Transformers: Devastation

Factfile
Developed by:PlatinumGames
Published by:Activision
Released:2015
Format played:PS4

Ruminations

We first looked at this game back in 2016 as part of the October PS Plus round up. At the time I had spent about an hour with it, just to get a taste, but as a huge fan of the original cartoon had always planned on coming back for a full meal. Two years on and I’ve finally made the time to play through the full campaign.

With New York coming under seige from a swarm of Insecticons and some fearsome looking mechanical arms appearing from undet the streets, the Autobots leap into action to uncover the cause of these disturbances and to put a stop to them. Inevitably the Decepticons are behind things with that old scallywag Megatron abusing some old Autobot tech to try and Cyberform the Earth into a home from home. Step forward Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and more of your favourite Autobot heroes as they set about stopping the Decepticons from executing their dastardly plans.

Transformers: Devastation released in 2015 across Playstation, Xbox and PC and was made available to PS Plus subscribers in October 2016. The game was removed from digital sale in December 2017 after the expiry of a licensing deal between Transformers brand owner Hasbro and the game’s publisher, Activision.

Second Impressions

We touched on this in the original PS Plus piece but it is worth revisiting with the benefit of having taken in the full experience. Visually, Devastation is predominantly based on the original classic cartoon that many of us grew up with. Character models have a cel-shaded look to them but the look and feel of the world is very much in line with the 1980s template.

One of the great strengths of the cartoon was its sense of identity. Likely a reflection of the fact that the cartoon was very much a means by which to sell toys, each character in the series had a distinct look and bespoke action and this carries forward into the game. This is the Optimus Prime you remember, replete with his badass hand cannon and sword. And many of your other favourites are present and correct too; Soundwave, together with Ravage, Rumble and Laserbeak; the Constructicons, merging to form Devastator; Grimlock, Shockwave, Starscream and more. It is a well stocked roster that will set those nostalgia glands flapping.

It’s not just in the visuals either, with many of the original voice cast returning, lending an extra credence to proceedings. Prime just wouldn’t be Prime without the immediately recognisable voice work of Peter Cullen with Frank Welker’s Megatron similarly iconic to long time fans. That classic old transforming noise is back too, as well as a passable stab at the spot music that would play during a scene change, although it is a little disappointing not to hear the original theme music. Still, Vince DiCola provides the in-game sounds, providing a satisfying call back to the composer’s work on the 1986 movie.

Beyond the characters, the look and feel of the city harks back to the cartoon world too. Indeed it is initially jarring to see those details that don’t fit in with the original asthetic, such as pick ups and unlockables that dot the landscape. It soon becomes apparent though that there is some significant repetition in play, the explorable playing area not as large as you might wish for, the narrative funneling you down the same sections of the city. When the action moves away from Earth during a trip to Cybertron, action is similarly directed and these scenes in particular lack visual invention.

Gameplay

I find it somewhat difficult to define exactly what type of game I would want to see from the Transformers license. As a kid, and indeed a grown up one, there is a certain thrill in simply having the opportunity to ‘be’ Optimus Prime, the game built around that concept somewhat of a secondary concern. Once you move past that initial rush though, there needs to be something of substance that underpins the experience. Transformers is ultimately a story driven beast and a game that wants to stay true to the source material needs to reflect that.

Fortunately then, Devastation nails this part of the equation, the story penned by Transfomers comic writer Andy Schmidt capturing the vibe of the cartoon. Scripting is excellent too, Megatron in particular chewing up the scenery as he spits his customary venom at all and sundry, his harshest barbs a toss up between those flung at Prime and those directed towards his Decepticon nemesis, Starscream.

The core of the gameplay is built around old fashined hack and slash. Each area you move into sees you tasked with defeating a set number of villains, usually culmnating in a mini boss battle with one of Megatron’s henchmen. Regardless of the opponent though, the pattern of play remains the same and what initially appears to be fairly one dimensional reveals additional layers.

Each character has four weapons slots, allowing you a combination of melee and ranged weapons. Melee attacks come in light and heavy variants, the latter doling out more damage but the former quicker to execute. Fighting at close quarters, a dose of button mashing will get you so far but will soon lead to frustration as your attacks start to be repelled and you fail to break through enemy defences. Success then comes with taking a step back and understanding the nuances. Stringing together attacks allows you to also add a vehicle atack to your combo, your Autobot transforming mid-battle and literally driving into his Decepticon adversary. As well as attacks, you have the ability to dodge. Doing so at the right moment slows down time, allowing you to easily move out of the way and get in a couple of your own licks without reply. In addition, you have a variety of special moves that can be unleashed once the respective meter has been filled. A stab of L1 gives an enhanced attack, Optimus for instance switching to vehicle mode, complete with trailer, performing a donut and smashing into his opponent. Similarly pressing both L3 and R3 unleashes a devastating attack which, if aimed correctly, doles out a significant amount of damage.

Combined with ranged attacks, battles become intense and spectacular, with new weapons unlockable and even able to be developed as tech in between levels and at particular hubs. Inevitably though, however visually arresting, there comes a certain repetition and grind to proceedings and fights begin to merge into one, your heart sinking as another scene devolves into a battle when all you really want is to explore. It’s not helped by the fact that there is little to differentiate a batle between a big lug like Devastator and a smaller villain like Blitzwing. Devastator may be bigger but the same techniques take him down and there seems to be no parallel between the apparent strength of an enemy and the time taken to best them.

Whikst we’re having a little moan, vehicle control is a little clumsy. The shoulder buttons, which you would expect to be for accelerate and brake, are given over to the weapons, meaning that you move your vehicle with the left stick. This can make it hard to control both speed and direction at the same time and with the camera flinging around wildly behind you, it is all too easy to lose your bearings.

Oh, and one other thing I noticed – there were no humans! Not a single person across the whole city. Appreciating that they would probably just get in the way, not to mention that the human characters are often the most annoying part of the Michael Bay films, it seems a little weird that the Autobot’s mission statement is to protect the humans of Earth and yet here they are doing battle with their mortal enemy and there is nobody around to benefit. Plus human characters were a big part of the original cartoon, from Sparkplug to Spike to Daniel, and it is a shame that they are missing.

You can always ask for more of course but there is some genuine fan service here, both in the choice of playable characters as well as those you get to battle. Some may quibble over the length of the story, clocking in at around 6-8 hours or so. I played it on easy, wanting to experience the story rather than spend my time constamtly having to restart after falling in battle, and found it a satisfying playthrough. There are side missions and challenges dotted throughout that extend the playtime whilst you can also go back in to experience the story from another character’s perspective. It’s just a shame that there are no further episodes. The Transformers world is so rich that I want to explore more of it.

Bottom Line

An action packed slice of nostalgia, Devastation delivers fan service in abundance, wrapped around a satisfying, if occasionally repetitive, brawler.

8/10

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