By Will Whitehurst / December 23rd, 2015
|Developer||Valhalla Game Studios/Nintendo SPD|
|Publisher||Nintendo (Wii U), Valhalla Game Studios/Nexon (PC)|
|Release Date||December 11, 2015 (Wii U – North America)|
|Genre||Hack and Slash/Beat ’em up/Third-Person Shooter|
|Platform||Wii U (version reviewed), PC|
|Age Rating||ESRB: M|
Devil’s Third had me both hyped and worried. Hyped enough to put it on my Top 5 Most Anticipated Games list last year, but worried enough that it would be terrible thanks to its overly long development cycle, among other things. I think we’ve all heard of previous failures like Duke Nukem Forever and Daikatana, and if one just glances at the Metascore for Devil’s Third, it might be easy to lump it in alongside those. Yet, it is hyperbole to call this the worst game Nintendo has ever published. Even though Devil’s Third has had a troubled development history, it takes its scars in stride and puts out a decent and fun mix of melee combat and gunplay, and the single-player campaign is actually pretty good, while the multiplayer is insane in the best way possible.
First, a little insight on the history of Devil’s Third. Poised as the big debut of Valhalla Game Studios, a developer formed by cult gaming figure Tomonobu Itagaki after he left Team Ninja, this action shooter hybrid was first revealed back in 2010 and originally going to be published by THQ for the PS3 and 360. Then, shortly before THQ pulled the plug, the company sold the rights to the IP back to Valhalla themselves. Expecting a scenario similar to that of the truly excellent M-rated Wii U exclusive Bayonetta 2, Valhalla forged a pact with Nintendo to release it on the Wii U. And some interesting footnotes came about from the long history of Devil’s Third with Nintendo reassessing its quality in different areas of the world. Japan got it on Amazon only, Europe only got it in English and French, and North America got it over three months later after radio silence… a week after, oh, another Wii U exclusive that wasn’t anticipated at all. Really. But now, Devil’s Third has hit American Wii Us, and we all know it’s supposed to be terrible, right? No, actually!
Surprised? I thought you would be. After all, the downright vitriolic critical reception has tarnished the reputation of Devil’s Third to the point where NoA seemingly sent it out without rhyme or reason, but to place it in the same camp as the likes of the nigh unplayable Daikatana and the massively underwhelming Duke Nukem Forever is folly. If Devil’s Third came out during the time where Call of Duty‘s reign was its biggest (admit it – despite Black Ops III‘s sales figures, one cannot help but notice that series has far less influence than it did when the series’ critical and commercial high point, Modern Warfare 2, was released), it would have been at least decently received. As it stands in the gaming landscape now, though, Devil’s Third has some ideas fantastic enough to make it worth at least a rental for genre fans, but will be forever relegated to cult status. I might be playing devil’s advocate, but still, Devil’s Third is the kind of game that screams innovation at any cost, and that is something to be admired.
I’m not saying that Devil’s Third is a looker, though. It switched engines several times during development, and settled on Unreal Engine. The graphics are pretty low quality, and echo an early PS3 or 360 title (in its defense, it actually did fit that category early on in development). There are some neat visual details in many of the stages, but the generic FPS level locales are all here: the office building, the airport, the open field, the hospital, the bunker, the traditional Japanese fortress…wait, that would be the Ninja Gaiden side of things, right? Either way, most of the environments don’t look particularly pretty, with the exception of the Japanese fortress and the hospital, and the character models are somewhat lacking, as are the bloodspray effects. Coming off of, say, the gorgeously gory Bayonetta 2, Devil’s Third does not seem to push the Wii U’s limits much. It will make you think it does in another way, though – the frame rate is fairly janky, and it dips in the worst possible places at times. It seems like Valhalla Game Studios put more graphical work in their absolutely fantastic opening logo than some moments of Devil’s Third, as far as graphics go.
The story of Devil’s Third is pretty insane, with so many ridiculous tropes used at once that it feels like a B-grade version of the already B-grade storytelling of your average Goichi Suda game. Granted, this isn’t a game to play for the story, but its sheer ridiculousness is pure, unadulterated cheese, and the cutscenes will have you rolling more often than not. Basically, war breaks out on Earth. Ivan, the main protagonist, is a prisoner who is detained for taking part in terrorist attacks put on by a group called SOD (the School of Urban Development), but is allowed to break out in order to stop SOD from unleashing a deadly virus onto the human race, and then destroying satellites with missiles to make it so all satellite technology has been wiped out, a scenario in line with a hypothesis called the Kessler Syndrome. The story, while strange and probably generic, is pretty good, but it’s nonetheless easy to turn your brain off for it.
The music consists of fairly generic Call of Duty-level orchestral fanfares, which still hypes me up on occasion, and the sound effects are rather basic. Even so, there are some lovely pieces of work in both areas, including the end credits theme “Bleed Out (C4’s Theme),” sung by Erin Reagan, which could hold its own alongside any other theme song in the Wii U library. Sadly, many of the songs lack the earworm quality that good video game music is known for. On the other hand, the voice acting is actually pretty decent, especially since some of the voice actors know what’s up as far as the convoluted story is concerned. And most of the voice actors here are Hollywood actors, on top of that! They’re not, say, Kevin Spacey, but some of the biggest names include Yorgo Constantine (Live Free or Die Hard) as Ivan, Rachel Bilson (The OC) as C4, Hemky Madera (Weeds) as Big Mouse, Tim Thomerson (Trancers) as Caraway, and Andrea Savo (The Walking Dead) as Jane Doe.
So, Devil’s Third may not be the prettiest or most polished experience on the Wii U (never mind any other console), but the gameplay is pretty good most of the time. Indeed, contrary to most opinions, I thought the single-player campaign of Devil’s Third was not half bad. Devil’s Third, gameplay-wise, is a hybrid of three genres in one: the melee combat echoes two genres Itagaki is known for, hack ‘n’ slashes and beat ’em ups, while the shooting segments are like a poor man’s cover shooter. Yet, all of these elements fit together in a strange and almost indescribable way. There are plenty of nitpicks to make with each of this game’s sections, but once I got the hang of the quirks, I actually had some good fun with it.
Contrary to most critical opinion, I thought the controls in Devil’s Third were actually pretty decent. Note that Itagaki’s advice on his Facebook page recommending players use a Pro Controller should absolutely be heeded. It feels far more natural than the GamePad, which doesn’t add anything to the controls besides some added weight and far worse battery life. And off-TV play only adds to the struggling framerate. While the layout is simple, and there are several others to choose from that prioritize different combat styles (one, called Ninja, is mostly similar to the controls for Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, for example), switching between melee combat and shooting is occasionally tricky control-wise. Still, once I got used to it, I couldn’t help but get a kick out of the seamless transition between melee and shooting. All it takes is a press of the D-pad to switch to your guns, and a press of the Y button to switch to your fists or weapon. No “press the right stick in to use your knife” here – melee combat and shooting action are pretty much mixed together here.
The melee is very much like Ninja Gaiden, with Y being a medium attack, X being a strong attack, and B being your jump. One neat little attack uses the ZL button, as well, which locks onto an enemy, and you can use the X button to throw your melee weapon at him, usually resulting in a one-hit kill. The melee weapon throw is not only seriously awesome, but also seriously useful, especially when you encounter enemies with riot shields. In addition, the lock-on feature is put to good use elsewhere. If you press Y while locking on, you can do a strong and stealthy melee attack. Using X while locking on leads to some interesting finishing blows that are environment-dependent — Ivan can force a grenade down some guy’s throat or bash a dude’s head in with a sledgehammer, and the sheer outrageousness of it all works well. And there’s also a little bit of Ninja Gaiden-lite wall-running and jumping to be found, too.
It would have been nice if the melee combat was deeper than just a few special moves and weapons at your disposal, but I’m not complaining when Ivan can channel his inner Ryu Hayabusa and cut a dude in half with a katana, and can activate his special status, called Enbaku, to kill baddies in slow motion. And even though the melee weapons all control the same way, there is nonetheless some good variety to the ones you can find: there are powerful ones like sledgehammers and pipes, sharp ones like knives and tomahawks, and even a machete. While the melee is a little basic, it’s nonetheless fast and fun, and one part of the game that really gets things right.
The shooting segments are numerous, and the game expects you to use basic mechanics like dodging, guarding and sliding to get far, no matter what combat you use. “Wait, sliding?” you might ask, to which I reply, “I’m sure we’ve all played Vanquish here, right?” Actually, Devil’s Third is a lot like Vanquish in some areas, with Ivan’s sliding move and cigarette smoking behind cover both borrowed from that game’s similarly cool Sam Gideon. Anyway, Devil’s Third has aiming similar to that of other third-person shooters, with the ZL button giving you a closer aim and the ZR button making you fire. It works rather well most of the time, and spamming the ZL button after each successive kill will make you automatically aim at each subsequent enemy – a very useful feature. So, too, is Ivan’s ability to automatically find cover.
The shooting also benefits from some nice quirks that add melee elements to the mix. Besides the aforementioned sliding and dodging, the combat makes certain that you think carefully before making a move — for example, if you hold a grenade for too long, it blows up in your face, so plan accordingly. Ammo boxes are scattered throughout each level if you run out, but you have to hold A in order to pick up more, so there is a certain risk vs. reward quality in deciding whether to shoot or fight hand-to-hand. In addition, there are some fantastic places where the shooter side of Devil’s Third really shines through, which include a dogfight from the back of a war plane, setting up a bunch of charges on a nuclear missile to disarm it, and a driving section through snow-covered ground that really amps up the tension. Even though the driving itself is a little wonky, Itagaki and company make it known with the music and quick and consistent aiming that, oh yeah, YOU ARE DRIVING A BIG TANK. And it’s fun. It’s the little moments like these where Devil’s Third really shines.
Another one of the major problems with Devil’s Third is the inconsistency with the aiming. For a shooter, one should expect better, and those used to the smoothness of a typical FPS’ dual analog aiming, or even Splatoon‘s superb gyroscope aiming scheme, will be disappointed. Yet, this is no Bullet Witch — the aiming is not completely broken. There are weapons for every kind of shooter: SMGs and RPGs abound, and some of the former even have attachments like flamethrowers and grenade launchers that really add to the craziness. And even with the occasionally slipshod aiming, there is a sense of joy to be had when unloading a clip from Ivan’s AK-12 onto some goons infected with the Chimera virus, for example, or looking for camouflaged androids and picking them off.
The enemies are of the usual Ninja Gaiden and military shooter variety — grunts, grunts that are “like ninjas” (in the words of one of your comrades), zombielike creatures infected with the fearsome Chimera virus, androids wearing camouflage, robotic suits with Gatling guns, axes, and chainsaws, and bats, to name a few. The sheer variety of enemies you can kill is a huge plus, that is for certain. But, in typical Itagaki fashion, the game front-loads you with enemies that are extremely powerful, and using the guard and dodge functions does become extremely necessary. It really does infuriate me that you can’t use your melee weapon to block gunfire, though. Also, the AI is occasionally inconsistent, and the attacks are imbalanced at times, as well, but at least the enemies are well-placed throughout each stage.
Those who have been spoiled by Platinum Games’ oeuvre, myself included, will probably consider most of the bosses in Devil’s Third to be laughable. There are bullet sponges and cheap tacticians aplenty, and a lot of times, the boss fights are hampered by the fact that other mooks are released in the area attacking you, as well. Regardless, even though the sense of frustration is high, there is a major sense of satisfaction gained from picking off about 50 guys before getting to Big Mouse. Indeed, the boss fights become far more epic in scale when they’re one-on-one, and three in particular come closest to the competition: Grundla Saha, Jane Doe, and the final boss, all of whom bring on a level of controller-busting challenge sorely missing from a few of the enemies. Grundla Saha and the final boss are pretty much melee-only affairs, making every move count that much more, while Jane’s mix of attacks makes pulling off the game’s two types of combat extremely necessary. These boss fights may not be Platinum level, but they come so damned close you can taste it.
In all, despite the nitpicks, Devil’s Third puts on an entertaining little show with its campaign, even though it took me about 10 hours to beat in all. There is a scoring system similar to Ninja Gaiden and its ilk, but the scores are not shown after every level — you have to look at each stage individually. But still, beating your scores is certainly possible, and adds to the campaign’s replay value. Also, each of the nine stages has six trophies hidden throughout, and you can look at the ones you’ve collected in Ivan’s pad. There are also three difficulty modes to play with: Easy, Standard, and Hardcore, and if you’ve played an Itagaki game before, you know just how “hardcore” Hardcore can get.
The campaign is better than most may make it out to be, but the multiplayer is what really shines. It actually echoes its cooler, more family-friendly, and more polished Wii U brother Splatoon in some respects, but ups the craziness. A lot. There’s an entire mode dedicated to shooting chickens, photorealistic cat head armor, melee kills that would also be at home in Ninja Gaiden, bombs that explode into rainbows, and battles that give the likes of Team Fortress 2 and Tribes Ascend a run for their money. The mixture of shooting and melee action becomes even more apparent, as you can use the very same moves that Ivan dispatches goons with in the campaign to pick off your own foes, like the slide move, and you don’t take any fall damage, so it’s easy to jump behind a dude and slice him in half with a katana, too! Alas, the fantastic multiplayer is weighed down by the inability to play with anyone outside North America, as well as the shoehorned-in “Golden Eggs” F2P scheme, but the fact that the multiplayer is as good as it is makes it that much more disappointing that this game will remain no more than a cult favorite.
The scars of Devil’s Third and its convoluted development history are evident, but, ultimately, with Devil’s Third, Itagaki has given a giant middle finger to conventional AAA game design. And it should be mentioned that, for what it’s worth, none of the flaws in Devil’s Third are truly game breaking. The frame rate dips and uneven AI are a little annoying, but neither really interfere with the sheer sense of fun. While just a little more time would have helped it a lot, it’s very over hated, and far from the trainwreck other critics have made it out to be. Measured against the meter stick of most games like it, the faults are apparent, and yet, I can’t help but notice one thing. For all its faults, Devil’s Third plays well, has some pretty great ideas, and ends up being a game weighed down by a bad rap. I can clearly say that I had a lot of fun with it, and it isn’t trying to be anything more than a crazy action experience. Some might say the faults of Devil’s Third, and there are quite a few of them, are too inexplicable for its genre to be so minor, but I think they’re making mountains out of molehills here. This is strictly a no-frills action game, and that’s what makes it enjoyable.
Sure, each genre that Devil’s Third mixes has a better example in the Wii U library — multiplayer shooter fans should play Splatoon, hack ‘n’ slash fans have the very best example of the genre this generation with Bayonetta 2, and The Wonderful 101 will more than satisfy beat ’em up fans. Would I rank Devil’s Third alongside those in the Wii U library? Nope. Would I still call it a testament to Itagaki’s fierce desire to try new things, and Nintendo’s willingness to resurrect a game that may be extremely unpolished, but is nonetheless very compelling in its weirdness and fun? Absolutely. And, finally, would I call it Devil’s Turd? Nah. This one’s not for everyone, but it’s still a keeper in my eyes. Here’s hoping those willing to check it out can find a physical copy, though.
Review copy acquired by reviewer
Actiondevil's thirdNintendoNintendo Wii UShooterThird Person ShooterTomonobu ItagakiValhalla Game StudiosWii U