“It’s time, Autobots, to once again defend the earth from the scourge of the Decepticons.” Wow. There’s a sentence that might inflict your own age on you.
Hello my beautiful friends! Transformers: Devastation had a pretty quiet release earlier this month, coming to you from Platinum Games. It managed to sneak out not just at an odd time this year, but practically in secret, appearing as a pre-order on Steam before quietly slinking back into my wishlist where I had nearly forgotten it. There was not a lot of hype generated for this title and I can see why.
Platinum Games are usually not a studio that you would think of off the top of your head when choosing a devhouse to make a triple A title. Their games are often quite self contained and fairly short, while occasionally using some existing intellectual property to some degree. Their most recent foray, Legend Of Korra, ended up falling just a bit flat. Not every game in the industry needs to be a sixty-dollar-high-budget-free-roaming-procedurally-generated-real-time-day-night cycle-“next gen” content. The fact is not every game has to outdo every other game. Remember guys, there is no such thing as “the best”, just the best for a given situation. Platinum does not attempt to make games with the kind of scope and ambition of Fallout 4 or whatever the new Zelda is called. They know how to bite off exactly what they can chew and Transformers:Devastation is the game that is making me a fan of Platinum Games in the end. Without further ado, let’s get down to why that is happening.
At it’s core, Transformers:Devastation is a brawler. The gameplay consists of entering an area that is then closed off as you are attacked by a squad of bad guys or a boss character. After that you are rated on your performance based on speed, damage taken, and other stylish features like throwing cars at other cars. You take the wheel of a total of five members of the Autobots, all of whom control fairly similarly.
Each character has a special skill which (spoiler alert) could have been implemented a little better. This skill is fairly unique to each ‘bot; for example, Wheeljack equips a riot shield for the fight and absorbs damage. Bumblebee and Sideswipe both have a sort of dodge roll/power slide ability that I never took full advantage of. Stumblebee seems to use his defensively whereas Sideswipe uses it to close the distance on enemies. Optimus was my favorite character to play, but sadly, his skill was less useful overall. He would equip his trailer in truck form and smash it in a wide crowd-clearing mess that just feels so satisfying to use. The skills as a whole were a bit underutilized and did not provide enough advantage to any robot in particular. They could (and should) have been more defining to the character that used them.
As a brawler you are doing a great deal of melee fighting. This is the creamy center of the game and it is just so ridiculously fun here. Punches and kicks have weight, and the hard metallic clang and crunch of robot on robot action was well paced. As you play you find new weapons, and while some weapons are character specific, most can be shared between characters, allowing you to mix and match abilities to cater to how you want to play. Do you want Optimus Prime to swing dual flaming swords at his foes? You got it! Do you want drills for hands as Mumblebee? Make that magic happen, friend! The weapons are almost all very cool, and part of the fun lies in collecting them. Swords, dual swords, fist weapons, and a few kinds of guns are available, including but not limited to shotguns, blasters, and missile launchers. Pretty standard fare, albeit with that special 1980’s toy-cartoon conglomo-flair. Every single weapon tucked away in this game is simply a blast to swing around. Even though fist weapons are inherently weak, I was looking for excuses to swing energon buzz-saw arms at my enemies or electrically charged punches. War hammers hit like a truck (swinging another slightly smaller truck) and letting loose something called a six-missile system into your foes carpet bombs the battlefield and anyone stuck in it.
Guns were a weak point in this game. It feels like they wanted you to use them more. Early on, you face off against flying opponents in an environment where reaching them just is not the most graceful tactic. The ranged options are all well designed and fun to use, but ammunition in this game is so scarce that you simply cannot hold enough to rely on your guns when you really need to. You can carry energy tanks to refuel your weapons or even health, but breaking the action to navigate a pause menu to use them is a bit of a hassle when the action is literally high octane. With a little more ammo, something like Wheeljack’s riot shield ability suddenly would seem really useful.
Weapons do have elements to add to their basic physical damage,such as fire, ice, electricity, and Energon. It has not been made clear to me if some enemies are weak to certain elemental effects, but it does appear to occasionally cause status effects to enemies. Fire presumably causes damage over time as a lingering effect, ice slows them, electricity stuns enemies outright. Energon could be anything. I never perceived any changes using it but I know that the coolest biggest weapons in the game cause Energon damage. The effects were somewhat rare and also under utilized. I beat my enemies by choosing a weapon I thought looked the coolest and could get the highest stats and commenced to thwack Decepticreeps with that until they stopped twitching. There is a decent synthesize system where you can power up weapons you like! The system for combining items was fairly enjoyable and straightforward to use, basically allowing you to use your junk items to build up your favorite energy ax.
Being a beat-em-up, you also do a lot of punching. The game keeps it simple by giving you a light attack button and a slower heavy attack button. Using these, you can string together effective combos. You can purchase new moves in the shop, which are all fairly straight forward as well and not required to complete the game. Not once are you at a massive disadvantage for not having the counter-attack or spinning whirlwind kick. The best abilities you can use are moves that transform you into a car for the purpose of uppercutting an opponent by defying gravity and driving upward into their face. Check Optimus strutting his stuff with aerial combos below.
The art style in Transformers:Devastation is meant to reflect the old Generation 1 original Transformers television show. It does this perfectly. Not only have they captured the feeling and look of the show without flaw, they have gotten the original cast to reprise their roles as their respective characters. The music and art direction in this game powers the nostalgia engine and feels just great. Please take a moment while playing this game to sit on the ARK menu and listen to the remixed theme it plays. Just enough dubstep to be cool and different, but not so much that it sounds like Soundwave in a blender.
The presentation is hell bent on feeling like the old show; when you take a punch, the screen warps and twitches in a way that emulates a decaying VHS tape on a CRT television. Even using this effect when you commit a perfect dodge and the world slows down to bullet time, feeling like a rewind.
The story will not burden you with anything you haven’t seen already, and it is impossible to spoil because it’s all very much like a parody of itself. The Transformers discover a ship on Earth that can repurpose the planet to build a new homeworld for the robots. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad. Starscream is insubordinate. Bumblebee only speaks in one-liners(Yes he does speak, gang) and Optimus communicates via motivational posters. Best of all, never once are you required to play as a character you do not like or have not equipped with your favorite weapons. I swapped Sideswipe out because I felt Optimus needed to fight the final battle.
The last major point to make is that Transformers: Devastation is small in scale and a tad short. You have mostly free range of an entire map of corridors designed to look like “The City,” and the events of the game take place on these streets and in the parks of this less-than-sprawling metropolis. Rock’m Sock’m robots action is broken up with car combat racing here and there too, giving a bit of variety between sessions of delivering metal fisted-lumps. Normally I would consider this sort of sizing or shortness a bad thing, but the game is paced really well. If the world were bigger, it would just be a vacuum of empty space. The ending arrives just when you expect it before anything gets too stale.
It needs to be understood that while Platinum Games may not be making something as ambitious and alive as an Elder Scrolls game, they do understand how to build a quick and clean experience for less than the price of a triple-A title. Transformers: Devastation lasts as long as it needs to and though it has some flaws overall, it is executed tremendously well. Serving as a great tribute to the content it chose to take on and has been a great time killer while I wait for the bigger time sinks to come out this year. This game, above all, is short and sweet enough that I already started replaying it in new game-plus. I recommend it for anyone who is a fan of the show in need of an entertaining little single player experience. Transformers: Devastation is the Saturday morning cartoons of gaming. Sure the reruns aren’t as good as the new episodes, but dammit the comfort in something familiar and nostalgic is unbeatable.