The single-player of Itagaki's latest is a drab, shallow adventure.
As someone who adores a good action game, I was hopeful for Devil's Third. With Tomonobu Itagaki in the captain's seat, I had the feeling something of note was in the making. He had a hand in the creation of the modern Ninja Gaiden games and I like those quite a lot. While those games were very difficult, they were always fair, pushing the player to get better at games. Memories of Ninja Gaiden Black are still fresh in my mind and I would name it the ultimate example of what this genre can bring to the table.
That is what makes reporting on Devil's Third so crushing for me, though. Here is a game that would be perfect for me, and yet, I can't enjoy it. I played through all of the game's nine single-player missions and I'm not that enthused by it. How could this be? Well, sit down and relax. This could take a while.
Let’s start with the story. You step in the shoes of Ivan, who is tasked with saving the world from a terrorist group. They have taken down the satellites surrounding the globe and it all comes to man-to-man combat now. Over nine missions, Ivan has to ensure the safety of all people he meets, using his skills and the weaponry that he finds. The terrorist group knows Ivan's power all too well, as he was once one of them. As a mercenary with a mission, he isn't holding back, even though some painful memories will definitely come forward.
That sounds pretty great in theory, and while there are a few cool scenes, the plot isn't anything to shout about. You run through various settings, destroying the enemies that are in your way, until you finally meet the big bad. There are certainly attempts at character building with Ivan and his close female friend C4, but even that leaves gaps and delivers an overall weak impression. Outside the military or Ivan himself, none of the other characters get enough time to develop. The voice acting also varies wildly in quality, though, for me, it wasn’t that much of a distraction.
Complementing the story is the gameplay, which I’d best term as decent at its basics, but very unfilling. You shoot your way through the majority of the adventure, and that gets old quickly. The various weapons have weight to them, but controlling them feels a bit stiff and unresponsive. I toyed around with the options and eventually got it down, but it just became tolerable, not enjoyable. The third-person perspective is a big factor in that and I wasn't always sure if I was hitting enemies or not. I found myself constantly using the ironsights to get any real work done.
The melee weapons were the way I would have loved to play, but that aspect is unfortunately minimized. The melee combos are extremely limited, even if they still felt good to pull off. It is just presented as an extra option next to the constant shooting and the game treats it as more of a bonus than a driving force. With options like sledgehammers and katanas, who wouldn't love to smash an evil soldier? There was potential there, but melee fighting isn't a good idea in the single-player stages.
This comes down primarily to the harshness of the enemies. They are as a group unrelenting and will stop at nothing to claim their victory. Because of this, Devil’s Third is mostly a cover-based shooter. The game trains you to be wary in every encounter, as you are regularly given little time to react to rocket launchers or attacking mutated beasts. I replayed some sections multiple times thanks to these sneak attacks. That became a drag because some of these missions are close to 40 minutes long.
The bosses are no joke either. Regardless of difficulty, they have one-hit death moves that will annihilate any progress you made. It’s frustrating because you’re often killed before you even know which end is up. Once you know what to do, you are more than likely to beat them down as you replay, luckily. One problem I encountered here was clicking in the stick to run. You don't have to hold the stick down all the way, but in the heat of the battle, it wasn't very handy. With one boss in particular, this issue caused deaths that were completely unneccesary.
Outside of the usual running and gunning, there are some special sections that attempt to give this game some flavor. You hop into a plane and shoot out the back of it. I had a really hard time getting a good handle on this part, though it was pretty forgiving and that made it tolerable. Later in the game, you have to drive through a snowy environment while hitting enemies. While I tried my hand at shooting, I ultimately just found myself blasting through it. The amazing thing here is that my strategy of just running through it worked fine. Outside one specific part, where you have to control a landing, it wasn't all that crazy to get through. There are moments where Devil's Third grants you passage easily, but those aren't award-winning either.
As far as the presentation of the game is concerned, Devil's Third is a sad state of affairs. While it does offer off-TV play on the GamePad, the controller just offers an empty black screen when playing on the TV. Most of the environments are really drab looking with only one major exception. The Japanese-inspired town featured bright lighting, moody squares, and dark pathways. I would go as far as saying that this was my favorite part of the entire game. Sadly, even at those moments, Devil’s Third wasn’t free of screen tearing and dropping frame rates. Bodies and dropped weapons floated above the floor a few times and enemies were in rare instances glitchy.
Devil's Third has honest intentions and tries to deliver on all the action goodness you would ever want. Tomonobu Itagaki and his team at Valhalla did put effort in their product, but everything about it feels unfulfilling. The gameplay focuses on shooting down the same enemies over and over and making any sort of progression can prove difficult. Add to that the drab presentation and you have a campaign that lets you down at very step. Let us hope that the multiplayer can save this game.