Type of game: Action beat ’em up
Developer: Platinum Games
Played on: Steam
“Good things come in small packages” sounds just like the sort of thing Bumblebee might say. On my first run through of this brand new Transformers-themed brawler by Platinum games I played entirely as Bumblebee; partly because he was always one of my favourites to play in the High Moon Cybertron games and partly just because, with only five playable characters on offer here, there isn’t that much choice anyway. But it turns out Bee was a highly appropriate starting selection since he’s a rather fitting embodiment of the game as a whole. Just like that iconic yellow Autobot, Transformers Devastation is bright and pleasingly designed, drawn to fast paced action and tons of nostalgic fun to be around, but more than a little on the short side…
These days I don’t tend to buy play a lot of brawler style games, especially ones that are so melee focused (I’m more of a FPS/RPG kind of gamer, hence the Borderlands addiction!) I certainly don’t tend to buy brawlers on release at full price. However, I was happy to make an exception for Devastation because, oh you know why, they turn into cars and stuff and they come from Cybertron. Considering our franchise of choice has spanned three decades and produced so many toys, TV shows and movies it’s disappointing that we Transformers fans aren’t better endowed with decent video games. There are a few good ones, a few failed ventures, and too many substandard cash-grab games that do little more than pay lip-service to the brand. I’m pleased to report that Transformers Devastation is not one of those. While it certainly has its problems, I think it’s closest thing we have to participating in an episode of the G1 cartoon, and that is a very enjoyable thing indeed.
Devastation goes all in for nostalgic thrills, with heavily G1-inspired character designs, a gloriously cartoonish, cel-shaded aesthetic, and performances from many of the original voice actors including Dan Gilvezan as Bumblebee; Greg Berger (him Grimlock King!), Frank Welker as Megatron and Soundwave and of course Optimus Prime himself, Peter Cullen. I do love Cullen’s IMDB page, which just confirms that he actually is Optimus Prime except when he’s Eeyore. Even the soundtrack pushes all the right 80s nostalgia buttons. The game’s music is by Vince Di Cola (of Transformers the Movie fame) and it rocks hard although I will admit parts of it – in particular the noodly riffs during the recurring boss fight music – also brought to mind Sonic Adventure; which isn’t necessarily a criticism (that era Sonic was more fun to hear than it was to play!)
So Transformers Devastation may be a visual and aural treat but is it any fun to play? Thankfully, yes. The game is very much a brawler, moving from one set piece boss fight to the next. There are elements of exploration, collecting and a few racing / platform style intermissions but the real focus is on transforming robot fisticuffs. This is also a game that cuts straight to the chase in term of opponents: yes there are generic Decepticon “ground soldiers” and Seekers to fight but within five minutes of the opening cut scene you’ll be taking on Devastator. Devastator! And from there on in it’s just a gleeful who’s who of classic cons. I was happy to see them all, and to pummel them into oblivion. Or pummel them towards a hasty retreat at least, and occasionally into an inoffensive pile of sparking metal. Yes, the flavour here is distinctly non-gory and kid friendly even if the thrust of the game’s G1 nostalgia sets its target market squarely in the over 30 age bracket.
Speaking of pummelling, the rhythmic, combo-focused combat mechanics are very satisfying to master. I’ve not really played any of Platinum’s previous games but their signature mechanics such as Bayonetta‘s “witch time” seem to be recycled here with enjoyable effect. A well-timed dodge allows you to use “focus” to slow down time and launch a counter-attack. Although this feels slightly less in-character when playing as Grimlock, it’s always fun to pull off and suprisingly flavourful with faster ‘Bots like Bee or Sideswipe, especially when up against the behemoth of a combiner. Shooting is also an element and necessary in many sequences. A wide variety of guns and missiles can be equipped, but the auto-targeting feature makes ranged combat feel less of a challenge and slightly less of an achievement than pulling off a melee victory.
A unique selling point of Transformers for game makers should surely be the fact that they, well, transform, so a game in this franchise can always incorporate driving/race elements as well as fights. The large maps of the High Moon Cyberton games made vehicle mode a necessity just for getting around. Devastation is much more compact, with rather too many invisible walls and barriers forcing you in very predefined directions. Bar a couple of race bits, prolonged driving isn’t much of a factor but I was impressed with how well vehicle modes are integrated into combat with plenty rush attacks, and a smooth move that involves reaching top speed in car mode to smash through enemy shields and barriers. My main gripe about combat here was how many different moves are clustered on the same button. “Transform” and “Focus,” for instance, are both on RB with usage being dependent on situation. Being used to other TF games where you can always transform at will I found this did require a little adjustment.
Rather like many episodes of the G1 cartoon, the plot here is generic but fun. Megatron and his Decepticons have a plan to cyberform the Earth and take over while good old Optimus believes we humans should have the right to mess up our own planet for ourselves, not have it done for us. There’s a little more to it than that with a few decisions for the Autobot crew that put me in mind of some of the moral dilemmas explored in Transformers Prime. But overall it’s basic stuff, by and large a well-executed excuse for a roll call of pummel-able Decepticons (much like the G1 cartoon in fact). Although surprisingly, Devastation differs greatly from the 80s TV screens of its inspiration in its colour choices for a certain pair of pile-driving mini-cassettes, but let’s not get into that. It does rattle along, though. There are seven chapters in all and it took me about 7 hours to complete the story on what was quite a slow play-though, partly because it took me a while to get the hang of the controls (the camera is kind of a mess) and partly because I’m a sucker for exploration and collecting so I didn’t exactly rush along. There’s no doubt, though, this is a fairly short game and if you’re the sort of person who likes to complete every mission once and then move on you’re probably going to feel a little short-changed.
Platinum have made an effort to flesh out (metal out?) the experience, though, so if you’re not averse to repeat missions then there’s a fair amount to keep you occupied. As well as redoing the story with each of the five playable Autobots, each of whom has different stats and special abilities, there are various challenges to complete and special missions to uncover. While this aspect of play is woefully ignored in the tutorial it turns out the games also offers both a loot gathering aspect and a crafting system: you can uncover hidden chests and caches of weapons, and then combine them to make better ones. How much entertainment you get from this may depending on how much of a Transformers purist you are. If equipping null-rays on Wheeljack or the Star Saber on, well, anyone other than Optimus feels too much like heresy then you may not find much diversion here but, happy heretic that I am, I enjoyed equipping the ‘Bots with classic Decepticon weapons and testing different combinations and upgrades. But this system does raise some unanswered questions. One mission reward weapon is Shockwave’s blaster but seeing as G1 Shockwave’s alt-mode is a gun, does this mean that Bee and co. can actually wield Shockwave himself?
If you’re a Transformers nerd, the collecting aspect of Devastation is rather fun, with some nice concept art and extras to be unlocked. The main limitation on this aspect of play are the game’s environments. While the characters and cut scenes look glorious the landscapes are rather generic. The opening cityscape is not only very compact, it actually gets re-used in several chapters while the more alien environments of later missions quickly begin to feel samey with too many long purple corridors. The hidden caches and extras like the catchable Kremzeeks are reasonably well dispersed but after a while searching for them amidst identical looking rooftops and subways begins to lose its appeal.
In summary, as Bumblebee would remind us, good things can come in small doses and while it lasts Transformers Devastation is a smile-making chunk of TF joy combining unbridled 80s nostalgia with some more up to date rhythm brawl mechanics. If you’re a fan of the franchise I wager you’ll get your money’s worth replaying missions for the fun of the fight and exploring the weapons and hidden extras. But don’t expect that small dosage to sustain you indefinitely. While it’s great to have Devastation and it’s a title I certainly see myself going back to intermittently for a quick fix of fun in the future, it would have to have been rather more of an expansive offering before there could be any danger of it becoming my new favourite game. The plot contains a sequel hook of sorts, or perhaps the promise of some future DLC, and I would be up for that but it would have been better still to see just a little more on offer first time around. Bigger maps, a longer story, perhaps a couple more playable characters, or what I’d really like to have seen (and I’m sure I’m not alone here), perhaps a couple of playable Decepticon missions? It’s always fun to be the bad guys and the ‘Cons look and sound so great here: it might have been nice to use those null-rays or drills in their intended fashion, even if only for a bonus level.