More Than Meets the Eye
If you are one of the many Transformers fans who are disgusted by the direction the franchise has taken of late, both in the movies and video games, than simply catching a glimpse of artwork from the lightly advertised beat ’em up title from Bayonetta developer PlatinumGames is enough to put you back into your 1980’s jammies and turn your attic upside down looking for your old Transformers toys. Transformers: Devastation is easily one of the most faithful recreations of a bygone cartoon style in a modern video game, right down to the original voice actors, the guitar riffed music, even the cheesy one-liners you just don’t see in today’s Saturday morning cartoons. It is a shame that the memory ends so quickly though, and the game doesn’t express itself in more varied locales.
By short, I mean really short, as in roughly five hours to finish the campaign. And by lacking varied locales I mean about eighty percent of Transformers: Devastation is squeezing through narrow alleyways of a downtown metropolis which open into arena style town centers where your combat muscles can flex. The replayability comes from the fifty challenge missions that rank your score, as well as experience and loot which is retained for use in the Story Mode. Also, after completing the game on one of the three initial difficulty levels, two more are unlocked that shake up the enemy composition throughout the replay, a welcome change to the customary, “let’s just give the same enemies more hit points” approach used in nearly every other game.
The story is the standard Transformers fare, with Megatron and his Deceptacons wreaking havoc on the world to further their end goal of total domination. Instead of a massive resistance against this threat, you command Optimus Prime and a quartet of Autobots. The cast list is slim, sadly, and each character uses the same basic attack combinations. Variety comes in the form of one Unique Ability, such as Wheeljack’s energy shield, and one Ultimate Attack, like Sideswipe’s flurry of rocket launcher attacks. Each character varies in heft and maneuverability – Bumblebee can zip to and fro between enemies, whereas Grimlock crushes through an enemy swarm with each massive step. Different weapons, both melee and ranged, spice up the combat action. It’s interesting to wield various swords, hammers, and sniper rifles. Though carefully sorting through each piece to retain the most beneficial ones for a mission is hardly a necessary step, the game makes it the most convoluted process.
This chore occurs back at the home base, called the Ark, where the inventory of items showcases different statistics, elements, and buffs. Weapons can be synthesized with other weapons to improve their power, yet micromanaging the process and searching for the right combinations is an intensive manual labor that could have easily been streamlined, allowing you to spend less time looking at numbers and more time busting some Deceptacons. You can also spend some easily earned credits to improve the ability scores of each Autobot, or manufacture T.E.C.H. accessories for extra buffs via a simple mini-game. For all the time spent tweaking statistics, you’ll nary notice a difference in the heat of battle.
When it comes to combat, my earlier reference to Bayonetta was intentional, as the flow of battle in Transformers: Devastation is a near carbon copy, sans the angels, demons, and partial nudity. The basic sequence involves a combination of light and heavy attacks, with prompts to transform into your vehicle for an extra heavy pummel. Defying gravity to unleash a chain of mid-air attacks, then slamming your vehicle form to the ground below, is a glorious sight. Fiddling with different button inputs, memorizing a string of attacks, and using them in the proper situation is the key to advanced tactics and a requirement on higher difficulties. Dodging an enemy attack at the last moment sends the game into a time slowing focus, exactly like Witch Time in Bayonetta , granting a few extra swipes on enemies before the normal speed resumes. The fast-paced action, varied enemy types, and cinematic boss battles get the adrenaline pumping every time, making the breaks in between where you weave through energy beams and smash down barriers a sluggish affair. A few nooks off the linear path yield some collectibles and loot, which is all well for any completionists out there, but there’s no denying the drop in pulse when not engaged in combat.
PlatinumGames does a magnificent job staying faithful to the original design. The two-tone coloring of the Transformers accentuating the glossy sheen of their metal bodies, the hand-drawn feel of their portrait outlines, and the simplistic animations as they transform are a great homage to the Generation 1 series. The game never escapes the era, going as far as using faux wood-paneled station wagons and stonework architecture over glass and steel structures. The constant procession of tightly packed buildings is redundant, and it’s a shame the brunt of the game is confined to these quarters. However, if you can assume it is a design choice to maintain the classic vibe, you’ll easily shrug off the criticism.
The reverence carries over into the audio department as well, with nearly every aspect befitting the period. The soundtrack is drenched with electric guitar riffs bellowing out during combat sequences and cutscenes. Blaster shots and the timeless transformation sound effect will pull your inner child right into the cartoon you only wished could have happened as an adolescent of the Eighties. Peter Cullen and Frank Weller do an admirable job with the voice work of Optimus Prime and Megatron, respectively, though there are a few lethargic lines that seem to show the age of the actors. The rest of cast does a respectable job with their characters. The only member that pulled me away from the nostalgia was Scott Whyte’s Starscream. It is a valiant attempt at the character’s tantrums, but nobody captured it quite like the late Chris Latta from the original series.
Transformers: Devastation pays incredible respect to its source material, and yet that esteem could have easily been marred by poor gameplay had publisher Activision not chosen PlatinumGames, a heralded producer of quality action titles, to develop their game. Though a dedicated fan of the original series, I do feel the $49.99 price tag is about ten dollars too steep for the amount of content the game provides. However, the heart-pounding rush of playing iconic Autobots in their classic form is real, and very hard to resist for a fan, either old or new.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
A perfect recreation of a classic animation design, though a double-edged sword as it does seem a tad simple in some areas. 4.5 Control
As expected from PlatinumGames, incredibly tight and fast-paced combat. The quick pace does make the manual camera controls a bit of a burden, however. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Many original voices, authentic guitar tracks, and classic sound effects. Close your eyes and let your ears pull you back in time. 3.5 Play Value
A very short story, only a quintet of characters to play, and no multiplayer make the asking price a bit much. But it’s hard to deny the nostalgia and fun factor. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best