Have you ever pondered over the question of what would happen if Tomonobu Itagaki made a mash-up of Ninja Gaiden and Modern Warfare-era Call of Duty, most likely while drunk and working on a PlayStation 2 devkit with a fiver and a pocketful of loose change to bring it all home? Boy does Devil's Third have the answer for you.
It's been half a decade since Devil's Third was announced, initially as a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 game created by Itagaki's newly-formed Valhalla Game Studios in partnership with the now defunct THQ, and you sense the years haven't been kind. Having passed through different publishers and game engines, the end result lurches close to disaster. I've played a fair few hours of Devil's Third's single-player campaign at this point, and I'm not entirely sure whether this is one of those games that's so bad it's good. I can say with some certainty that it's bad, though.
Devil's Third opens with a prisoner performing a drum solo in Guantanamo Bay, and it spirals downwards from there. This isn't some Kojima-esque examination of the ethics of blacksites - it is, instead, awkward window-dressing for an interminable tale about saving the world. You play as the man spinning those sticks, an angry Russian terrorist named - wait for it - Ivan who's offered a reprieve and then patrols warzones with his nipples bared, the tattoos on his torso glowing like embers as he works through leagues of badmen and, later on, mutants and zombies.
It's a schlocky set-up which would be absolutely fine in so many other worlds - Itagaki's Ninja Gaiden always enjoyed making hokey, campy excuses for all of its carnage - yet Devil's Third lacks any style, or any substance by way of compensation. The silky action that defined Itagaki's work at Team Ninja is glaringly absent here, as is the elegance that once backed up all of that violence. In its place is a stuttering, dreary trawl that feels like it belongs in the sorrier scatterings of a PlayStation 2 bargain bin. Even if Devil's Third were being played in the time that its visuals and style clearly belong to, it would still come up short.
Where has it gone so wrong? The combination of Ninja Gaiden-esque action and third-person shooting makes sense, yet the execution is hideous. With katana in hand - or tomahawk, or hammer, or whatever else you find lying around - combat is clumsy, and the free-roaming camera disappears behind walls and refuses to stay focused on the action. Gunplay is no better either. Sights lurch around messily as the frame-rate stutters, hit detection feels wayward, and the arsenal prattles along with an almost apologetic whimper. Back this up with up with set-pieces that never go beyond limp arena shoot-outs and corridor crawls - not to mention boss-fights that introduce zero strategy - and you've a recipe for the purest sort of apathy from any player. There's little depth to the combat, no spark to the encounters and it's all mesmerisingly dumb.
Something keeps compelling me back, but what exactly? Maybe it's nostalgia for a simpler time, back when there was an abundance of third-tier mid-budget games that would see you through smoky, listless nights, and maybe it's the cultish appeal of something so garish, and so heroically broken. There are glimpses in Devil's Third of other, more accomplished cult favourites - like Vanquish you can slide on your knees and smoke cigarettes while behind cover, although both features are half-heartedly aped here. Yet with its wayward production values this feels even more like Rebellion's famously awful Rogue Warrior, a limping mess that's the butt of countless jokes. Despite its shortcomings, and despite myself, I still find myself with a strange soft spot for that particular game.
Going from those first few hours, then, Devil's Third is undoubtedly a bad game. It pushes beyond that, even, to be a truly atrocious one, one that now teeters on the edge of becoming a glorious car crash you can't help but stop and stare at. I'm amazed that Nintendo has backed this mess (and there are rumours that it's already getting cold feet overseas), but also astonished and slightly grateful that games like this still exist. I don't have much faith in its multiplayer which remains offline - if Valhalla struggles to get one person playing in its world, I find it hard to believe it'll be able to accommodate much more than that - but I'm holding out hope there'll be some final reprieve, and a lunge into self-parody that makes me feel less guilty for repeatedly going back to wallow in this shambles.