Technology - 54%
Presentation - 84%
Design Theory - 68%
Gameplay - 74%
Story - 25%
Value - 40%
You may or may not know by now, but I am a huge fan of Transformers. Tied with Star Wars, it’s my favourite entertainment brand and my all-time top toy franchise. Specifically Generation One Transformers, which is defined roughly as the toyline and cartoon released in the mid-80s to early 90s. When Platinum announced they were releasing a brawler based on the G1 Transformers franchise, I absolutely knew I needed to buy it.
Out of the gates I’ve got to say this game came close to being my favourite game of this generation. Nostalgia levels at overload, of course. Objectively, the game suffers at a few points, but nothing to completely ruin the experience. Firstly, some gamers may be disappointed with the short and somewhatlacklustre story mode. Platinum Games aren’t exactly known for their sweeping narratives, but Transformers Devastation’s single player mode is barely six hours long. For me, that’s perfect. I’m a thirty-something gamer; I’ve got a busy life so when I manage to get an hour or so to mash some buttons, I like to leave my game knowing I’ve left an impact. I completed Devastation in three sittings and I thought the length was perfect. This may not be to everyone’s taste (this is a full-price game after all), but I rather enjoyed it. The pace was refreshing, the action non-stop and there wasn’t even the faintest whiff of padding out. The story itself is something I’d expect to see in the G1 cartoon. If you remember the cartoon without the rose-tinted glare of nostalgia, you’ll remember that the cartoon was largely crap. I’m a fan, I can say this. As a vehicle to sell toys, the usual weekly fare was that Megatron has come up with some corny way to take over the planet, and the Autobots reliably thwart his wicked plans. Usually by introducing a brand-new Autobot who’s conveniently for sale the same day the episode airs. The story in Devastation is cut from the same cloth. It’s campy, but the eight-year-old you will love it. Featuring the voice talents of Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Dan Gilvezan, Gregg Berger and the lifelong-favourite Michael Bell, Transformers Devastation’s story mode is sure to pluck at your heartstrings.
Featuring an all-star cast of eighties robots (see voice actors above), anyone with even a passing memory of the Transformers will reognise the majority of the cast. The usual Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Grimlock appear, opposing Megatron, the Insecticons and the titular Devastator with plenty more besides. Each character’s gaudy colours is rendered in an incredibly faithful cel-shaded style. The cel-shading is so effective in this game that you’d be forgiven for mistaking a screenshot for a screen-capture of the original cartoon. In actuality, I was a little disappointed that Platinum didn’t work into this visual presentation. I would have liked to see the visual texture enhanced with faux VHS tracking, or some of that low-definition TV bloom, in a manner which Far Cry Blood Dragon managed a couple of years ago. Not enough to get in the way of the game of course, but enough to reiterate that this is an 80s property. The game is pushing no boundaries with its visuals or level design, despite the presentation. Very simple shapes, very minimal level design bordering dangerously on mundanity. Even the small amount of exploration and side-quests are pared down to tedium. To that end, the game certainly loses points. Transformers Devastation takes place over various differing arenas from cityscapes, to underground complexes and finally to space, but the game never really attempts to deliver anything daring. The cityscape is repetetive, with the same pre-fab buildings defining the linear routes available to the player. The more exotic locations provide a barrier to the tedium for a short while, before you realise that the level layout follows the same core design as the city. Even the levels which happen in space still have a “floor” to run on, rather than introducing a less-conventional zero-gravity space to interact with. The level design is very uninteresting and if the game wasn’t as short, would certainly become humdrum. Perhaps it’s thankful that the game is so short then.
As mentioned before though, Platinum Games are a company that concentrates on core gameplay above all else, and here is really where Transformers Devastation shines. The brawling combat provides a solid bedrock with a wide range of combos available from the off. Light and heavy attacks in varying degrees make up the lion’s share of the combo action, with each chraracter able to make a bonus transformation “vehicle attack” at the apex of a particularly long streak. Each character charges up a super meter which can be meted out twofold; use up the meter as soon as its available, or continue building it for one grand super-move, hitting practically everything on screen at once. Platinum have borrowed liberally from Bayonetta by introducing Witch Time (they don’t call it that here), where a perfectly-timed dodge will slow the game speed down dramatically, opening up further options for comboing up. Add in slam moves, ranged weapon attacks and shield-breaking abilities and you’ll quickly see there’s a chemistry set of fun tools here, and it’s up to you how to use them. Button mashing will work (the Mrs can attest to this), but for truly showy play and for your own sense of smuggery, nothing beats rounding up your combos into on-the-fly vehicle attacks, perfect dodges and well-timed supers. It’s the sort of moveset any discerning gamer would relish, but thankfully the gameplay is sufficiently shallow that anybody can play. One thing that grated though was that although the story concerns five Autobots, most of the game will be spent in the company of one. You can choose your character almost on the fly, but the other four ‘bots will be suspiciously absent until the story calls for it. I’d have loved to have seen some party take-downs or other NPC combat interaction, similar to last year’s Arkham Knight. What we do get though is great. Each Autobot brings a differing combat style to the game. Grimlock is the party tank, uniquely able to fight in both robot and dinosaur form. Grimlock is also able to grab enemies in his jaws and shoot flames from his mouth. I love Grimlock. Bumblebee is more roguelike, Sideswipe is the speedster. You get it. Aside from a few combos, there’s no real tactical advantage to it, it’s more about preference than anything. With that said, it pays to switch up playing with the different characters, even if just to stave of the monotony. The game additionally features a cack-handed hybrid RPG side. Totally surplus to requirements, there’s a loot-drop/weapon-juggling aspect and players can spend in-game currency crafting “upgrade chips” or combining weapons. Combining weapons is entirely redundant as each level yields a dozen or so weapon drops, with randomly-assigned stats. Weapon juggling and crafting honestly just gets in the way of the meat and potatoes of this game and really works against the pace. It’s not a make-or-break part of the game and it could easily have been canned and nobody would have missed it.
Looking back on my playthrough of Transformers Devastation has excited me enough to put the disc back in and have another blast. The action is great. The screen-filling boss fights are memorable and the combo system is slick and rewarding. In honesty though, the game isn’t running on all cylinders. Every aspect is very good, but nothing is 100% brilliant. Platinum have nearly gotten it right here though. It’s clearly not an open-world RPG adventure and I appreciate that. I like the game very much, and I’m the first person to complain when a game is needlessly padded out or artificially extended. The game ends with a potential opening for a sequel, and I would buy that game on the strengths of this one, privided those small details were addressed and some of the fat trimmed out. If you’re a fan of the cartoon, Platinum games or brawlers in general then you’ll get a kick out of Transformers Devastation. It’s just not the AAA experience it’s made out to be.
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