Originally published in 2015, for The Australia Times Games Magazine
Format: Wii U
Developer: Valhalla Game Studios / Nintendo SPD
Devil’s Third is a videogame that has endured a long, protracted publishing history.
Affectionately referred to as ‘development hell’, the title was originally announced way back in 2009. Under THQ, it was announced for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, and was the very first title by Valhalla Game Studios. Headed by Team Ninja alumni Tomonobu Itagaki, interest was definitely piqued, but turmoil soon followed. THQ went bankrupt not long after, and the game seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth.
Fast forward to E3 2014, and Nintendo shocked everyone by announcing that it had picked up Devil’s Third for exclusive release on Wii U. Much like Bayonetta 2 before it, the Kyoto-based firm relied on the title to bring some much-needed ‘mature’ content to its struggling console, and hopes were initially high that Itagaki would finally unleash his new masterpiece.
Unfortunately, once the game was unleashed in preview events, negative reactions increased with every showing. Much was said about the game’s bare visuals and lacklustre combat over the next year; so much so that Nintendo didn’t even bother to showcase the title at E3 2015. This, combined with Nintendo of America’s silence on its publishing duties – and the announcement of a free-to-play multiplayer edition on PC – has led to a healthy dose of scepticism regarding the quality of Devil’s Third.
Now, after six years of waiting, the game is finally on the shelves. Devil’s Third is here, and it’s… Well…
Let’s start with the story. Devil’s Third casts you in the role of Ivan, a bald, tattooed Russian ex-terrorist who is serving an 850 year sentence in Guantanamo Bay (yes, really). While locked away in his underground bunker of solitary confinement, he gets a call from the US government (interrupting his bitchin’ drum solo), who informs him that his help is needed to take down his former group – the SOD. You see, these baddies somehow managed to detonate the earth’s extrasolar satellites, causing a worldwide blackout. Based on the real life ‘Kessler Syndrome’ theory, this event has caused warfare to revert back to the old days of interpersonal battlefield combat, as sophisticated missile systems have now gone the way of the dodo. On top of this, the SOD are experimenting with a deadly disease called the ‘Chimera Virus’, with effects that I won’t spoil here.
It’s certainly a detailed narrative, and I cannot fault the writers for skimping on the world-building. Indeed, there are some genuinely interesting ideas on offer, with an almost Kojima-like emphasis on constructing a multi-threaded espionage plot. Even the bosses you face look like they were ripped straight out of a Metal Gear game; each one having their own story, ability, and penchant for long-winded melodramatics.
Devil’s Third isn’t a patch on Snake’s adventures, however. The voice acting is nothing to write home about (as expected from a Japanese title), and the sound effects are inconsistent, with chunky gunfire sitting uncomfortably alongside muffled ambient noises and forgettable music. Still, there is one level that is a particular highlight, where the music transforms into a traditional Japanese melody that is an utter pleasure to listen to. Quite why this specific moment was given such special treatment is baffling, and is emblematic of the game’s wider inconsistent quality.
Visually, Devil’s Third is a dog’s breakfast. During its difficult gestation, Valhalla Studios was forced to change engines four times – which is a crazy amount for a videogame. Finally settling on Unreal Engine 3, the final product is a disappointing mash of basic details and inconsistent framerates. Cutscenes are good enough, but when you take control, it can be hard to believe you’re playing a videogame that was released in 2015. Character models are okay, but environments are bland; both aesthetically and technically. While there are some nice moments (the aforementioned Japanese level looks quite nice, and there is one moment above a smouldering purple volcano that’s noteworthy), you’re nevertheless relegated to bland warehouses and blurry, rubble strewn battlefields for most of the short campaign. The lighting effects are particularly horrendous… In that they seem to not even be in the game. What makes all of this even more baffling is the fluctuating framerate, which seems to rise as high as 60 fps for a split second, before plummeting down to the 20s.
The fact that we have PS3 games like Uncharted that look light years better than this game is simply inexcusable. The Wii U can certainly do better than this – just look at Mario Kart 8 or Xenoblade Chronicles X, as examples. The machine is definitely powerful enough to produce beautiful graphics, so I’m just going to lay the blame on Valhalla for poorly optimising its engine.
So, presentation-wise, Devil’s Third is underwhelming. But, how does it actually play?
Unfortunately, the game’s troubled development is clearly evident when you pick up the controller. Hailed as an action revolution by Itagaki, the final product couldn’t be further from the truth.
Essentially, Devil’s Third is a cover shooter combined with a simplistic melee system. You’ve undoubtedly seen its ilk a million times before; cover, shoot, regenerate health, and move to the next checkpoint… Rinse and repeat for eight hours, ad nauseam. Shooting is sticky, with auto-aim becoming a necessity due the insensitivity of the thumbsticks, and constantly aiming in first-person view is mandatory of accurate kills. I didn’t have as much a problem with this as many other people, but I can definitely see why it would grate over an extended period of time.
Moving close to your foes put melee combat into the spotlight, and it’s embarrassingly one-note compared to Ninja Gaiden’s precise sword swinging. You have the standard quick and powerful attacks, as well as a block button, dodge, and throw. That’s it. Now, I can see why having an overly complicated configuration would be frustrating in a frenzied shoot ‘em up like this, but it just seems like a huge missed opportunity. Ivan can wield a wide array of weapons like swords, knives and axes, but it really makes no difference. You simply mash buttons, until a cinematic kill scene is activated. In fact, slicing enemies is so pointless, you are just better off shooting them until they’re dead. Stronger enemies will kill you within a couple of hits if you get too close, and it’s much more preferable to simply riddle them with bullets, rather than risking a frustrating death and being sent back to the last checkpoint.
Oh, and I need to mention the bats. For some inane reason, the game relishes in sending swarms of bats toward you in certain spots, and they’re far more deadly than any chaingun wielding walking tank. Why? Why indeed…
So in all, Devil’s Third is a pedestrian game. Gamers were right to be skeptical – and so was Nintendo of America, it seems. However, this isn’t all. Perhaps the game’s main selling point is its online multiplayer, which is surprisingly comprehensive and (dare I say it) fun.
First, the good bits. Yes, Devil’s Third has a multiplayer mode, and yes, it has the potential to become something very good indeed.
2018 Edit: Multiplayer died… like, six minutes after the game’s release.
When you begin, you’re required to create a new character, and partake in a bit of training. By ‘training’, the game actually means the standard multiplayer modes – you know, deathmatch, King of the Hill, that sort of stuff. There are even a couple of amusingly original modes, like collecting colourful chickens and tossing fruit into a blender. The game’s mechanics work much better here, and playing these games earn you ‘Dollen’ for you to spend on weapons, equipment and base building.
Wait, base building? Well, you see, the multiplayer’s main focus is the siege mode, which is a global conflict that is constantly fluctuating. When registering, you must choose what area of post-apocalyptic America you hail from (mandatory for Australian users), and whether you want to join a clan, create your own, or simply become a mercenary. Upon deciding on your career path (that you can change at any time), you are then free to enter the battlefield of betrayal, intelligence and the almighty Dollen.
In a clever twist, Valhalla has made politics a core theme. Clans can negotiate with each other for mutual benefits – and like the real world – can backstab each other and wage war. Each player can build a base to help defend their group (or just themselves) using a comprehensive editor, invade others, and can even spread propaganda via airborne flyers. It really is a great system that has been created here, albeit one that has been marred by some lousy choices.
First, microtransactions. Perhaps the most rotten word in the gaming lexicon, the dreaded pay-to-win rears its ugly head, in the form of Golden Eggs. Golden Eggs are basically a second currency that can be traded for Dollen, or used for upgrades that severely unbalances the whole community. Words cannot express my anger at being swamped by god-like players online, simply because I wasn’t willing to shell out the extra bucks to a greedy developer. I already paid for the game, so why am I being punished? Just ridiculous.
Further rubbing this salt into the gaping wound is Valhalla’s announcement of a free-to-play version of Devil’s Third’s multiplayer on PC. Not only is it not cross-compatible with Wii U players, it also acts as a swift kick in the spuds to dummies like me who shilled their own ‘Dollen’ for the game in the first place.
Let me make myself perfectly clear – microtransactions do not belong in a full-priced videogame. Full stop. Period.
In conclusion, Devil’s Third is a disappointing game that hides a few nice ideas. After such a long development period, it’s a shame it ended up that way it has. Hopefully, Valhalla Game Studios will do a better job with a sequel that won’t take six years to make.
Final Score: 4 / 10