One would think that making a video game adaptation for a franchise about giant transforming robots battling one another would be easy, but as the past few years have taught us it’s easier said than done. A staple for those born in the 1980s, the Transformers franchise has continued to thrive in many ways through the addition of new cartoons and the ever expanding toy line that surely has filled the closets of many a toy collector out there.
Even though the Transformers franchise has grown, thanks in part due to the abysmal live-action films from Michael Bay, things haven’t exactly grown on the video game front. Other than the Transformers title released on the PlayStation 2 back in the day and the two PS3/Xbox 360 games from High Moon Studios, we’ve literally gotten three good games in the span of twenty years; a thing that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when a new Transformers game comes along. Despite whatever skepticism there may be, an honestly excellent Transformers game has arrived thanks to the fine folks at Platinum Games with the arrival of Transformers: Devastation – a title which both honors and evolves the Transformers property in a way that’s never been done before.
Longtime Transformers fans may be wary of any sort of major changes to the franchise since it usually results in something less than great rather than a pleasant surprise akin the the classic Beast Wars TV series. Burned by the arrival, and subsequent embracing by the mainstream audience, of the live-action Transformers movies, and the decline in quality with the latest cartoon iterations, the Transformers franchise is in an odd place of sorts since it’s trying to evolve yet isn’t pleasing anyone other than young kids or dudebros that enjoy watching stuff blow up. Thankfully, all that changes with Transformers: Devastation since it offers the classic 1980s experience that many loved in the original series but wraps that up modern gaming sensibilities that results in one of the best licensed video games ever released.
Simple and to the point, the premise of Transformers: Devastation follows the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, trying to foil the latest plan by Megatron and his Decepticon forces. Once again intent on destroying the Earth, Megatron is trying to do his usual elaborate plan of empowering the Decepticons, erasing humanity from the face of the Earth, and trying to defeat the Autobots once and for all. Things really aren’t expanded much on the narrative front aside from the simple set-up, and a minor surprise towards the end, and honestly I’m happy such a thing is the case since the story feels like it was a lost episode from the original cartoon. Transformers: Devastation doesn’t present long cutscenes that take the player out of the action since it’s all about going forward with a breakneck pace that is rarely seen in a modern video game these days.
A cutscene from Transformers Devastation
Following the mantra set forth by Platinum Games in recent years, Transformers: Devastation is all about stylish, and often elaborate, action. It may sound odd initially to think of a Transformers game in which melee combat is the chief game mechanic and not that of shooting, as it was in previous games, but such a change in direction pays off right from the start. Seeing Optimus Prime move around the battlefield of a destroyed city and punching his way through Decepticon foes delivering massive hits and switching between vehicle and robot mode during combos is rather awe-inspiring in how cool it looks and how Platinum Games offered something that doesn’t feel out of place for the property.
Best described as an evolution of what was offered in the brilliant Metal Gear Rising, the combat in Transformers: Devastation is fast and often elegant in how smooth the moves are and how easy it is to switch things up on the fly. Featuring elements such as a counter evade that results in a brief slow-mo effect, the use of long-range weapons during combat, and being able to switch between vehicle mode to string together combos, there’s a ton of depth and things to explore in Transformers: Devastation. What sets the game apart even more, both compared to other TF and action games, is that there’s a full line-up of playable characters.
While Optimus Prime may be the main character many choose to stick with, there are six additional Autobots to choose from including Bumblebee and Sideswipe. Each character can be selected upon reaching a level checkpoint as there aren’t any character specific chapters past the intro featuring Optimus. This addition of character variety presents some nice change up opportunity as it allows one to tackle a mission differently in respect to combat. With Bumblebee’s long range gun it’s possible to take out enemies from afar, or utilize the special attack of another Autobot which allows one to target and subsequently obliterate all enemies on the screen. Thanks to the Autobot roster in the game and their unique combat styles which truly differentiate when compared to one another, there’s a lot of replayability in Transformers: Devastation which more than lengthens the somewhat short initial run-through that’s to be had with the five to six hour campaign.
Issues may be had with the length of the campaign during an initial playthrough, but the pace of Devastation is one of non-stop action. With bosses appearing out of the wood-work and the return of the classic approach of having mini-bosses, Devastation goes full force from the start and never once slows down for any reason – even amidst a bit of level variety in the form of a side-scrolling sequence reminiscent of a shmup. Variety may not be present during the boss battles since many follow the formula of simply defeating the boss, but even in that situation they never become old hat since the core design of them, and the scale of the battles, the dazzling combination of artistic colors coupled with special effects, and the classic 1980s/1990s style rock music blasting during the battles are good enough to keep the action going and not feel like an annoying retread or a case of simply being present to pad game length. And in true Platinum Games fashion, the final stage of the game goes into completely crazy territory with how the battles are designed back to back, a feeling which at times is present throughout the entirety of the game to the point in which it feels like the entire experience is a boss rush mode in a good way.
The execution of the combat in Devastation is exquisite though it’s not without one minor issue. Like any good action game it’s possible for the player to upgrade their character throughout the journey, allowing one to boost the health of their character or attributes of a particular weapon. While Devastation follows the traditional formula of using points to purchase upgrades, it follows the unconventional route of having such a thing be tied to a minigame – one in which the upgrade is a complete mystery until you succeed no less. The exact premise of the minigame upgrade element makes sense thematically as it’s tied to a particular Autobot character, yet not knowing what you’re going to get until you’re done and even having the embarrassing situation of failing the minigame, thus losing however much you opted to spend, only makes matters worse in some situations. Even more, the weapon upgrade system is a tad confusing at first since none of it is really explained at all in any sort of fashion.
Whereas the game design of Transformers: Devastation has the feel of a modern action game, a true classic sense can be found in how the game looks. Featuring a style of cel shading, Devastation sports a classic Transformers look in which all the characters boast colorful arrangements of blues, yellows, reds, and purples rather than simply be an indistinguishable heap of metal as they are in the live-action movies. The exact visual fidelity of Devastation isn’t impressive by any means since in typical Platinum fashion it seems like the environments are a mere afterthought, but they certainly are serviceable and never once detract from the overall experience. In fact, when the game is on point in every category the art direction can be simply fantastical, as it is in the more Transformer centric levels as opposed to the dull, boxy, and repetitive city locales that the game is mostly set in.
As a 3rd person action game Transformers: Devastation succeeds in the key categories of being fun and entertaining. The passion that Platinum Games had for the Transformers property is more than evident since true skill and care was put into the game rather than having the hollow vibe found in other licensed games. With a decent amount of replayability thanks to the playable character roster, difficulty levels, and level secrets, Transformers: Devastation is an excellent package for what it is; arguably the best Transformers video game ever released.
Overall: Transformers: Devastation injects old and new elements to make a video game that is easily the best Transformers experience released. Featuring an atmosphere true to the classic cartoon and combat that is on par with what Platinum Games has done previously, Transformers: Devastation is a must play if you’re a fan of the property, a Platinum Games fan, or if you simply enjoy playing a kick ass action game.