Transformers: Devastation is a playful return to what Transformers once was, and to many fans still is. A classic ‘80s cartoon adapted into a multi-billion CGI film franchise, with at least four more sequels to come, can barely carry nostalgia — Transformers is a steady component of pop-culture. But Devastation brought a smile to my face as the characters reappeared as I was first introduced to them all so long ago on Cheez TV (long after it aired for the first time).
Combing the style of Transformers Generation 1 with the action expertise of Platinum Games seems like a match made in heaven, and if that’s all you want out of it, it is. I jokingly listed it as Transformers: Bayonetta on The Friendly Fire Show rundown last week, but that tongue-in-cheek description isn’t far off the mark.
Transformers: Devastation doesn’t carry the depth of Bayonetta, but it’s close in principle with cunning melee combos and quick-fire ranged attacks. It keeps it simple, with easy access to quick and heavy attacks, with guns in support, and of course transforming. Switching to vehicle mode is merely a button away, and is injected into combat as a combo finisher.
The hectic barrage of punches and bullets – pretty much all you do – applies Bayonetta’s slowdown dodge system, adding a critical element of timing into the button mashing brawling. Properly exciting combos, mixing light and heavy attacks, is rewarded with the optional finishing move, which in itself is a slave to impeccable timing. All the while, knowing when to transform, to use different abilities and the rushing speed of vehicle mode, can determine the outcome of a confrontation.
Outside of combat is some very, very basic platforming to reach the next colorful orbs or group of enemies, both on-foot and at speed in vehicle mode. Again, very Bayonetta, but without much variety in the level design.
The story is the basic ‘Decepticons want to take over Earth for their own agenda, and the Autobots are determined to stop them to save the feeble humans’. There’s nothing shocking here, but it’s told sublimely through cut-scenes that look exactly like the classic gen-1 animation, complete with most of the original voice actors. If someone were to walk into the room, there’s no telltale sign that it’s a video game.
The cel-shaded world inevitably breaks away slightly with the addition of a third dimension, but still looks strikingly similar to the vintage art style. The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, look fantastic in motion, as do Megatron’s legion. However, the backgrounds leave little to be desired. This is definitely a cross-gen game – and to be fair is only priced at $50 – but there doesn’t appear to be much different between PS4 / Xbox One and last-gen, and the levels are very basic, but that doesn’t matter amidst robot pummelling.
The glaring fault, with repetition expected, is atrocious boss battles. With combat built upon the foundations of beating up several weaker enemies at once, Platinum simply ramps up the difficulty for one-on-one boss fights to ridiculous proportions and plonks them in undersized arenas. Bosses are heinously overpowered, almost immediately, and ruin the fun. I dreaded each one, as it’s an almost unmanageable chore between the otherwise fun robot melee. Frustration creeps in as soon as the second boss fight, and I expect many players to bow out there or the one that follows and return Devastation.
While a budget title, there’s a case for suggesting it should fall closer to the $20-$30 downloadable game range. The missions don’t offer much in the way of variety and judging by the Achievements/Trophies list, you’re meant to replay the relatively short campaign over and over again as different characters.
At a stretch, there’s some merit to this, as each Transformer is unique in ability and can be customized as new weapons are unlocked — though, crafting is pointless. However, that only strengthens the desire to regularly switch between them during a single playthrough, not retread old ground to justify the cost-to-value ratio.
The Final Verdict
Transformers: Devastation is a nice return to classic Transformers, backed by the quality of Platinum Games’ action-brawler gameplay. The Decepticon bashing is topnotch of the Bayonetta-ilk, despite basic level design, and the art style of the cutscenes is uncanny in being faithful to the source material. However, the boss battles are atrocious, to the point they’ll make a lot of players quit or compromise on difficulty, making the remainder of missions too easy. It’s a classic rushed licensed game problem and the element that holds back Devastation from being an instant recommendation to Transformers fans. Try before you buy.