There’s a bit of music theory that details the Tritone, sometimes colloquially referred to as the Devil’s Interval or, infrequently, the Devil’s Third. To get slightly technical, it’s an interval of an augmented fourth or diminished fifth, spanning half an octave – or 3 whole tones. Without going too much in to it, the “diabolus in musica” as it was called by those who speak Latin, was usually used to create dissonance, and a feeling of evil or dread.
It’s all rather apt then; because playing through Devil’s Third stirred within me so much dread that I very nearly considered giving up playing videogames forever. Yes, that’s hyperbole, and in truth The Devil’s Third probably isn’t the worst game I’ve ever played – but it’s certainly very, very far from being good.
To the beginning then, because context here is very important. Tomonobu Itagaki, once leader of Team Ninja at Tecmo is a developer I’ve held in high regard because his reimagining of arcade classic Ninja Gaiden, particularly in its re-released Black state, is one of the best action game experiences I’ve ever had.
That game was a beautiful ballet of swords and sorcery, where each and every battle was a superbly choreographed, graceful dance. You’d have to master each weapon, learning the requisite combos, and meticulously time your attacks and your parries. The bosses were brutal, but fair and every death was your own fault. And that’s all missing in The Devil’s Third, a base action game that at its core tries to marry the close quarter melee from action games like Ninja Gaiden, with the first person shooting from a game like Call of Duty.
It’s something that should work in theory, but it’s something that’s already been largely disproven thanks to games like Bethesda’s WET, which at least had the decency to stick to one point of view. This one rudely and ungracefully switches from third-person, to first person, and clumsily back to third person when you switch between weapons, never fluid or well animated – and always feeling disconnected, with that dissonance its title alludes it.
The melee action is basic; there are no grand combos to master; instead you’re stuck using either heavy or light or attacks with the only variety coming in the melee weapon you choose to employ. Swords slice bad guys to bloody bits, while great big hammers and axes lay foes to waste more slowly. Once you’ve dispensed with enough enemies, a meter is filled, allowing you to use up your ‘Enbaku Gauge’, which gives you stronger attacks for a limited amount of time. For whatever reason, the inexplicably Japanese tattoos covering very nearly every inch of Ivan – the bald-headed, Russian-accented and terribly unlikeable protagonist in all of this – start glowing, like he’s Bruce Leroy.
The gunplay is equally humdrum. It’s serviceable, but not remarkable in any way, which I suppose makes it a microcosm of the whole game. It’s narratively poor as well, with a nonsensical story that tries to stuff in as many 80’s movie clichés as it possibly can.
You play as the aforementioned Ivan, a muscly, tattooed badass with a Russian accent and an obvious hatred for shirts. Now buddied with some United States defence force, he used to be part of a crew of mercenaries who’re now embroiled in some terrible earth-destroying terrorist plot. Naturally it’s up to Ivan to put a stop to the conspiracy, save the world and pick off his former compadres one by one, with each of his former crew serving as an end-level boss. It’s completely and utterly stupid, filled with the sort of mindless and goofy macho posturing you’d expect of b-grade action cinema. There are a few feeble attempts at character building, but they’re laughable. And of course there are big-breasted, barely clothed women in it, because this is an Itagaki game.
The boss fights, one of the things I loved abut Ninja Gaiden, aren’t particularly engaging either. Itagaki loves bosses that can kill you with a single hit, and they’re present here – though without well-enough developed combat they almost always degenerate in to watching for their tell, moving out of the way and hitting back ad nauseum. There’s no real strategy involved to any of it.
I’ll admit that I had some fun with its popcorn entertainment plot and some of its missions exhibit small flashes of good design, but only very rarely – and it’s all mitigated by a technical execution that’s left wanting. And honestly, I think the only reason I got a kick out of playing it at all is from that same morbid fascination that drives people to stare at car crashes.
While Devil’s Third isn’t the worst looking game, it’s very far from the best – with textures and objects that feel not just out of place, but out of time. The frame rate is frequently a complete mess, and there’s frequent, eye-watering screen-tearing. The game was originally intended to be released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 nearly five years ago, but even had it been released then, it would have felt dated. In its new home on the Wii U, it feels positively archaic, with the only real function to the system’s second-screen being off-TV play.
It’s another one of those games from a Japanese developer that dearly wants to be a Western game, but doesn’t pull it off with the technical flair or quirkiness that games like the underappreciated Binary Domain or Platinum’s excellent Vanquish managed. I was very, very nearly to write it off as something entirely unmemorable, with nothing at all to redeem it, until I sat down to try its very odd multiplayer.
While it’s not good enough to redeem what’s an otherwise atrocious game, the multiplayer demonstrates that there’s more to Itagaki’s mind than the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Players begin as a rookie trainee to the Federal Disaster Response Agency and given just enough cash to equip themselves with a few basic weapons. After a few drills in the multiplayer though, they’ll start earning the necessary cash to buy just about every instrument of murder available; swords, guns, flamethrowers, missiles and more.
As a word of caution, the game contain two sets of currencies; Dollen can be earned by playing in online matches and are used to buy weaponry and defences, while Golden Eggs, available to buy through microtransactions or earned through completing the single player campaign are used to unlock the really cool customisation stuff.
Players can buy gear that helps them upgrade their weapons or boost kill streaks, along with new outfits that buff player stats by increasing health, or running speed – and they start bordering on the ludicrous. Players are left, largely, to fend for themselves in a variety of your usual modes; team death matches, free-for-all lone-wolf stuff and other modes involving lines of colourful chickens, but the interesting stuff really starts to happen once a player hits level 5 and unlocks the ability to join a clan, which brings with it individualised base-building and a perpetual to-and-fro warfare. It has the potential to be something great – if it wasn’t running on the back of a terrible game. It’s something that requires a large enough playerbase, and unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening.
Last Updated: August 26, 2015