Let me get this out of the way right now: I never really got into the Transformers craze. Sure, I watched the cartoons (just like every other kid did,) but I don’t consider myself a fan of the series. I know the brand means a lot to those who had their childhoods during the 80’s and early 90’s, but for some reason the series never resonated with me in any meaningful way. And don’t even get me started on the Michael Bay movies.
Now, Beast Wars? That shit was my jam.
Developer: Platinum Games
Genre: Action/Hack and Slash
Available on: PS4 (reviewed,) PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Devastation starts with a lenghty cutscene that quickly lays down its, as expected, very basic plot: the Decepticons are destroying a city with nefarious purposes, and it’s up to the Autobots to stop them. The game skips all formalities and doesn’t waste any time in introducing the characters or spelling out their motivations because, honestly, what would be the point? You already know who these guys are. What this intro makes instantly clear, though, is that Platinum have made a terrific job at replicating the overall look and feel of the classic Transformers cartoons. Coupled with the fact that most of the original voice actors from the series voiced the characters, TRANSFORMERS: Devastation is, for all intents and purposes, a playable episode of the classic cartoon.
The early missions have you controlling Optimus Prime while mowing down lots of cannon fodder Decepticons. Basic combos are done by mashing your normal and strong attack buttons, and completing a combo allows you to finish it off with a Vehicle Attack, in which your character will turn into Vehicle Mode in order to deliver the coup de grâce. Doing combos also builds up your special bar, and you can unleash a devastating special attack when it’s full. Dodging is also crucial to combat, since even in Normal difficulty most enemies hit hard, even from the early missions. Dodging a hit at just the right time will cause time to slow down for a few seconds, allowing you to go feral on your enemies. The downside to this approach to combat is that, most of the time, your attacks don’t feel like they have any weight behind them. Having the Autobots be agile and nimble makes sense from a gameplay point of view, but they’re still supposed to be massive, heavy robots, and it’s kinda jarring to see them moving around like ballerinas during combat. Throwing punches as Optimus should not feel the same way as doing the same with Bumblebee. It makes for smooth gameplay, sure, but it never feels quite right.
Platinum and Activision have absolutely nailed the look and style of the cartoon.
Most missions follow a similar structure, and for the most part you’ll spend your time following markers in your map and fighting generic Decepticon mooks, with the occasional boss battle against the likes of Starscream or Devastator at the end of each chapter. Meanwhile, you’ll collect new weapons and upgrades for your characters that you can equip in the Ark, which also acts as the game’s main hub. In the style of Platinum’s own Vanquish, weapons you pick up have levels, and during the game you’ll constantly find yourself switching weapons for their upgraded versions. Some weapons also have elemental damage (fire, ice and lightning,) but I never felt like it made much of a difference in the gameplay. In the Ark you can also switch characters (including fan favorites Bumblebee, Wheeljack, and frikkin’ Grimlock,) and spend your points in developing T.E.C.H, which are equippable perks. Later missions spice things up a bit by introducing gimmicks, like enemies wielding shields that you can only break with a specific move. Devastation also tries to break the monotony of the mission design by throwing in some driving, shooting, and side scrolling sections, and even a turret section straight out of Galaga, which was by far my favorite part of the game, but even if these levels are a fun break from the main action, the game still feels repetitive. It doesn’t help that most of the environments in the game are also very similar between each other, with the same city used as a backdrop for a large portion of the game, and since you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking between missions you can expect to see the same areas repeated over and over. That is, until halfway through the game, when the action moves to a different samey-looking open area where you will do a lot of backtracking while mowing down tons of samey-looking enemies.
On the other hand, Devastation isn’t a long game, and depending on your level of skill can be completed in 4 to 5 hours. Like most Platinum games, the game is meant to be replayed to get the most out of it, but for the “one-and-done” type of gamer, Devastation will either be too short, or end at just the right time to not wear out its welcome, before it becomes too repetitive for its own good. I’m on the latter camp myself.
As expected from Platinum, the game runs smoothly and controls are responsive and fast (I was relieved to see the game ran at 60 fps after the 30 fps intro cutscene.) Platinum continues to be of the few devs who always prioritize gameplay over graphics for their console games. And that doesn’t mean Devastation is a bad looking game; far from it, in fact. Its colorful, stylized cel shaded look is a perfect fit for the series, and the fact that it controls so well is just icing on the cake. I didn’t notice any framerate or performance drops during the entirety of my playthrough, with the game keeping a steady 60 fps at all times, even when there was a lot happening on screen. Sound design is impeccable, with every SFX ripped straight out of the cartoons. And yes, that includes the classic transformation sound effect, of course. The music is also up to snuff, having been composed by one of the original composers from the cartoon. You can tell Platinum made the best out of their partnership with Activision, and the attention to detail that was put in to make the game as faithful to the source material as possible is admirable. The story itself is nothing to talk about, but that’s expected as well, considering the cheesiness and camp of the source. It’s good enough to get the action moving from one mission to the next, and makes up for it with charming dialogue and voice acting. It’s cheesy, but the good kind of cheesy, and that’s good enough for Transformers.
TRANSFORM AND ROLL OUT
While TRANSFORMERS: Devastation isn’t gonna win any GOTY awards this year, it’s a great action game in its own right, which is almost a given coming from Platinum. And of course, fans of the series will have the time of their lives in what is possibly the best translation of the Transformers cartoon to game. Its fast paced combat, smooth gameplay and tons of replay value make up for its repetitive mission design and short length. Even if you’re not into Transformers, you’re bound to have a good time with Devastation.
Now where the hell is my new Beast Wars game, Platinum?
I will always love you, Dinobot.