Let me get this straight right now. As a child of the 80s, there’s only one true Transformers, and that’s Generation One. No Beast Wars, Energon, Armada, and certainly not the total bag of sweaty balls Michael Bay has created. Oh no. There’s only one Optimus Prime, and Megatron is the real Decepticon leader (and that’s the guise that turns into a bloody great hand gun).
There have been many Transformers games, but aside from the two titles from High Moon studios and the PS2 Atari game (which set during Armada, and wasn’t based on G1, but was actually good), it’s safe to say most have been terrible, to say the least. What’s more, most have never focused on the original Transformers in G1 guise. Even High Moon’s games, which were great, and paid a great deal of fan service, re-imaged the original series. So, when Transformers: Devastation surfaced from out of nowhere, with the reveal it was being developed by Beyonetta creator, PlatinumGames, I almost fell of my chair. This was due to an amalgam of expectation, in equal parts due to the idea of a genuine G1 game, the calibre of the developer, and the amazing comic book visuals we saw in the announcement trailer. This could be the best Transformers game ever, couldn’t it?
Well, no, sadly not, but it’s not without a lack of trying. You see, on the surface, Transformers: Devastation has everything going for it. Visually, and as far as the rest of the presentation goes, it’s brilliant. The graphics, with their excellent cel-shaded style and great attention to detail are surely the best video game representations of the Transformers yet. Yes, these really are the Transformers, and strutting around in their G1 forms they look terrific. Even better, voice-over stalwarts like Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), and Frank Welker (Megatron) return to voice the characters, and the sound effects, including the iconic transformation sound, are all there. The game really does look and sound like a Transformers cartoon.
That said, there’s one glaring omission – where’s the theme tune?! I find it really odd, and more than a little disappointing that a game like this, which includes so much accurate detail and fan service is lacking the original theme tune. An updated recreation of the cartoon intro would have been amazing. Ah well.
So, from an aesthetic standpoint, Devastation is mostly spot on, and I can’t lie, I had the largest, cheesy grin on my face the whole time, basking in the memories and nostalgia of my youth. As a reviewer, though, this kind of rose-tinted glee can only go so far, and after a few hours the truth sets in.
The game itself is a simple brawler that relies on fast-paced combat that mixes melee and ranged attacks with a smattering of character-specific specials and cool transformation moves. For the majority of the game you’ll be mashing buttons, wailing away on foes and bosses, using careful timing to evade attacks and land your own retaliations. Time a dodge just right, and you’ll enter a slo-mo mode that leaves the enemy vulnerable for a split second. Each character has a special move, as well as a super attack that charges up over time. Land enough hits, and you can also press R1 to execute a powerful transform attack.
The combat system is spot on, which we’ve come to expect from Platinum. The team is a master of this kind of fast-paced, crazy combat, and Devastation is no different. The problem here is that’s all there really is. When outside of combat, all you do is wander around bland, uninteresting areas, picking up power-ups and extra weapons (which are usually worse than the ones you have). There are some platform elements, and small puzzles, but there’s little here that even approaches the kind of gameplay a license like Transformers could offer.
You can transform at any time, but as is usually the case in Transformers games, this is simply used as a run mode, and nothing more. Grimlock’s dinosaur mode is a little more useful, and vehicle mode is sometimes used to smash certain barriers, but in the end the transformed mode feels very contrived and is another wasted opportunity. Oh, and where’s Optimus Prime’s trailer? When transformed, he’s just the cab, and his trailer is oddly absent.
The mission structure of the game is also very odd. The game (which is very short) is split into chapters, each of which contains various missions. However, these are accessed as you roam around the small, pseudo-open areas without notification. Some missions are hidden side quests, and others are simple enemy attacks. It’s often a surprise when you kill a bunch of random enemies to be greeted by the mission complete screen. Eh? All I did was kill three grunts. Oh, and the story, what there is of it, is just plain awful. The Transformers cartoons were hardly Shakespeare, but I expected a lot more. Some exposition would have been welcome.
Luckily, there are some highlights, and boss battles are usually enjoyable. In these you’ll often face major Decepticons, such as Megatron, Starscream, the Constructicons, and so on. Each has various attacks, and you do actually have to employ some different strategies. Well, unless you play as Bumblebee, who’s borderline OP thanks to his nutmeg slide, which instantly stuns the enemy, leaving them wide open. This attack can be abused on almost any robot-mode enemy, and makes some otherwise tough bosses a pushover. If you want more of a challenge, leave Bumblebee at home.
As good as the combat may be, there’s so much more to the Transformers than this, and Devastation, which could have nailed things, fails to capture any of it, with even the earlier PS2 game doing a better job gameplay-wise. The bolt-on additions of weapon synthesis and the ‘T.E.C.H.’ items are trifling extras that seem to make little to no difference. I cleared the game making hardly any use of this feature at all.
Even with its faults, there’s no denying that Transformers: Devastation is fun, and highly enjoyable game, and old-school G1 fans will love every minute of it, if only for the nostalgia effect. Sadly, though, it’s all over far too fast, and the repetitive play and lack of any real substance outside of busting Decepti-chops robs the game of any long-term appeal, not to mention appeal for younger players who don’t really care about the G1 setting.