To say that Transformers games have had a rather rocky history would probably be an understatement. Aside from the two well received Cybertron games by High Moon Studios, arguably the only other game based on the franchise that had been worth playing was the Atari published Transformers way back on the PlayStation 2. Almost everything else released in at least the last decade have been tie in titles to the films and were all either completely uninspired or just plain bad.
After the utter failure that was last year’s Rise of the Dark Spark and no sign of High Moon coming back any time soon, the chance of any future games being any good looked pretty slim. And then Transformers: Devastation was announced.
Developed by Platinum Games, who are probably most well known for the Bayonetta series as well as a number of other solid titles like Vanquish and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Transformers: Devastation is a third person hack and slash game set in the continuity of the original 1980s cartoon. The cartoon setting has always been a sweet spot for me with Transformers, being the right age to have grown up with it, so I was instantly interested.
Set somewhere between the second series of the cartoon and the animated movie, Devastation has Optimus Prime as always leading the Autobots to stop Megatron from this week’s plot to destroy the Earth and (somehow) end up ruling the galaxy in your standard evil villain scheme.
You start off as Optimus Prime, with the remaining playable characters gradually unlocked over the course of the first couple of missions. Aside from transforming into different vehicles (or in Grimlock’s case, a dinosaur) each Transformer controls much the same and can be equipped with a variety of different weapons.
It’s not a terribly long game, with a single playthrough of the story mode clocking in at around 7 hours or so. This is probably a good thing to be honest, as the fairly nonsensical story had pretty much lost the plot by the end of it and I feel it would have struggled to carry much more, but it at least manages to wrap itself up in a fairly satisfying manner. Outside of the main campaign, there are also a number of unlockable challenges as well as various collectable items dotted around the levels so there’s still plenty more to do.
One of the most important factors with a hack and slash game are tight, responsive controls. You’re often only a single bad fight away from death in the genre after all, and poor controls can speed that on rapidly. Thankfully, Platinum know exactly what they’re doing on this front with their past experience serving them very well. Devastation plays much like Bayonetta before it, with a variety of melee attacks, shooting and dodging. Given that transforming is the main gimmick, each character can turn into their alternative mode with the press of a button, and this can also be incorporated into attack combos to inflict extra damage.
The weapons and inventory system unfortunately is by far one of the lowest points. Each weapon you can equip can be upgraded by combining it with other weapons, in a process that it incredibly dull to do and look at and takes far too long as you have to do it over and over again to level the weapons up. Worse, it's almost mandatory as the weapons you start with and collect are almost uslesss until they're improved in this way.
Each of the main Transformers are wonderfully designed and animated, with great cel shaded colouring completely evoking the designs of the cartoon to the point that the game really looks like playing an episode of the show. The playable Autobots as well as the various named Decepticon enemies are all nicely distinct, and the large combiner enemies that tower over you look enormous and menacing. The same can’t really be said of the cannon fodder enemies however, with only a few different designs between them it’s not uncommon to have half a dozen identical enemies on screen.
When in combat your chosen robot moves incredibly smoothly with attacks glowing and flashing, and it’s very nice to watch. When the fighting slows down and you take a longer look at the landscapes that the game takes place in however, these aren’t anywhere near as good as the characters sadly. Most of the game is set in a partially ruined city that is incredibly plain – most buildings are just dull grey. It does improve a little in a later level when it gets to sunset and these wonderful shades of orange and purple start colouring the sky but I’d long since given up hope for the city at that point. The other main landscape is a Cybertronian ship and that too is sadly repeated corridors and rooms that all look the same. It rather feels like all of the art team’s effort went into the characters with the levels being a last minute rush job.
Many of the cartoon’s voice actors return to voice their respective characters, with a few back for the first time since the cartoon finished. Peter Cullen as always is Optimus Prime, up against Frank Welker’s Megatron. While it’s great to hear so many of the characters sounding like they used to I couldn’t help but feel that a many of them (including the usually good Cullen) just weren’t really into the material with many of the lines being delivered very flat but whether this was just bad direction or everyone involved just phoning it in for a quick paycheck it’s hard to tell. Many of the actors from the cartoon used to voice several characters, and it was also somewhat strange that a number of these characters appear in the game with new voice actors.
Joining the returned cast members is composer Vince DiCola, who’s probably best known for his scores for the 80’s animated movie and Rocky 4, providing an original soundtrack to the game with little reused from the cartoon. It’s actually a little strange, as even moments that you’d expect to have the original music (the classic insignia switching from one faction to another during a scene change) don’t, and I wonder if this was an artistic choice or if there were rights issues with the classic theme. The music is all decent enough, but far enough removed from DiCola’s 80’s work that it doesn’t sound like the product of the same person.
While very enjoyable, the short length do make it more of a difficult game to recommend in a time where we’re spoiled with 50+ hour games on a regular basis and the nature of the Transformers themselves would likely make it difficult for anyone not already interested in the franchise to get into it. Fans of Platinum’s other games will still find a lot to like here on a gameplay front, but it’s really for the (probably limited) crossover of fans of both the Transformers and Platinum where the game will properly shine.
Transformers Devastation is out now on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One