Much has been said about Devil’s Third already. Countless critics have already said that it’s an ugly, borderline broken mess, and that it’s in line to be amongst the worst Nintendo published games of all time. While those early impressions weren’t hugely favourable, there may be one or two redeeming factors that see the game find its way into some gamer’s hearts.
Developed by Ninja Gaiden creator Tomonobu Itagaki, Devil’s Third looks to marry the third-person sword-play of his most famous series with the first-person gunplay of Call of Duty or Battlefield. It’s an interesting idea, which on paper sounds like it has plenty of potential, but the reality is that neither element feels very well rounded. However, that’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had, albeit with some fairly major caveats.
Jumping into the single player campaign, you control convicted Russian terrorist Ivan, a bald, magically tattooed, constantly smoking tough guy who you are introduced to as he busts out some drum fills in his expansive cell beneath Guantanamo Bay. His luxurious incarceration turns out to be a benefit of being on the US government’s payroll, and after an incident involving your shady former colleagues you’re requested to look into it.
Given the wacky opening and increasingly schlocky story which riffs on Resident Evil tropes and Cold-War era fear-mongering, you expect Ivan to fire off witty one-liners at every moment, but he doesn’t. Instead he’s often a stoic and implacable protagonist who simply dishes out death, despite supposedly having had a crisis of conscience in his past that led to his imprisonment and occasionally showing flashes of compassion for his teammates.
Gunplay is surprisingly solid, though it is increasingly silly when heads pop off in a comic book fashion after you simply shot an enemy a few times in the foot. The game’s difficulty is also unforgiving, with some sections requiring a number of retries to get through, as you soak up bullets one minute only to die almost instantaneously the next.
Laying down your gun, melee combat offers none of the poise that you’d expect from the creator of Ninja Gaiden, instead owing more to something like Dynasty Warriors, just with blood spraying everywhere as the same rote finishing animation appears nearly every time. The camera doesn’t help matters here either, with your melee movement often proving too fast for it to keep up with, or it pans away behind a wall during the ‘flashier’ moments. On the whole, you’ll only use melee in a tight spot or when low on ammo, as the guns are much easier to deal with.
Boss characters or heavily armoured enemies are generally just bullet sponges, most of whom can be easily despatched simply by running away, then shooting them at range before running away again. It reminded me of some of the more lacklustre moments in the original Gears of War campaign, but with less interesting enemies. Speaking of Gears, Devil’s Third also sports a cover mechanic which, while sound enough, is barely required barring the occasions you’re trying to let your health recharge.
More often that not, the campaign is made up of a series of plain indoor corridors, with a big circular marker leading you on to the next doorway where you’ll dispatch more of the same limited enemy types. These are then mostly bookended by a military briefing and a cut-scene which furthers the plot.
It’s all wrapped up in visuals that are at best on a par with a middling Xbox 360 or PS3 title, and despite its modest graphical demands it suffers frame rate issues during more hectic moments. Some of the graphics are so poor as to rob the game of the emotional, or indeed gratuitous, impact it’s aiming for.
You’re shown an image which is meant to be a burnt pile of children’s bodies early on, as they try to demonstrate just how despicable the bad guys really are. The problem is that the graphics are so shoddy that you’re not entirely sure what you’re being shown and have to make up the rest in your imagination. Saying that, very little is left to the imagination in boss character Jane, who attempts to kill you in her lingerie. Compared with a number of other character models, it seems as though Itagaki spent most of his time concentrating on her design and her buttocks in particular.
Things are much better aurally with suitably bombastic themes sitting alongside modern beats in the soundtrack, though the game isn’t afraid to pare it all back and leave you with gun-fire and footsteps at times. The voice acting is a mixed bag, with Ivan’s dreadful Russian accent, or Saha’s poor attempts at something from London being mildly balanced by the supporting actor roles, though no one shines.
The game’s multiplayer – or Multi-Play as it would have it – opens with a public service announcement from the Federal Disaster Response Agency, which states that the infrastructure of the USA has been destroyed, and that you should take up arms and form a militia. Oddly, it offers more context here than many other games do for the online fighting.
Your first steps see you create a limited avatar, picking from five male or female faces, five hairstyles, five colours of camouflage and four voices. After naming your creation, you’re then gifted 30,000 Dollen – the world’s new currency – and 30 Golden Eggs which are Devil’s Third’s micro-transaction currency with which you can buy cosmetic items, projectiles and heavy weapons.
Those Golden Eggs and their real-world cost won’t be to everyone’s taste, but they’re pretty ubiquitous now and only time will tell if it causes balancing problems for the game. Given the game’s free-to-play basis on PC it’s not that surprising that they’re here, but it still feels incongruous in a Nintendo published title. As with any set-up of this type you can probably get most of your desired loadout without even playing a game if you throw enough money at it, though I was relatively happy with what I was able to purchase after being gifted extra eggs from the singleplayer campaign and Score Attack mode.
Devil’s Third doesn’t let you immediately jump into Siege Match – the jewel in its multiplayer crown – at this point, instead funnelling you into a series of drills that use a variety of rulesets. These include standard modes such as Team Deathmatch or Battle Royal as well as more unique offerings like Chickens, which sees you trying to find and catch the aforementioned fowl, or Gladiator, where everyone scrambles to find the one weapon on the map. There’s actually a nice amount of variety to be found here, which will please people looking for an expansive experience.
Lobbies have a chat room which made the wait for players a lot easier, and you can check out their full range of stats, loadouts and badges while you do. In fact, one of my nicest experiences with the online was a thirty minute chat with a German journalist as we waited for another player to let the game get started, though I do worry that the chat rooms will descend into behaviour most unfitting for a Nintendo console, and the blanket censorship settings aren’t that smart. Sadly, much like Splatoon, there is no voice chat option, as the bandwith is apparently taken up by ensuring that the 16 player battles run smoothly.
The multiplayer does run at a pleasingly fast pace, with encounters often swift and bloody. The traversals work even better, and you can run, climb and leap across the expansive landscape with authority. Overall it’s surprisingly fun, and redeems some of the campaign’s problems. It’s not without its own issues mind you, with aiming sensitivity something of a problem, and some odd texture loading snarl ups, but overall it offers an extensive array of multiplayer thrills.
It’s when you hit level 5 that things get really interesting, with the introduction of Siege Match which sees you creating a fortress, and then customising, expanding and defending it from the encroaching enemy. It’s also at this stage that you create or join a clan, and help contribute to that clan’s strength by donating Dollen and equipment to fortify your fortress. Mercenaries who go it alone also get to build their own fortress, though it’s not open to attack by outside forces, and really only serves to contribute to a clan’s strength when you finally do join up, but at least it doesn’t rob you of the experience.
Devil’s Third’s singleplayer campaign is dumb, misogynistic, shoddy and borderline broken at times, but its multiplayer may well be its saving grace. While it remains lo-fi and decidedly rough around the edges, there’s some fun to be had and an experience that could see it gain something of a cult following on Wii U.