Coming off of Platinum’s previous licensed collaboration with Activision, The Legend of Korra, there were many who were cautiously optimistic about Transformers: Devastation. Activision didn’t do much to dissuade the public either, as the game had a quiet launch this past week in between much bigger releases. However, I’m pleased to report that Devastation may be the sleeper hit of the holiday season, a character action game that lives up to Platinum’s history of excellence and a Transformers game designed from the ground up as a tribute to the 80s cartoon that started it all. There are missteps here and there, particularly when you’re doing anything besides punching and shooting Decepticons, but the core action of the game is a delight that shouldn’t be missed.
One of my favorite things about the game is how much it feels like an extended episode of the television show. Like South Park: The Stick of Truth before it, Devastation does everything possible to immerse you in its silly world of giant robots warring over technological MacGuffins for the fate of both Earth and Cybertron. The majority of the surviving voice cast from the show returns here, with references and cameos from all eras of the classic series thrown in. You can choose from Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, or Sideswipe initially, with Wheeljack and Grimlock unlocking as your progress through the game’s campaign.
The combat is very easy to pick up and run with, allowing novices to mash their way to fun while rewarding more seasoned players with counters and special moves for pulling off certain combos. Each string of three to five attacks can be followed up on with a vehicle attack that ends the combo in spectacular fashion. There is also an uppercut move you can perform from vehicle mode to launch foes, a special ability for each character—Optimus summons his trucks trailer for a sweep, while Bumblebee slides behind foes to get a shot in—and an ultimate attack that charges over time. The system should be second nature for anyone who’s played one of Platinum’s games before. There are times when the combat feels a bit simplistic, but it fits well with the characters.
In between battle arenas, there is some effort made for variety in the gameplay, but it is here that the game falters more often than not. You can find collectibles hidden in the stages, as well as a few side missions that mostly involve fighting the same enemies you’ve been defeating or running over a few pickups within a certain amount of time. There are a few platforming sections and a side scrolling shooter area that work as intended, but weren’t as enjoyable as the main combat. Perhaps the worst offender is a short section in the middle of the game where the camera goes into a top down view for reasons I can’t begin to explain. It made the game frustrating, requiring several tries before I could clear it as I had to switch between combat and carrying an explosive block all while losing my depth perception. It served no purpose that I could gather other than making the game extremely hard for ten minutes.
In order to encourage multiple playthroughs, Transformers: Devastation features a loot system that allows you to collect versions of various signature melee weapons and guns from other Transformers. Each character has four slots to fill, although some heavier weapons can only be used by Optimus Prime and Grimlock. You’ll quickly find weapons that suit your play style, and the game helps that along by allowing you to feed your other loot into your main weapon to make it stronger and give it various other perks. The various stat boosts didn’t seem to have too much of an effect over the course of the game, but having a sword that can stun or freeze opponents certainly helped in some of the later boss encounters.
While on the Ark feeding guns to other guns, you can also customize your characters in a few other ways. You can feed currency into your stats to level up more quickly, you can buy additional perks to slot into your characters via a technologically themed slot machine, and you can visit a shop to sell off loot or buy specific weapons and power-ups. The system is surprisingly dense for what is otherwise a simplistic brawler, especially considering that it isn’t explained at all and doesn’t appear until after the first level is completed. However, most of the stats and perks were hard to notice in the thick of the action, and the system can safely be ignored if you’re only interested in mindless Transformers fun.
I played through the game on PC, and I saw a few technical hiccups, mostly involving the game stopping at the end of a cutscene and waiting for me to hit the skip button to continue. Other than that, the game ran smoothly throughout, as it should have considering the character models and world being rendered. Even if they’re not technically impressive, the cell shaded look and the simplistic designs combine to create a great look to the game overall. After getting used to giant Cybertronian hallways in Full Moon’s Cybertron games, controlling a Transformer that is jumping across human rooftops was a thrill, all aided by that authentic Saturday morning look.
Sadly, the thrill of Transformers: Devastation is a brief one. The game could easily be beaten by a dedicated player in four or five hours, and someone looking for collectibles might add a couple of hours onto that. The game is clearly designed to be replayed and mastered, as your loot and stats retain over multiple playthroughs and each character has unique dialogue during boss fights. In addition, there is a challenge mode that presents certain tweaked scenarios from the campaign. However, I wasn’t really drawn in to play it again once the credits rolled. Even here, the game follows the cartoon, as it is ultimately a disposable treat to enjoy in between sprawling open world behemoths and huge AAA shooters.
A feature that could have helped the game’s replayability was characters who played a bit differently. Most of the moves are tied to weapons instead of characters, so four of the five characters are extremely similar to control. Grimlock is a bit different, but his slow and lumbering style didn’t appeal to me. It was very disappointing to learn that there weren’t any playable Decepticons in the game, especially considering the game’s huge roster of unplayable opponents. Having even one playable character who transformed into a jet would have been fun to see, as the charging moves that Starscream and Blitzwing pull off against you look impressive.
Transformers: Devastation is short and sweet, a delight for anyone who has enjoyed the original incarnation of the robots in disguise. Being able to perform jump kicks and uppercuts before ramming into opponents as a truck is all I’ve really wanted out of this franchise, and Devastation delivers the goods alongside a bonus of cheesy one-liners, logo transitions, and technobabble. For a first attempt, Platinum knocked it out of the park, and I can only hope that the sequel can improve the minor gameplay issues while delivering that same great robot action.
Transformers: Devastation was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by Activision. It is also available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4.
Want to see a bit of gameplay? Check out our Scouting Party first impressions video on Transformers: Devastation!
A brief but engaging character action game, Transformers: Devastation succeeds mostly as a nostalgic treat for Generation 1 fans and anyone who can appreciate a little giant robot action.