Video Game Review: Transformers: Devastation
Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress. Often, enticed by her comely looks and sweet words, I have foolishly played into her hands and paid dearly for it on more than one occasion. With the release of Transformers: Devastation, it appeared that I would once again lay with my silvery tongued paramour and suffer the ardent sting of her betrayal. All the signs were there: a non-existent advertising campaign, an expedited release date, no review coverage and a development team whose last foray into the world of cel-shaded beat-em-ups left much to be desired. This, however, meant little when set against the prospect of donning the mantle of The Prime and leading the heroic autobots into glorious battle. So, with hesitation cast aside, I took up my trusty controller and rolled out – it turns out I was in for a very pleasant surprise.
Transformers: Devastation is a pretty sweet game; let’s be clear on that point. What I believe is most striking, even from a cursory observation, are the beautiful character models. What few trailers there were did a very good job of representing the final product. The character models are absolutely gorgeous and almost indistinguishable from their cartoon counterparts. And while this is certainly a nod to fans of the 1980’s cartoon, the finished product is impressive enough to merit admiration, regardless of how well (or poorly) one is acquainted with the source material. This is largely true of the entire experience offered by the game – which is a good thing, to my mind. Similarly, the characters on display are modernized, but extremely satisfying and accurate representations of beloved staples. This is helped, in part, by a very competent story (far better, I would say, than anything we’ve seen from Hollywood to this point) and even more competent voice acting. In fact, many of the original voice actors, fan favorites Peter Cullen and Frank Welker among them, lend their talents to the game in order to bring the characters to life. Whether it’s a function of their natural ability or time spent in the roles, they take to their parts so naturally that it is difficult not to smile as the narrative unfolds. Bumblebee in particular is given some fantastic lines.
While I’m on the issue of sound, it’s also worth mentioning that Transformers:Devastation features a pretty solid soundtrack. Much of what you will hear while you play are original compositions. This is fine as, for the most part, the tracks are an appropriate mix of bombastic rock tunes and heroic refrains. Some are catchy, but most are easily forgettable (again, this does not take away from the game in anyway). What’s strange, however, is that certain samples of iconic themes from the original show do seem to make an appearance, but are often arranged in such a way as to only be vaguely reminiscent of their original forms. It’s kind of a tease at its best, but completely unsatisfying at its worst (the classic transition bumpers provide a baffling interpretation of the original sound effect, for example).
“But what about gameplay?”, you ask. Well, here’s an area where I think Platinum Games has really learned from some of its previous successes, Legend of Korra aside. The fighting, which rightfully makes up the lion’s share of the game, is a combination of ultra-sexy, fluid combos and awkward (although not game breaking) shooting. Ultimately, Transformers: Devastation offers a very satisfying and deceptively deep combat system that relies heavily on timed counters and acrobatic maneuvers for success. It is easy enough to pick-up, but it will require some dedication to master. In addition to this, the development team does an exceptional job of keeping the action fresh. While I did get dangerously close to growing tired of battling the small cadre of foot soldiers littered across almost every stage, the game did not hesitate to throw down with some really great boss battles and, on more than one occasion, some pretty fun and unexpected segments. It seemed that just when I was about to get bored, Transformers: Devastation threw something into the mix to pull me right back in to the action. It was no mean feat.
Still, despite my personal satisfaction with the finished product, it’s not all champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Those stunning character models I mentioned? Well, they serve not only to impress, but also to distract from rather drab set-pieces and backdrops. That’s not to say the rest of the game is hideous, but it is worth mentioning that there is some disparity in quality and effort between the two. The game also suffers from a barely functioning loot system and ability upgrade mechanic. Essentially, the game rewards you with weapons and stat-upgrades from defeating baddies and finding hidden weapon caches. This is in and of itself is fine, but it is executed so poorly that it comes off as an unnecessary distraction. To begin with, there is little to no guidance concerning what to with your loot. Through trail and error, however, you quickly learn that combining dropped items will provide marginal improvements to a weapon of your choice. The efficacy of these improvements is dependent on the quality of the items you combine, but while you are given much to play with, there’s not a great deal of variety. In fact, by the end of the campaign (roughly six to eight hours of game time), I had accumulated almost 200 pieces of equipment. I used about ten to get me through to the end. In that same vein, the ability upgrade mechanic allows you to develop certain items that provide significant boosts to your characters base abilities. Unfortunately, doing so requires you to engage in a timing mini-game that features what seems to be a fairly straightforward objective, but delivers almost inscrutable results for your efforts. It’s kind of a bummer, because the rest of the game is so well done. There are also some camera issues, although these are only truly at the forefront during racing portions or when fighting larger enemies. That said, none of these faults keep the experience from being a mostly enjoyable one.
Ultimately, despite a few missteps, Transformers: Devastation is a satisfying and thoughtfully crafted game. It is definitely a blast of nostalgia for Generation One fans, but it is just as recommended for newcomers to the ever-expanding Transformers mythology.
Title: Transformers: Devastation
Release Date: October 6th, 2015
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, XBox 360, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Platinum Games
All images captured with PlayStation 4 System and taken from actual game play.
Only PlayStation 4 version used for review.