More than meets the eye
Being a child of the ’80s, few television series stole quite as many hours from my formative years as Transformers managed to. Hasbro’s line of hulking, shape-shifting machines dominated my toybox, as they did countless other kids of the era. So when Activision and PlatinumGames revealed they were working together on a beat-’em-up set against the backdrop of the G1 universe, they had my attention.
Boy, was I not disappointed.
Developer PlatinumGames is no slouch when it comes to the beat-’em-up department. Having perfected the art of pixelated pugilism with Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, the studio has proven they have the talent to breathe fresh life into the genre with their penchant for over-the-top action and lightning quick, skill-based combat. Transformers: Devastation is no exception, delivering the studios’ trademark explosive action with a tight combat engine that would feel right at home to a certain bespectacled witch with a wicked pair of pistol-packing stilettos. For starters, combat consists of stringing together light and strong attacks into devastating combos, and dodging incoming attacks from your metallic adversaries at just the right time initiates a slowed-down sequence that mirrors Bayonetta‘s “Witch Time”, allowing you to get the upper hand with a lightning-fast combo within a limited window of time.
That said, this is still a Transformers game, meaning lasers, explosives and wicked robot-to-vehicle transformations play a large role in the game’s mechanics as well. After knocking an enemy off their feet with a combo the screen will flash blue. Tapping a button during this prompt will allow you to perform a powerful vehicle attack, which will cause your chosen Autobot to morph into their alternate form to perform a flashy attack such as peeling rubber and rocketing into your opponent’s face, or fire off a volley of vehicle-borne missiles. Not only does it look awesome; it also allows you to string together some obscenely long combos to build up your energy guage, which results in some spectacularly explosive attacks that can clear the screen of Decepticon scum. Transformers: Devastation also sports a staggeringly wide array of various Decepticon and Insecticon forces you’ll be battling in your fight to save earth, and the game is designed to make smart use of your diverse, robot-busting arsenal to get the job done. For instance, some Decepticon troopers carry large plasma energy shields that can only be destroyed by morphing into your vehicular form and hauling ass at them full speed to perform a rocket-powered punch that disables their defenses. Other foes, like the airborne Seekers under Starscream’s command are incredibly nimble, requiring pinpoint shots from a sniper rifle or homing missiles to effectively dispatch. This blend of bare-knuckle brawler action and high-tech mechanics is one of the best parts of Devastation‘s package, and serves to create an exciting and dynamic experience that is easy to pick up but difficult to master.
Transformers: Devastation stars out very open as players assume the role of G1 favorites Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Sideswipe (with Wheeljack and the ever-awesome Dinobot Grimlock joining the fray later) and complete a series of varying objectives strewn across a sprawling metropolis. These missions range from disabling generators and targeting specific Decepticons, to a wild race against Megatron himself down a trap-laden freeway. The sense of scope is honestly impressive, and PlatinumGames has done an admirable job of moving the action forward at a breakneck pace while still managing to switch things up enough to keep the game fresh and exciting over the course of its roughly six-hour campaign.
Those with a penchant for gathering shiny loot will find plenty to like in Transformers: Devastation. When you travel off the beaten path you’ll consistently find tucked-away caches of rare weapons buried beneath the asphalt in “pound points”, or crammed into hidden Cybertronian crates. These implements of destruction all have rarity levels, and gain experience as they are used. You can even visit The Ark at various checkpoints, allowing you to swing by Wheeljack’s lab, where the crafty Autobot can upgrade gear by melding it with other weaponry you collect on the field. You can even purchase new moves from his shop (much like Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance) to upgrade your destructive repertoire, or fabricate circuit boards which offer permanent stat buffs for your heroes.
Eventually the story leaves the earthly urban environments in exchange for the much more linear confines of an ancient Cybertronian ship and the sterile corridors of Cybertron itself, and with it the game becomes a much more linear experience. Even still, the almost ludicrous number of cameos from the television series keeps players on the edge of their seats as fan-favorite villains step up to the plate steadily to attempt to stop the Autobots at every turn.
In terms of visuals, PlatinumGames has done a stellar job of bringing the world of Transformers to life with Transformers: Devastation. The game sports a rich and vibrant color palette that would look right at home in the classic ’80s television series. The cel-shaded character models are exquisitely detailed, and even feature that cool metallic sheen that’s come to define the series’ aesthetics over the years. The environments themselves, while relatively flat, are also well-rendered and match the visual style well. What’s most impressive about Devastation, however, is just how well it performs. Even with dozens of enemies on the screen and projectiles and explosions peppering the landscape with particle effects, Transformers: Devastation’s gameplay never skips a beat.
The music in Devastation is fantastic as well, striking a fine balance between the animated series’ cheesy-but-memorable themes and PlatinumGames’ penchant for riff-heavy buttrock. The tunes always manage to fit the game’s frantic action perfectly. The sound effects are also very solid, with hits providing a satisfying metallic clang, and explosions full of subwoofer-crushing bass. Fans of the series will doubtless be pleased with the game’s voice work, which is expertly represented by both members the cartoon’s original voice cast, as well as some spot-on talent to supplement the roles not filled by the show’s stars, adding yet another level of authenticity to Devastation’s impressive package.
Transformers: Devastation’s story is nothing to write home about, but it does a fine job of propelling the action forward. As usual, Megatron has found a source of unlimited power and wishes to use it to revive Cybertron. Unfortunately for humankind, that plan involves Cyberforming the entire earth, thus wiping out all organic life. What ensues is a suitably Saturday morning Cartoon-like narrative that manages to keep the series’ hokey flavor, while still maintaining a sense of urgency as things repeatedly go from bad to worse for the Autobots.
While Devastation is in many ways an ’80s kid’s dream brawler, it there are a few things that hold the game back from the stratosphere. While the game controls very well for the most part, transitioning between your vehicular and robot forms can be cumbersome at times, which can be a big headache when battling some of the game’s more towering bosses (I’m looking at you, Menasor). It’s nothing game breaking, but you’ll likely find yourself suffering a few unwarranted deaths fumbling with these control quirks. As mentioned previously, the game clocks in at a very brief six hours. While this isn’t exactly uncommon for a beat-’em-up, you’ll likely be craving more by the time the credits finish rolling. That said, after wrapping up the main story you can still eke out several more hours with the game’s challenge mode, which forces players to meet certain goals like surviving huge enemy onslaughts, destroying a set number of targets within an allotted time and clearing a perilously small arena without losing your footing. Not only are these challenges fun and exciting, they also yield tons of rare gear for you to use.
If you’re a fan of the series, you owe it to yourself to pick up Transformers: Devastation. PlatinumGames has succeeded brilliantly in taking their experience with Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to craft an exceptional slugfest well worthy of the Transformers name. While the game’s brevity is certainly disappointing, those looking for a tightly-crafted beat-’em-up that manages to thrill from start to finish need look no further. Transformers: Devastation delivers the goods.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC ; Publisher: Activision Games ; Developer: PlatinumGames ; Players: 1; Released: October6, 2015 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review code provided by Transformers: Devastation’s publisher, Activision Games.