Nov 03 2015

Review of Transformers: Devastation

header (5)4 Stars

Transformers Devastation is exactly what it aims to be and nothing more, and for the intended audience of old school Transformers fans this will make it one of the best games they’ve ever played, but those looking for something more original may be disappointed. That’s not to say Devastation is a bad game, but rather that it sticks to very well-worn territory for the developer, Platinum Games. This gives it a somewhat slapdash feel but at the same time it’s clear that Platinum has a lot of reverence for the series, and as such Devastation has a lot of heart as well. Of course it’s also worth noting that even a slapdash Platinum game is generally far better than some other developers’ strongest efforts and that fact combined with that aforementioned passion easily makes this the best Transformers game ever made.

Melee and ranged combat blend together fairly seamless as you face threats from the ground and sky simultaneously.

Melee and ranged combat blend together fairly seamlessly as you face threats from the ground and sky simultaneously.

One of the biggest reasons for this is the gameplay, which despite essentially being nothing more than a reskinned version of Bayonetta, is deeply satisfying. Pretty much everything from Platinum’s witch-tastic franchise is here: dodging attacks will slow down time, the levels are littered with sub challenges and treasure boxes, and there are a plethora of items to use that mainly focus on buffs and healing. Even much of the basic button timing transfers over and if you’ve recently played through either Bayo 1 or 2, you’ll slip into Transformers: Devastation’s gameplay like an old slipper. While some may decry its reuse as lazy, the general Bayo gameplay system is incredibly solid and ridiculously fun, and it transplants onto the Transformers license surprisingly well, mimicking the manic action of the old show. Of course it’s not just repurposed mechanics on display here, they do make an effort to blend the license into things offering up the ability to switch into vehicle mode at any time, and allowing you to finish off combos with a turbo-injected hit and run finisher. They also let you play as five different Autobots, wielding a myriad of weapons both melee and ranged, giving the basic combat a nice degree of variety. Getting back to those weapons, they’re doled out by a sturdy but ultimately rather shallow loot system which adds a decent sense of persistence to the leveling and character building. That said you’ll still most likely end up utilizing the same basic set of weapons the whole way through the game, buffing them up along the way by synthesizing weaker weapons into them. T o put a cap on it, overall the gameplay feels solid and familiar but at the same time I can see some people being somewhat tired of that particular Platinum formula and if they don’t have a sense of Transformers nostalgia to carry them through then they’ll probably end up leaving the experience feeling underwhelmed.

While some have expressed disappointment at the Decpticons not being playable, I feel like leaving them as purely the enemy allows them to be a bit more grandiose.

While some have expressed disappointment at the Decepticons not being playable, I feel like leaving them as the enemy allows them to be a bit more grandiose.

On that note of nostalgia, let’s move onto the story, which is faithful to the old cartoon almost to a fault. The premise here is that out of nowhere the Decepticons, Insections, and some strange giant metal arms start attacking ‘The City’, converting the landscape into a metallic dystopia that mimics the Transformer home world of Cybertron. The Autobots strike team (composed of Optimus, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack, and Grimlock) must jump in and save the day, along the way solving the mystery of where the arms and Insecticons come from, while needing to confront their Cybertronian heritage at the same time. All in all it’s pretty standard stuff for a Transformers storyline, especially in the context of the original cartoon, and it’s exactly as full of plotholes and nonsensical motivations as those blatant but beloved half hour-long toy commercials. While that may sound like me ribbing on the game, it’s actually a compliment, as the campy but earnest silliness of that old Saturday morning splendor is exactly what has been missing from the Transformers franchise over the past decade or so. Most importantly the characters actually act as you remember them; Starscream is a traitorous douche, Bumblebee is plucky and talkative, and Grimlock is a big lovable dope with a taste for cesium salami rather than the PTSD racked abomination he was in the last Transformers game. It’s like stepping back in time to when I was 8 years old and giddily enjoying their antics, even though through the lens of adulthood I can now see how objectively poorly written those characters were. And to be fair, it still managed to hold my attention over the course of its 5-7 hour-long campaign, running just a tad long but throwing in enough set pieces and settings to keep things fairly fresh.

The visuals on display here are gorgeous, perfectly evoking the feel of the old cartoon.

The visuals on display here are gorgeous, perfectly evoking the feel of the old cartoon.

The thing that stood out the most to me though in Devastation was the presentation, which despite being a little bland at points, is slavishly devoted to recreating the look and sound of the old show. The visuals are done in a vivid cell-shaded style that perfectly evokes the feel of the cartoon, with designs either being ripped directly from the titular toys or being heavily inspired by them, featuring the same boxy limbs, bizarre horns, and cone heads that typified the G1 Transformers. But more than that they focused on the little but meaningful details that really trigger those nostalgia neurons, such as making sure Megatron’s sneer curls up in just the right way and having the transformations actually look somewhat mechanical rather than being a simple flurry of metal. I do have one issue with Devastation’s look though and that’s the bland lifeless environments that are utterly devoid of charm or character, feeling like nothing more than a big cardboard play set for your characters to run around in. Thankfully the things going on within these environments are generally more than interesting enough to make this a non-issue, but it’s still certainly noticeable. Like the visuals, the sound design is similarly on beat, using more or less the same voice actors as the cartoon, pumping out the same crunchy transformation sound effects, and even featuring a score composed by Vince DiCola, who composed the music for the original Transformers movie. I will say I was disappointed that the original Transformers theme song never makes an appearance, but DiCola’s soundtrack hits all the necessary notes of squealing guitar and synth to still make this feel like Transformers. It’s also worth noting that all the actors put in very authentic and clearly enthusiastic voice performances that are stilted and cheesy in just the right way. Quite simply, the goal here was clearly to emulate the spirit of the old cartoon as much as the look and sound of it, and on that front they most certainly succeeded.

As should be pretty clear at this point, originality is not this game’s strength, and if you’re not a big Transformers fan then you’ll find this game to be solidly made but ultimately unsatisfying. However, if like me you are one of those people who regularly belts out the lyrics to ‘The Touch’ when you think no one is looking, then Transformers: Devastation will be the Transformers game you have been waiting your entire life for. The story, the presentation, and even the gameplay all ooze genuine heart and love for the G1 Transformers, reveling in the franchise with unabashed joy untainted by irony or cynicism. It’s for this reason primarily that I recommend Transformers: Devastation and why I give a 4 out of 5 stars.

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