There have been a lot of Transformers games in the last few years – so many that you’d be forgiven for automatically passing up the latest out of pure franchise fatigue. To do so would be a mistake, however, especially if you like things that are fun and games that don’t take themselves too seriously.
The first sign Transformers Devastation is worthy of your attention is the fact that it was developed by PlatinumGames. If you haven’t heard of the studio, it’s back catalog is astounding, including the likes of Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising, and The Wonderful 101. In business since 2009, many – including myself – consider them to be the masters of the modern action genre.
That pedigree is immediately obvious when you first roll out to tackle Megatron’s dastardly wheel-men head-on. Combat is slick and fun, with combos free-flowing and forgiving to execute. There’s a dodge mechanic, which gives you an advantage when you execute it well, and you’ll soon be flowing seamlessly from melee attacks to ranged attacks and leaping between enemies with the grace and flare of a nuclear-powered rocket gazelle.
Levels are pretty basic in structure. You need to move from one area to the next, beating some sort of gating encounter (typically an arena fight or a race) before the next bit unlocks. Given a large percentage of the audience will be young, this is no bad thing. It also helps to keep the focus on the unrelenting chaos of the action, which is where Devastation really shines.
Encounters are kept fresh from level to level with a range of different activities ensuring there’s little repetition. There’s a lot of combo-based fighting, but there’s also some first-person shooter stuff, plenty of racing, and all sorts of nods to classic video game archetypes - the first-person Galaga riff was a particular favourite.
While you’re out and about wrecking Decepticons, you’ll also pick up loot. A range of different melee and ranged items, you can combine them – Puzzle & Dragons style – to level up your favourites by destroying those you decide you can do without. It’s a simple system to be sure, but it’s still pretty rewarding and a welcome inclusion. Just being able to change your weapons is worthwhile; making them better is a nice bonus.
The presentation of the game is arguably one of the most faithful and respectful treatments of a license ever seen in video games. It’s so incredibly on-point with the first generation Transformers cartoon series it’s uncanny. The story is penned by a Transformers comic book writer and classic voice actors (including the oh-so-familiar basso profundo Peter Cullen) reprise their roles to further boost the authentic feel of the experience.
It’s not a perfect package, however. The camera is an unwieldy beast at times, often dialing up the chaos in ways that don’t improve the action. It’s not uncommon to find your view obscured by random things (including the floor), all because you lost your tenuous grip on the camera while power-sliding into an uppercut to take out a shielded Decepticon. It’s not a disaster by any means, but it’s something you’ll be fighting with to the very end.
The end is another issue. It’s over only four hours after you start. Sure, there’s plenty worth going back in for: there are a host of cool collectibles you likely missed most of in your first run through, and there are challenge stages to mix things up a bit once you completed that level in the story mode. But four hours is a little on the light side, even in 2015. It’s four hours you’ll enjoy immensely, but whether that’s worth the NZ$60 entry price is something only you can decide.
There are a host of other small issues with the game, evidentiary of either its budget constraints or perhaps the developer’s laser-like focus on delivering tight gameplay. Nothing overly grates, but you do notice the odd little quirk here and there. The most annoying is the rough difficulty ramp; it can be quite random how hard or easy it is, and the score you get after each set piece (graded from D to SS) can be eyebrow-raisingly inconsistent.
Visually, it’s mostly a very well executed cartoon game. Again, you’ll spot some odd stuff here and there, like the camera pointing at the Transformer that’s not actually talking, but casual observers will be engaged by its treatments of the characters and players will frequently be mesmerized by the high-speed, high-neon vibrancy of the whole thing.
All in all, it’s a great action title that holds the fact that it’s a game near and dear to the core of the experience. It’s a lot of fun, never dull, and fresh to the finish – even if that finish is a little sooner than would perhaps be ideal. Hopefully there will be a sequel but regardless, whatever PlatinumGames releases next (Star Fox Zero or Scalebound being the likely contenders) will almost certainly be worth waiting for.