Developed by Platinum Games. Published by Activision. Release October 6, 2015.
Available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PC via Steam. Review copy provided by publisher.
Even the most die-hard of Platinum Games or Transformers fans could be forgiven for coming into Transformers Devastation with a fair bit of skepticism. For Transformers fans, Devastation is following one of the worst Transformers games ever released, last year’s Rise of the Dark Spark, and overall, the series has had a fairly spotty track record when it comes to video games in general.
For Platinum Games fans, Devastation gives off the same worrisome vibes as last year’s mediocre Legend of Korra game – it’s a licensed game based off a popular cartoon series, is also published by Activision, and sells for less than the standard $60 price tag.
Fortunately, fans can cast that skepticism aside because Transformers Devastation is an exceedingly solid action/brawler that stands out as one of the best Transformers games to date. Devastation has its share of questionable design decisions, and I’d hesitate to put on the same level as Platinum’s best, but the game is a ton of fun while it lasts, even if that isn’t all that long.
Devastation is a welcome return to the roots of the Transformers franchise, with both a graphical style and story that will evoke memories of the 80s Saturday morning cartoons. The story is simple and predictable, but presented well enough to make it an enjoyable ride nonetheless. What starts out as a mysterious invasion of a city by Insecticons quickly becomes the usual battle of Autobots vs Decepticons as Optimus and his team try to stop Megatron from gaining control of a powerful device that will turn earth into a new Cybertron.
Again, it all feels very Saturday morning cartoony, a feeling that is compounded by the fact that nearly all of the original voice cast of the 80s cartoon reprise their roles.
On the gameplay side, this is a Platinum Game through and through. The action is fast, flashy, challenging, and utilizes several gameplay mechanics that are directly ripped out of previous Platinum Games titles. Witch Time for instance, a mechanic introduced in Bayonetta that rewards players who dodge an attack at the last second with a brief moment of slow motion, is one of the core components of the combat system in Devastation.
In fact, the best way to describe Devastation‘s combat in a nutshell is by calling it a combination of Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising, mixed in with some crazy car transformation combat that is only possible with a franchise like Transformers. Just like how Bayonetta would punctuate her combos with a powerful Wicked Weave ability, characters in Devastation are able to punctuate their combos with a Vehicle Attack that causes them to transform into their vehicle form and hurl themselves at an enemy for big damage.
Vehicle attacks are a crucial part of the combat in Devastation, and they’re a smart way of rewarding players for being deliberate with their combo inputs, rather than just mashing buttons. You have only a second or so to press the right bumper at the conclusion of a combo to use the vehicle attack, and if you’re just mashing buttons mindlessly, chances are you’re going to miss the window of opportunity.
The Metal Gear Rising part of the equation comes in the form of ranged weapons also playing a large role in combat. Being a Transformers game, many enemies are able to transform into planes and take to the skies, which is where your ranged weapon comes in handy. There are a plethora of ranged weapons that players can equip, from blasters, to shotguns, to machine guns, to sniper rifles, to rocket launchers, etc.
Even beyond just dealing with flying enemies, ranged weapons also do a good job of mixing up hand to hand combat. Because of the fact that your vehicle attacks will send enemies flying, it’s often a good idea to follow one up with a couple of shots with your ranged weapon while moving in to close the distance. Not to mention, many ranged weapons can inflict status effects that can freeze or stun enemies, which can effectively lock down an enemy if you mix it in with with your melee combos.
The result of all that variety is an exciting combat system that seamlessly blends traditional hand-to-hand, vehicle, and weapon based combat all into one, which is exactly what a Transformers action game should do.
The one main area that Transformers Devastation falters is in the character progression department, which ultimately leads to the game feeling repetitive in the later levels. There are no skill trees, no new abilities to learn, no new combos, nothing. Instead, Devastation utilizes a loot system that feels completely out of place and unnecessary. Enemies and treasure chests all drop different types of weapons that players can either equip or synthesize into other weapons to power them up.
There are several problems with this system. It needlessly complicates the game, adding a lot of downtime where the player must go through menus, synthesizing a bunch of junk weapons to gain small boosts to damage that eventually add up to significant bonuses.
In addition, in order for a loot system to work, you need to be able to get excited about the loot you receive, which just doesn’t happen in Devastation. Once I started synthesizing a weapon past level 6 or 7, nothing I found ever even came close to matching its attack power, which meant all of the weapons that I found just became junk items I’d feed into my main weapon.
It’s also a bummer that all of the Autobots essentially play the same way, because a character’s move list is determined by the equipped weapon rather than the actual character.
To be fair, Devastation does make a bit of an effort to differentiate the Autobots by giving them each their own stats, super move, transformation, and special ability, but it’s not enough to really feel like any of the characters have their own unique combat identity. Equip Optimus and Bumblebee with a weapon of the same class, and the two will feel pretty much identical outside of the fact that Optimus hits like a truck (literally) and Bumblebee does pretty weak damage unless he’s able to get in attacks from behind.
So the game definitely could have benefited from losing the loot system entirely and letting each Autobot have their own unique set of attacks, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge deal breaker or anything.
What’s likely to be a bigger issue to many people is the game’s length length of about five hours. Like you’d expect from a Platinum Games title, more difficulties are unlocked upon beating the game, and there is also a set of 50 challenges for hardcore players to sink their teeth into, but Devastation is still fairly light on diverse content for a $50 retail game.
On the plus side, the game’s soundtrack is stellar, and will no doubt draw even further comparisons to Metal Gear Rising thanks to some pretty badass guitar themes that got my blood pumping during some of the more intense battles.
The bottom line is, if you’re a fan of Platinum Games and have even the slightest interest in Transformers, you should definitely give Devastation a shot. It is quite short, and the loot system is all kinds of dumb, but when it comes right down to it, the game is fun. Ignore the warning signs that might have led you to become skeptical about Devastation. The truth is, it’s more than meets the eye.
Bottom Line: Transformers Devastation is a blast to play while it lasts, and expertly blends elements of Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising, but packages it in a way that makes it come off as completely unique.
Recommendation: It’s a short game even by Platinum Games’ standards, which makes the $50 price tag a little steep, but if that doesn’t bother you, Devastation is well worth your time and money.[rating=4]