Review: Transformers: Devastation

These days, there are two types of games released by Activision. There’s the big tent pole titles, your Call of Dutys, your Skylanders, your Destinys and at one time, your Guitar Heroes. These are the largely annualised big sellers that despite being hits already, get huge marketing pushes and are mainstays in popular culture.

Then well, there’s everything else. Activision actually puts out a fair number of games a year but you probably wouldn’t know it if you don’t follow the industry. Anything that isn’t from the first category usually gets crapped onto the market with little to no fanfare, often left to wither. A lot of these games are hot garbage like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 and many others are just scheduled releases to fill an obligation to keep a license the company is squandering but still doesn’t want to lose. Thing is, some of these games are actually really good in their own right and could become big deals if Activision gave a damn about them.

Transformers: Devastation without a doubt, is one of those games. It’s criminal that it’s not gotten much buzz and I think anyone considering what are the best games of the year and fails to play this, does so at their own peril.

The last two Transformers games, developed by Activision-owned High Moon Studios, were actually pretty good but very different from this one. High Moon seems to be focused on helping Bungie make Destiny into something resembling good so this time, development was helmed by PlatinumGames, makers of Bayonetta, Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and other revered action awesomeness. Suffice it to say, the studio’s pedigree in the genre is well known and well earned. Their signature style is all over this, making this a short but oh so sweet experience that keeps true to the ideas of the 80s toys and cartoons that old-school fans will dig, while also making it a lightning-paced spectacle fighter that feels super modern and fluid.

In many ways, Transformers: Devastation feels like a robot re-skinning of Bayonetta, their beloved but very niche pair of original spectacle fighters. It’s the same engine, same fighting system and same arena-based encounter design. Thing is, this is a fantastic system and they found a way to not only make it work with robots but it actually takes advantage of the abilities unique to the Transformers characters. Switching to vehicle forms is necessary to complete some sections and there are attacks based around them. There are tons of combos to learn and even very different moves all flow seamlessly from one to another, making for some incredible setpiece encounters. If you’re really good, you can complete an entire battle against multiple enemies without ever breaking a combo and it’s so satisfying when you do. It’s not especially difficult on the default setting–I think I died twice–but harder ones are available.

There is some mild platforming and loot hunting in between encounters but anything that isn’t the core fighting kind of feels like padding. Some of the levels are open and you can choose to go off the beaten path to find extra stuff if you want but everything feels pretty lifeless and is mostly just some kind of corridors. Much of the game takes place on Earth in a city that’s under attack but you never see a single human anywhere. It’s kind of weird. There are also optional challenge missions peppered through the campaign which can get you even more stuff and some of these can be tricky but they can also be safely skipped.
The campaign can be played with five different Transformers and you can switch between them at various points. Each have their own moves, weapon proficiencies and vehicle transformations. The difficulty curve encourages doing at least one run of the campaign with a single character but changing on the fly could definitely serve to amp up the challenge for those who want that.

In Bayonetta, there was a store you could jump to at various points in the levels where you could buy additional moves, weapons and other goodies. Transformers: Devastation has something like this but with its own cool spin. Rather than purchase weapons, you pick them up from defeated enemies and by completing challenges. There are melee and ranged options, all with varying traits and capabilities. Not all weapons can be equipped by all Transformers but you’ll pick up plenty for everyone. Most of what you’ll pick up ranges from uninteresting to OK on its own. What’s cool is that you can fuse any weapon into any other, levelling up the primary one and absorbing unique traits from the other. This is a necessity and you’ll be doing it a lot for each of your Transformers but if you are smart about it, you can end up with some incredible kit that can dish out huge damage. It’s really satisfying to see the results.

You can also invest credits you’ve earned into researching T.E.C.H., equippable stat upgrades you create through a little minigame. They are optional and truthfully, take some challenge out but again, it’s great to see the kind of badass you can become with them.
There’s a surprising amount of depth to both of these systems and they feel like they had some real thought and effort put into them, rather than being just something that was tacked on so they could say it has crafting. There are a lot of different weapons and they all work, animate and play differently.

There are achievements/trophies tied to fully beating the campaign with each character as a way to encourage multiple playthroughs. I played through the whole thing with Optimus Prime but since a run of the campaign only takes about 5 hours on the default difficulty, I may do another one later. There’s also a challenge mode which you unlock levels for as you play the campaign. It’s not a huge amount of content for a full-priced title but hardcore fans of this genre rarely stop playing after just one go of the story. If you want to take advantage of what’s there, you can get a lot of hours out of it.

I wasn’t a big Transformers kid so I don’t have a lot of reference from the story but as I understand it, it’s heavily inspired by the original 80s cartoon and comics and features many of the original voice actors, including the iconic Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, chewing scenery like few can. There isn’t an ounce of Michael Bay’s awful universe anywhere near this game. The plot is goofy and thin but with strong moral undertones as early Transformers often was. I thought it was well presented and did honour the source material but you’ll have forgotten it shortly after playing and it wasn’t what I was there for anyway. PlatinumGames certainly understood what they were working with and did a fair job with keeping the core ideas intact, while still making a game with their brand of delicious insanity. Fighting giant robots in battles so fast, you can barely keep track of them while Japanese metal blasts in the background is something perhaps only this team could do this well. Bayonetta wasn’t a game for kids, both because of its challenge and its subject matter but you could definitely give Transformers: Devastation to a young player and they’d have a good time with it.

The game is available for both current and past Xbox and PlayStation platforms, as well as the PC which is where I played. The PC port is pretty solid and never dipped below 60 frames per second for me, though I did experience a fair amount of screen tearing, even with V-Sync enabled and it crashed on me a couple of times. Others have also reported that it doesn’t support commonly used high resolutions like 1440p. I know the Xbox One and PS4 versions run at 60 as well, though I haven’t seen if the previous generation ones do. Platinum’s engine is all about smooth performance and their past efforts on the old machines ran at 60 so I imagine they’re fine.

I bought Transformers: Devastation on sale and expected to have a good time but not as good a one as I had. I can’t believe PlatinumGames was able to crank out another Bayonetta-like game, barely a year after releasing the stellar Bayonetta 2 but they totally did. I don’t think it quite lives up to that game but it’s not too far off and they took a genre that I never would have seen working with Transformers and slid right into it, making a stellar robot fighting game like it was nothing. Even if you don’t like Transformers, this is still not to be missed if you like spectacle fighters. It’s a shame this license is still tied to Activision, whose indifference to anything that isn’t the same annualised pap is wasting the potential of great games like these. Not many people are talking about this game but you should definitely play it. It went from indifferent in my mind to quite possibly making my top 10 list this year and given the year we’ve had, that’s very high praise.

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One Response to Review: Transformers: Devastation

  1. Pingback: My Top 10 Video Games of 2015 (Plus Honourable Mentions and Disappointments) | Geek Bravado

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