If you were a kid growing up in the 80’s then chances are you may have some fond memories of the original Transformers series. I remember running from the bus stop so I could get home in time to fix a snack and sit down for the beginning of the afternoon cartoon hour. That was my time to unwind after school before it got serious again and did homework.
Unfortunately, for all of us, games that represented the original G1 Transformers series can be counted on one hand, and few of them have been any good. Transformers: Devastation may be thirty years overdue, but it’s better late than never.
What Is It?
The game is primarily set in the fictional city of the Transformers G1 universe. It’s New York, at least it’s supposed to be. Megatron is up to his old tricks, again, looking for more Energon. He finds that, and an even more powerful, yet dangerous, energy source in the heart of the city. Using some Cybertronian technology, he forces the citizens to evacuate and this is where the Autobots join the party. It seems very straightforward, but there is more to it than meets the eye.
At it’s core, Transformers: Devastation is a character action game with a heavy emphasis on the character and action parts. You’ll play through the game as five different Autobots, all of whom have their own distinct style. The closest comparisons would be Bayonetta and Vanquish, two games also developed by Platinum Games. You have the in-your-face action of Bayonetta mixed in with the shooting elements of Vanquish.
Why Should I Care?
If you’re going to release a Transformers Generation 1 game in 2015, you are counting on nostalgia towards the original series to help sell the game. Devastation hits its mark nearly perfectly in that area. This is a game that looks like a cartoon come to life. The characters all look like they should, with that very distinctive boxy aesthetic that was prevalent across all of the characters in the series. They also transform into what you’d expect them to, with a handful of notable exceptions. Bumblebee doesn’t quite look like a VW Beetle, which is probably the result of some licensing issues. Megatron and Soundwave also do not transform into their TV show forms. It’s different from the TV show, sure, but after a few minutes you get used to it.
The nostalgia trip doesn’t stop with how the characters look, either. Much of the original voice cast reprise their roles. Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime still sounds like a total badass, Soundwave still sounds creepy as hell, and Starscream is just as annoying as you remember him to be. Frank Walker’s performance as Megatron is well done, though you can hear the age in his voice pretty clearly. They could have done some extra audio processing to remedy that, no doubt, but I’m glad they didn’t. It just feels more authentic for it. It’s 2015, these people are 30 years older than they were when the show first started airing. I can expect things to sound a bit different, and I’m okay with it.
It all sounds pretty good up until this point, but the game’s flaws start to show themselves about a half hour in. The majority of the game is set in the city. This would be fine if it looked interesting, but it doesn’t. The art style may be consistent with the rest of the game, but the design of the city itself is really uninspired. This is made worse by the fact that you’ll be visiting the same sections of city over and over again. The development time was clearly spent on making the characters look good and play well but not on making the levels particularly interesting. It’s really a shame, because it gives the game a very unfinished feel to it. You’ll see bridges that don’t connect to anything, invisible walls and barriers, and all the things that nowadays are signs of a rushed product. Given how quickly this game came out after its announcement, there is probably some truth to that.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
This is a game designed by Platinum. That means tight, responsive controls, and a simple to learn and highly enjoyable combat system. You get that in Devastation. Each character has their own unique attacks that can be chained together. You can also transform during an attack chain to perform even more powerful moves. This part of the system works really well and is instantly enjoyable.
Not so enjoyable is the gunplay. It just doesn’t feel as tight as the melee does. Sure, you can zoom in for precise shots, but ammo is very limited so you have to make those shots count. When you blend the melee and gunplay together into a single fight you end up having to contend with the game’s other flaw: the camera. The game does not do a good job of staying focused on the action. You have to do that manually. When there’s a lot of enemies moving around and attacking you, it can turn into a complete mess. Again, it feels like with just a bit more time and resources, Platinum could have polished those elements, but they weren’t given that time or money.
This brings us to the game’s overall length. It’s only about six hours long. If you’re particularly adept you can probably blow through it in less time than that. That isn’t really a bad thing. Transformers: Devastation makes the most of that time. You’re always doing something, even if you’re doing that something in the exact same locales over and over again. To help add a bit more replayability, there is a weapon crafting system that lets you combine items into more powerful ones, using QTE segments to do it. This is actually one of the sorts of uses of QTE’s that I am okay with. It works, and at the end of it you have a better weapon. If you botch part of it, you end up with a weapon with some drawbacks as well as positives. It’s a nice system, but it’s also a good indication that the game was supposed to be quite a bit more than it turned out to be. There are also challenge missions that unlock as you progress through the story. The challenge modes and item crafting do help to add a bit of replayability, but it only goes so far. If you just want a long campaign, you won’t get that here.
What we end up with is a game that has the groundwork of a truly excellent Transformers action game in place. It has its flaws, but none of those flaws are reasons to avoid it. What I really hope to see happen is that Devastation does well enough to warrant greenlighting a sequel, and then Activision will give Platinum the budget that it deserves.