Genre: Action, Beat Em Up
Rating: Teen – due to fantasy violence
Since 2010, there have been a handful of Transformers games trying to capitalize on the hype generated by the blockbuster movie franchise. As a whole, the third-person shooters focusing on the fight for control of Cybertron have been well-received. Now we get Transformers: Devastation – a game that opts not for a futuristic cinematic experience, but for the heartstrings of nostalgic 80’s cartoon fans instead.
Is the cel-shaded, retro-themed, beat-’em-up enough to satiate today’s audience, though, or should our Cybertronian guardians go back to where they came from?
Always vying for proliferation of the Cybertronian race, Megatron and his Decepticon buddies have come to Earth with a plan to terraform the planet, destroying all organic life in the quest for a new Cybertron. Optimus Prime, with the help of a few familiar faces, will have to take on the Decepticons and their friends to foil Megatron’s plan and save the world from certain demise.
It’s a tale as old as Cybertronian time. The problem is that the storytelling itself feels, at best, disjointed: a mediocre tale, perfectly on par with that kitschy, Saturday morning fare of yester-year. It’s underwhelming and fairly boring. It only really exists as an excuse to send you from fight to fight (and highlight the game’s fantastic voice acting). Overall, it’s pretty disappointing.
There really isn’t much spiritual content typically associated with the Transformers. Apart from the obvious Good versus Evil theme and an allusion to an ancient hero being corrupted by evil, there isn’t really much to note here.
As with any beat ’em up, there’s a fair deal of combat. It’s primarily hand-to-hand and there’s no gore to be concerned with at all. Blows are signified with bright flashes of light and enemies explode when they’re killed. Some minor gunplay is involved, but damage and death are shown in the same manner as hand-to-hand combat. Missions ending with a kill show the final blow in slow motion.
If you’ve ever seen the old Transformers cartoon, you know what to expect. Nothing more crass than a mechanical joke with angry undertones (and no foul language in sight). This includes things like “I will crush you like a can of nano-jelly” and “I’ll blast you back to the Bronze Age.”
Absolutely none to be concerned with.
Optimus constantly talks about responsibility and guardianship. The earth is their home and humanity has the right to forge its own destiny. No life should be manipulated or extinguished just to further our own ideals.
If you’re familiar with either the Beat ‘Em Up genre or, more specifically, much of PlatinumGames’ work (Bayonetta, Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance), you kind of know what you’re getting into with Transformers: Devastation. The combat is this game’s bread and butter with virtually every other aspect of the game falling to the periphery.
Devastation features a reaction-driven fighting style. You can dive in and beat away on enemies, but dodging when your assailants flash for an upcoming attack is paramount. This will put you into “focus” mode, slowing down the world around you for a split second to give you extra opportunity for attack. It’s fun and fast-paced, and you’ll have to stay on your toes if you want to survive–especially on higher difficulties.
Coupled with the combat system is a fun weapon system. You can equip four weapons at once, giving you the variety for different sorts of firearms and melee weapons. The Autobots can wield everything from axes and warhammers to swords, flamethrowers, sniper rifles, and more. You can even upgrade your arsenal, folding less desirable weapons into your favorites to beef them up. It serves to give you some welcome variety in combat, as well as some sense of control over what you wield.
Speaking of control and progression, Transformers: Devastation lets you completely control how your five heroes progress through the game. As you play, you’ll earn experience in several categories (strength, speed, etc), but you can spend funds to further upgrade them more rapidly. It’s not uncommon to see RPG mechanics in games of every genre these days, but it’s still empowering to know you’re affecting how well each warrior is performing. There’s no feeling quite like topping out your strength, effortlessly smashing a boss with a warhammer, and knowing the choices you’ve made have driven that.
As good as the combat and progression systems are, the game isn’t without some flaws. You’ll fight the same-named foes time and time again, even to the degree that some of them will be set up as boss battles. It doesn’t make the boss encounters any less entertaining, but it feels like it cheapens the experience somewhat.
Mission and chapter design feels awkward. Chapters are made up of multiple missions, many of which can be torn through relatively quickly (and often consist of objectives that are nothing more than “kill all the enemies here”). The first chapter of the game is heavily front-loaded with nearly 20 missions, where the rest of the game’s chapters average out to about a quarter of that. Along with the required story missions, there are hidden side missions you can take on for extra loot. These are typically either “kill all the things” or “blow up all the orbs quickly.” They add a little extra variety to the straight carnage, but it’s short-lived.
One thing that feels woefully absent is a cooperative mode. When we played games like this as a kid, it was always fun to have my brother by my side, taking out Shredder and his cronies together. Given PlatinumGames’ track record (again, Bayonetta, Vanquish, etc), I shouldn’t be surprised. It feels like a wasted opportunity, though.
Another thorn with Devastation is its terrible lack of environmental design. It feels like there are only two places you can go in the game–the city, with its lanes and high rise buildings, or a Cybertronian underground complex with ever-shifting walls, floors, and bad guys. Why couldn’t we have something more unique tossed in the mix, like a mountain with trees and valleys or an ocean-floor complex? A little variety would have gone a long way to helping ease the oppressive repetition here.
The most striking aspect of the entire game is its visual presentation. Cel shading has been a thorn in the side of otherwise fantastic games over the years, but in the case of Devastation, it fits wonderfully. Given that they’re going for the a nostalgic cartoon style, PlatnumGames hit the nail on the head. My inner child couldn’t help but squeal a little every time a character was revealed.
Devastation‘s voice acting is one of the coolest aspects of the game. Several members of the original cast reprise their roles, including Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime and Frank Welker as Megatron and Soundwave. It really is a treat to hear the original voices back where they belong.
The lack of environmental diversity is my only complaint here. What’s there is solid, but there needs to be more here to break it up.
Overall, Transformers: Devastation is a welcome surprise. A fast, satisfying combat system, variety of playable characters, and collection and progression mechanics come together to form a fun experience fans can enjoy. The game is unfortunately dragged down by a lackluster, occasionally disjointed story and scarce environmental variety, but nostalgic fans will be entertained by the original voice cast and attention to detail from the cartoon. It’s products like this that continue to reinforce how retro franchises can still find a home in today’s world.
Review Copy provided by Activision
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The Bottom Line
Transformer's Devastation is a fun beat 'em up that properly utilizes nostalgia to enhance the experience. It's hampered by a mediocre-to-boring story and repetitive environments, though.