s no way the director of those games looked at this combat system and felt it had weight to it. It’s just dull, lifeless and ultimately quite boring.
Compounding these issues is how the game handles its melee combat. Carrying out certain strings will create combos where Ivan finishes off his enemy with a flashy show, but these wrestle the camera control away from the player and more often than not leave the player in an awkward situation to return to where they were. It’s just overall a stiff and jarring experience which is the antithesis of what makes a good action game.
There is some credit to be paid to how Devil’s Third manages to combine melee combat with gunplay, though more storied game players will recognise other games like Vanquish which have done similar things in the past. You can jump, slide, roll and move almost however you’d like in Devil’s Third. Heck, you can combine these manoeuvres with weapons fire to pull off some pretty flashy attacks – and there’s a fluidity to battles that is to be praised too. But the game never actually throws any interesting moments at you where you have to play better. It’s a simple hack and slash game at its core with one of the lowest skill ceilings I’ve ever seen.
Even more disappointing, especially coming off of some of Itagaki’s other works, is the boss battles. For some reason, whoever was in charge of designing these thought that all it takes to make a good boss battle is to fill a room with generic enemies and then throw a big enemy who takes more than the usual amount of shots to kill. They’re boring. They’re uninteresting from both a visual and gameplay design perspective and they’re just another reason why Devil’s Third fails as an action game. Boss battles should be the centrepiece of games like these, and yet they’re just as ho-hum as the game’s hundreds of monotonous encounters with standard enemies. A truly missed opportunity.
Seemingly aware of how dull its main combat it, Devil’s Third also throws combat situations at players that aren’t the usual on-foot segments. You’ll have moments where you are on a turret attempting to shoot up cars that literally look like they’ve been imported from a PlayStation 2 game. You’ll have moments where you have to drive a vehicle through a level using controls that I can only liken to feeling like you’re steering a drugged cow wearing steel capped boots. The attempt to break things up with these sequences is appreciated but unfortunately they’re just as bad as everything else.
Rather bizarrely, there’s also a Multiplayer mode which lets players take on each other on the Nintendo Network in rather standard game modes. The combat in Devil’s Third isn’t really that great to begin with, so why the developers thought it would be enjoyable to take these half-baked mechanics and play them against other humans is beyond me.
There are some cool features of the level design in Devil’s Third – mainly a focus on verticality in the level design and some ridiculous and over the top unlockable modifiers. But it is a system that many players will most probably pick up for a few minutes, lament at the micro transactions that are done in the worst way (literally pay-to-win) and then return to games that pull this whole thing off more gracefully like Splatoon.
Devil’s Third runs on Unreal Engine, and the issues that comes with it are more than apparent here. The framerate varies so much that we can only assume it’s somehow synchronised with the lunar phases of the moon. The environments are plain and sterile. Ivan’s character model is somewhat impressive but everything else just looks dull. Even more noticeable (but perhaps not so much if the game released when it was meant to) is the indestructible environments, which stick out like a sore thumb in 2015.
Lots of shortcuts have been taken that really hamper the weight of the game’s combat too – effects like Flamethrowers literally look like they’re shooting balls of a singular flame texture rather than a continuous stream. Guns emit light and tinny sounds that make everything feel weak. Cars and environments sometimes look like a high class PlayStation 1 or low class PlayStation 2 game. The production values are just completely missing.
I’ll admit I’ve been uncharacteristically hard on Devil’s Third but I went in with a completely open mind and wanted to enjoy it, but still came away disappointed. To the game’s credit, it was more certainly a beautiful train wreck. I wanted to keep playing just to see how much worse it would get. But I was ultimately disappointed. Itagaki himself has suggested that perhaps player skill is behind the negative reception to the game. I completely disagree. Itagaki has crafted harder experiences in his illustrious career that are much better put together than this – and I’d be shocked if he genuinely thought Devil’s Third was a good game given his esteemed pedigree.