Transformers: Devastation is a compelling game with plenty of action, even if it's a little light on content.
If you had told me a year ago that in 2015 there’s going to be a good Transformers game, I would've called you a liar. In my mind, the only good Transformers are the classic Transformers: The Generation 1 toy line. It doesn't even make sense. Who'd work on a game set in that universe in 2015, with the Michael Bay reboot occupying the ether?
But as it turns out, someone was working on one. The best part? That someone is Platinum Games.
Choosing Platinum to take care of the action is ingenious. The studio is already a household name when it comes spectacle fighters. When you bring that to the Transformers setting and let it loose, the result is solid combat.
Transformers: Devastation is not a AAA, obscene budget game. It’s short, and it's wrapped in middling production values that leave a lot to be desired. But none of that matters, because it’s built on pure Platinum action and with a presentation that's as authentic as possible to the source material.
As soon as you boot up the game, before you even get a chance to mull over your purchase decision, you’re treated with Transformers sensory overload. Music? They got the guy. Aesthetic and design? As close to the G1 look as possible. Font? As far away from Michael Bay’s metallic bullshit as they could.
Then the game starts. But don’t worry, because the intro is short and sweet, not at all unlike an episode prologue from the show’s early run. Decepticons looking all cool and announcing their presence and laying out their evil schemes, moments before Autobots roll in (looking even cooler) and agreeing to save the day.
It doesn’t matter what object you’re after, or what motivates these characters. Just like it never did when you were a kid. All the mattered was the action, the motivational speeches from Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), and the explosive finale.
That's why choosing Platinum to take care of the action part is ingenious. The studio is already a household name for gamers when it comes to arena combat and spectacle fighters. When you bring that to the Transformers setting and let it loose, the result is solid combat and an overall fun and enjoyable game.
Devastation lets you choose between playing as Prime, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack, or Grimlock. Each comes with their separate set of special moves, but mostly share basic attack animations. Of course you can also transform them into their respective vehicles, which can be somewhat of a pain to control. Thankfully, vehicle sections are few and far between, and transforming mid-combo or to get the jump on an enemy in regular combat is very satisfying and rewarding.
In general, the combat, while maintaining an overall physical and flashy style, lacks the depth you would find in other Platinum work such as Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising. Attacks are either light or heavy, and combos are usually a combination of three or four button strokes. There are no skill trees or ways for you to tailor a character’s play-style to your preference. You do however get rewarded for dodging and for transforming mid-combo. Outside of that, it’s your new weapons that will bring more depth to the combat.
These are either melee or ranged, and you get them via random drops or in chests. That’s right, there’s a loot aspect in Devastation. The system isn't incredibly deep, but it does a good job of rewarding you with better gear on a regular basis. It’s sorting this gear out or infusing it with other gear to upgrade it, that’s the real chore of this game. If we had scores here at VG247, the game’s item and tech menus would be enough to knock off a degree or two.
Platinum’s fill-in for the absence of skill trees is the T.E.C.H. system, a basic mini-game which offers passive boosts to each character’s abilities. As stripped-back as it is, the upgrades you get are even more limited, usually rangings from defence and attack boosts to amps for your attacks.
While it’s possible to ignore all that, you’re still going to need to pop a repair kit or recharge your weapon energy mid-fight. This process is clunky and takes a few button presses, requiring you to go through two menus. This breaks the flow of the action and brings it to a halt every time you need to heal up or buff your attacks.
Despite these issues, Devastation thrives on its stellar voice cast, cel-shaded look resembling that of the classic Generation 1 cartoon, and its responsive and fun combat. You’re mostly running around doing repetitive tasks for 5 or so hours, but you’re doing it listening to Peter Cullen and Frank Welker doing what they've always done best, to the not-quite-hair-metal, definitely-pretty-90s tunes of Vince Dicola.
There may not be a lot on offer here to justify the price tag, but if you fall in love with Devastation’s combat, you’ll be sucked in for a second or third play-through with different characters.
Devastation is an incredibly exciting game to play on its own, but more importantly, it offers solid groundwork for a something that will benefit greatly from a sequel - and a larger budget. It gets so many things right that it would be sad to see it end with the first game.
The question remains however, does it offer enough value to attract non-Transformers fans, or those who don’t care either way? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question, but I imagine you don’t need to be a Generation 1 nerd to enjoy a stellar action game, do you?
These impressions are based on retail code of the PS4 version, provided by Activision upon request.