Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Platinum Games
The Transformers license has had an incredibly rocky time when it comes to videgames, from the awesome PS2 title Transformers: The Game and High Moon Studios great War for Cybertron, and then considerably less impressive the movie tie-ins. But now into the arena steps none other than Platinum Games, best know for creating Bayonetta and Vanquish. Their offering to the Gods of Gaming has arrived with very little hype or media coverage, but aims to please the die-hard fans by paying tribute to the original TV show. Transformers: Devastation isn’t Platinum’s best work, but it is a damn fine game anyway.
What Platinum have created sticks close to what they know. Devastation takes the form of a brawler with a semi-open world, favoring almost constant combat over anything else.To the game’s credit it tries to break up the gameplay every now and then, throwing in some vehicle chase sections that make use of the Transformers ability to…uh, transform, and even moments where it suddenly shifts to a top-down perspective and then later a side-scroller, too. And then the game smartly ends at around the 6-8 hour mark, clearly recognising that it doesn’t have quite enough going on to last much longer than that without feeling repetitive. From my perspective it’s a well judged run-time, because just before the credits rolled I was starting to get pretty tired of bashing robots in the fact using the same combos over and over. Of course if you consider value for money to be a lengthy game then you might want to wait for a sale before picking this one, but if you’re a proponent of quality over quantity such as me then I think you’ll appreciate the game ending when it does.
Aesthetically the game does disappoint slightly in its continuous use of boring, bland environments that form tunnels to funnel you through the sort-of-open-world-but-not-really-open-world-world, by which I mean there are areas where you can wander around freely but aside from some very basic side-missions there’s really no reason to. The rest of the game’s visuals, though, succeed beautifully in replicating the look of the original show, revelling in its cell-shaded glory. It’s like being punched right in the nostalgias, a feeling only made stronger by the fact that some of the original cast have returned to voice their characters. Peter Cullen leads the show returning as Optimus Prime, facing off against Frank Welker again playing Megatron, as well as voicing Soundwave. There’s also Dan Gilvezan (Bumblebee), Michael Bell(Sideswipe and Scrapper), Gregg Berger (Grimlock and Long Haul). It’s impressive to see so many of the original cast reprise their roles, but that shouldn’t overshadow the other voice work which is also of good quality, replicating that over-the-top, kinda corny tone of the show. We have a Starscream that actually screams, for example, and Grimlock sounds lovably dumb. Backing it up is a relatively generic yet still rip-roaring hair metal soundtrack that again feels like it was ripped straight from a Dynasty Warriors game. It would have been nice to see some of the original music return from the show, including that one theme, but the soundtrack that Devastation boasts fits nicely into the hectic action.
Also feeling like it was ripped straight from the TV show is the banal plot, which is bloody silly and not very good from when viewed from a critical standpoint, thus it too oozes nostalgia. Yes, let’s be honest here the show’s plots where hardly the stuff of legend. Basically Devastation boils down to Megatron activating some ancient bit of Cybertronian tech that will Cyberform Earth (yes, really), and naturally the Autobots are against this since it will mean the destruction of the human race, which isn’t cool. Not that there actually seems to be any humans. There’s a city that makes up those aforementioned boring environments but you’ll never see one of the squishy fleshbags anywhere. The writing correctly hits all the right notes of cringe-worthiness and cheesiness, and while the plot is pretty terrible the sheer gusto of the voice acting makes up for it. All in all it does sound and feel like an episode of the show, which is exactly what it was aiming to do and what fans will want.
If the nostalgic blast of color, story and voice acting is the cake then the combat is the lovely filling, a truly terrible anology considering we are chatting about robots punching each other in the metal face, but just roll out with it. Geddit?. *cough* The basis of the combat is the light and heavy attacks that can be strung together, and at the end of combos you can quickly tap RB to transform into vehicle mode and smash the enemy hard provided you manage to time it correctly. RB also serves as the dodge button with a well-timed leap out of harms way activating a few brief seconds of slow-motion where you can pound on the enemy with reckless abandon. Topping it off are two special moves for each character, the first used by tapping LB and the second, more devastating attack not being available until a special bar is filled. Arenas filled with enemies can thick and fast, and at the end of each battle a score screen grades your performance. It’s lovely stuff thanks to smooth, responsive controls, and while it’s never achieves the same depths as other brawlers – there’s a fairly limited selection of combos and only a few purchasable moves such as a parry – it always felt exhilarating, especially when you walk out of a massive fight with nary even a scratch and an S rating.
It’s not perfect, mind you. It’s annoying to be half-way through a heavy hitting combo only to suddenly find the opponent ignoring the onslaught in order to launch their own attack, gamely muscling through being smacked with a massive axe so they can ruin your day. The bullet-time slow-down gives you a brief window of respite but it isn’t long enough to finish even a basic combo, so don’t be surprised to find that as soon as you come out of it the enemy will shrug off your moves and wallop you one unless you’re quick enough with that dodge button again. It’s a design decision made to encourage dodging, but it has the horrible side-effect of making your attacks feel inconsequential. But the biggest grip is that Devastation firmly believes making the game harder just means throwing in even more enemies until eventually the screen is a cacophony of information. It’s great fun up until the point when it becomes too much, the screen filled with way too many enemies, effects, attacks and colors to make coherent sense out of it all. There’ll be jets flying overhead dropping bombs, vehicles scooting around and Insecticons doing all sorts of nonsense, half of it on-screen and the other half off of it. It doesn’t help that the sound that an attacking enemy makes, which is obviously meant to be used by the player to judge when off-screen assaults are coming, sounds almost identical to the one that indicates an opportunity for a vehicular combo finisher. The timing between the warning sound and the actual attack is quite variable, too, making it even harder to properly deal with off-screen threats. Platinum are usually masters of conveying all the information a player needs, but here they drop the ball a little.
Vehicle controls suffer from this a little bit too. There are a few chase sequences in the game that while feel do get mired by the sheer anarchy of it all. As you blaze through boosts and ram through shields while jets rain down bombs the screen can become a blur of color and mayhem that makes it a bit tricky to see what the hell is going on.
Speaking of difficulty there’s five different settings available with the first three accessible from the very start and the final two unlocking later. Not only will enemies hit harder, but by the time you reach the final difficulty they’ll be moving at twice the speed as well. And to be honest I didn’t even dare venture into these modes very much as even standard Warrior difficulty becomes fairly tough. There’s also a grand total of fifty missions available on Challenge, which is a nice distraction from story mode, where you can also take on some side-quests that reward you with bonus weapons.
Yup, throughout the game there’s a myriad of loot to be gathered up from treasure chests, hidden locations and enemies. It’s not as vast a selection as something like Borderlands and there’s not really a lot of different types, but it’s nice to switch up weapons on the fly. Better yet unused weapons can be fed into your axe, sword or fist of choice to increase its power, with special abilities also making the jump over so that you might wind up with a Thermal Sword that increases attack power or even lets your character hoover up nearby items. It’s a needlessly slow process because you can only breakdown one weapon at a time, a chore when you finish a mission with ten or twenty useless common weapons, but its worth it in the end when you manage to create a fire-spitting machinegun capable of dealing out tons of damage.
Yup, machineguns. Ranged weapons play a part in the combat, but they serve to support the melee combat rather than supplant it, favoring old-school strafing instead of cover-based shooting. Quick blasts of fire are good for bringing aerial foes down to the ground for a good ass whooping, and occasionally you’ll to tackle cowardly enemies trying to snipe from the rooftops. There’s not much to say about the ranged weapons, really, except that they work, feel decent and bring a little bit of extra variety into the whole affair, although on the Xbox One at least they are just a tad twitchy. There’s the typical assortment of gear from blasters to grenade launchers, plus some other cool stuff like Starscream’s Null Rays in case you want to rock something iconic, and like the melee weapons they can all be broken down and used to power up a favorite gun.
This weapon creation system is housed at the Ark, which is essentially one big storefront for everything Autobot that can be visited periodically throughout the campaign. From this location you can use credits to purchase items that can heal you or even bring you back from the dead as well as new weapons. You can also invest in developing T.E.C.H., too, done through a quick and simply mini-game where a moving bar has to be stopped in the right area to develop something awesome that will provide a hefty boost to your stats, like a better chance of finding rare and powerful weapons. Fail to do so and you get something less impressive plus some wasted credits.
From the Ark you can also swap between any of the five Autobots available: Optimus Prime, Grimlock, Bumblebee, Wheeljack and Sideswipe. Some weapons can’t be equipped by certain characters, but for the most part upgraded gear can be swapped over to another character and thus there’s no risk of finding yourself entering the fray with a weaker Autobot. The only exception is that character’s are granted stat increases for defeating enemies, so if you spend more time fighting as Optimus then he’ll become a little bit more powerful than his comrades. It’s not enough to unbalance the game, but at the same time the stat increases make such a minimal difference that their inclusion feels a bit pointless. Fighting as each character doesn’t make you suddenly change how you play, but there’s enough subtle differences to make it fun to swap characters. Bumblebee, for example, is all about speed and quick attacks, while Optimus is the most balanced of the lot. Grimlock just deals out big damage through slow but powerful strikes. Plus, Grimlock is awesome. Seriously, you can be a robot-dinosaur. Who wouldn’t want to be a robot-dinosaur?
Transformers: Devastation is a little rough around the edges in places and certainly isn’t Platinum’s finest work, but importantly it’s just a hell of a lot of fun. It’s isn’t massively complex, yet it’s fluid, fast and satisfying when you get into the groove and start nailing Decepticons without even breaking a sweat, and it all comes wrapped up in a fantastic homage to the classic TV show that spawned a generation of fans and four bloody awful Michael Bay movies. And then it tosses a loot system on top of it all for good measure.
That’s a recommendation, then.