Every game should give you the option to hug the NPCs.
Transformers doesn’t have the most stellar history in terms of video game adaptions. While it hasn’t been all bad, the series has been subject to more than a few stinkers over the years. Whether it’s notoriously impossible japan-only Mystery of Convoy, either of the PS2 games, or the numerous tie-ins to the live action movies, developers seem to have trouble making the games as fun as the toys they’re based on.
This time around, Hasbro and Atari have handed the reigns to Bayonetta developer Platinum Games. Being the studio behind Metal Gear Rising, Platinum has already has experience taking an outside franchise and turning it into the sort of distinctive action game they’re known for. As a fan of the franchise who has been disappointed before, it would take more than appealing to nostalgia to get me on board. I was especially worried in the wake of Activision’s other nostalgia-fueled release, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, being a major disappointment. Thankfully, beneath this game’s thick veneer of G1 cartoon aesthetic, there’s more than meets the eye.
One of the biggest problems with the majority of previous transformers games is their failure to properly implement the titular gimmick of transforming into gameplay. Platinum manages to expertly pull it off by incorporating it right into the game’s combat instead of relegating it to just being a faster way to traverse levels. Devastation has you transforming in the middle of combos to rush and ram Decepticons into submission. The ability to quickly transform during a fight is a crucial combat mechanic the succeeds where so many of Devastation’s predecessors have failed.
Beyond the transformation gimmick, the gameplay is the exactly what you’d expect from Platinum. You’re armed with a wide variety of melee and long-range weapons for taking down hordes of Decepticon soldiers or powerful bosses using a flurry of slick combo attacks. The combat isn’t afraid to borrow from Platinum’s previous releases. The most obvious example of this is the game’s implementation of “Focus”, a mechanic similar to “Witch Time” from Bayonetta that slows down time whenever you perfectly nail a dodge. The game offers multiple difficulties to keep things accessible. Everything is easy to pick up and learn even if you’ve never played a Platinum game before, as is likely the case for more than a few Transformers fans who will be grabbing this one.
The game’s roster is made up of five G1 fan-favorites: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack, and Grimlock. Each Autobot has a distinct playstyle with differences in speed, usable weapons, and attacks. While a few more characters would have been nice, I was surprised by the number of differences each character had. Grimlock is, as you would expect, a massive bruiser, using his immense strength and powerful dino mode to grapple and demolish everything around him. In contrast, characters like Bumblebee and Sideswipe rely more on speed and evasion to get the job done, and are able to better use weapons than their Dinobot compatriot. Wheeljack boasts a more defensive style based around projectiles, while Optimus is just a good all-around fighter. The experience is different enough to keep things fresh between them, but not so different that you’ll have to relearn how to play the game every time you switch characters.
The level design switches between linear and open-world depending on the level. When you’re in the open world city, the correct path clearly marked most of the time, with the option of branching off to a different route to find side-missions and hidden goodies presented as well. The actual design of the levels is a bit repetitive, with the majority of the game taking place within a single large city. It’s not a major issue, but a bit of visual variety would have been appreciated. That being said, you’ll likely be too distracted by the lovely character models to notice. There have been more than a few times where I just stopped and transformed back and forth a few times just to watch the transformation and hear that iconic transformation sound.
While Devastation does more than just bank on nostalgia, there’s certainly plenty of it in their to go around. From the cheesey 80’s cartoon scene transitions to the many collectable Kremzeeks scattered throughout the game, Platinum knows how to deliver on the G1 fanservice. Every character is either voiced by their original voice actor or a suitable soundalike. The story feels like it could be based on a lost episode of the original cartoon. The plot does delve a bit further past the superficiality of the original cartoon, borrowing bits and pieces from other continuities, especially the current IDW comics run of Transformers. This gives it appeal beyond just the diehard G1 fans, providing newer fans something to latch onto as well.
As fun as Devastation is, the game does have a few shortcomings. The camera is a bit hard to deal with at times, behaving oddly during high-speed driving sections. The game’s RPG elements could also use some tweaking, especially the loot system, where enemies drop different levels of weapons to entice you to try new bots. While I’m a fan of the idea in theory, the execution here is unwieldy and hard to navigate. It can mostly be ignored if you don’t want to use it, but a bit of polishing could have easily fixed these problems.
Transformers: Devastation is a great game that left me wanting more. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a solid and fun title that delivers what Transformers fans have been wanting. While it has some small flaws, these nitpicks are majorly overshadowed by the explosively fun gameplay. The ending drops some exciting sequel hints, and I’d love to see Platinum continue to build on the solid groundwork they’ve laid with Devastation. Whether you’re a fan of Transformers, Platinum, or just action games in general, you’re gonna want to pick this one up and have some fun with it.