Review: Transformers: Devastation (Sony Playstation 4)

coveruTransformers: Devastation
Publisher: Activision
Developer: PlatinumGames
Genre: Action
Release Date: 10/06/2015

While we’ve gotten some of the best Transformers games under Activision, we’ve also gotten some stinkers, and a few that were only okay. Transformers: War For Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron are pretty big games to live up to, and I’ll be the first to admit after Platinum’s foray into licensed games with Legend of Korra, I was a little skeptical. They abandoned the High Moon shooter formula and were going full on cel shaded and pulling from the original Generation One cartoon for inspiration with hack and slash mechanics added in. Instead of the ho-hum game I was expecting, however, we’re given something that manages to capture the fun of the television show from the 80s and has a lot of fun action throughout. Let’s take a look.

The game itself is definitely set sometime before the 1986 Transformers: The Movie and after the first season of the show that aired in 1984, so it’s set either just before or during Season Two of the 80s show. With a smattering of other content pulled in from sources that have come after, this feels like a multi-arc episode set of the original television show with some slightly darker and more mature takes on events. It still feels like the Transformers though, make no mistake, but it’s a little lighter on the cheese than you’d expect from the first Transformers outing. There are also a few gaps in the story line that feel like there should be something there, be it a transition, cutscene or even the trademark symbol flip that shows up in the game a number of times, but it picks up pretty quickly and doesn’t give you much time to dwell on it.

Megatron and Soundwave
Megatron and Soundwave
We start off with Megatron having taken over an unnamed city on Earth by using the Insecticons to Cyberform it into Cybertron. Optimus and a team of four other Autobots arrive to investigate what Megatron is up to and find the city infested, not only with Insecticons, but a full force of Decepticons ready to stop the Autobots so Megatron can continue with his plan. It’s pretty standard fare for the original Generation One cartoon series. What they’ve done, though, is bring in characters and events from the comics and previous games to expand on the mythology a bit and make it more interesting as far as the backstory and character interactions go. There is a bit of repetition in some of the more famous lines from the film, just like every game in the series, that makes it seem like bad fan-fiction, but the more solid aspects help it rise above that.

I will start off by saying the visuals for the game are very stylized. This isn’t the hyper realistic attempts we got for the film adaptations or the gritty metal look we got with Fall of Cybertron, this is very much the cel-shaded look of the original cartoon series, or more specifically, the detailed film look from the film. The look works for the game overall. There is a lot of repetition in the areas, though, as you’re set firmly in one city that’s being destroyed, though when you leave the city for the outskirts and head into an older Cybertronian ship you get some nice variation that breaks things up quite a bit. The attacks and effects look great and fit with what we’ve seen from the show ,and even when the game lets you go slow-mo to dodge an attack it doesn’t feel out of place. They’ve done an amazing job crafting this as a love letter to fans of the original show while making sure it pops enough for players who may not have grown up with the original series.

Prime versus Devastator
Prime versus Devastator
The audio in this is outstanding. It helps quite a bit that they got so many voice actors from the original show to come back. Frank Welker has found his groove for Megatron again after sounding a bit rough for a few years. Peter Cullen’s Prime has always given me chills. Dan Gilvezan has always been Bumblebee for me. Michael Bell and Greg Burger are also back for Sideswipe and Grimlock, which really helps as well. Scott Whyte’s Starscream is probably the closest we’ve gotten to Chris Latta’s original portrayal in a long time. Couple that with an interesting 80s throwback musical score by Vince DiCola, who wrote all the music for the ’86 film, and it’s a fun ride for fans of the old show. I do miss the actual theme, as opposed to a variation of it, as well as the actual symbol flip music when they do it, but what they have works so very well for the game otherwise, so I’ll over look it.

The controls are pretty well laid out, for the most part, and easy to use on the PS4 controller. The default layout puts your attack, interaction and jump commands on the face buttons. Hitting L3 and R3 together when your bar is completely charged fires off your Ultimate Attack. Your weaponry is tagged to the directional buttons and you can reassign just about anything you want to these four. The L1 button triggers a unique ability for each Autobot. L2 pops you into Aim mode and Auto Aim is turned on by default. Trust me, you’ll appreciate that later. R2 fires off your ranged weapon and no you don’ have to aim to fire it but it helps a lot. R1 swaps your mode from vehicle or dinosaur to robot. It also fires off a finished combo attack that rams your target with whatever your alt mode happens to be. The other big problem is that they tied the slow motion dodge to the R1 button so if you fire it off early or late you end up in your alt mode sitting there looking like an idiot while they pummel you. That’s really the on big drawback. It’s like when they decided that one button would be good for just about everything in Mass Effect 3 only it wasn’t.

Sideswipe melee in action
Sideswipe melee in action
Now, this is very much a hack and slash action game. That being said, the game is designed almost entirely around combination attacks to nail your enemies to the wall with. Most of the move list is made up of combo attacks and you’re at your best when you can fire these off. Your ranged weapons are pretty potent but have a very limited amount of Energon to power them. You can get pick ups to re-power them and other drops to boost your energy levels to them as well as for healing, but aiming takes way too long and by the time you’ve done that you could have beaten most enemies into the ground with your melee combos. Unless they’re flying. But even then most flying enemies like to sit just high enough you can jump up to them and pummel them with melee attacks anyway, so there is that.

This very much feels and plays like Bayonetta or the original Devil May Cry, so if you’re familiar with those, this will be easy to pick up. You aren’t stuck with your starting weapons and as you open chests and defeat enemies throughout the area you’ll pick up more and hopefully better weapons as you go. The nice thing about that is even if they aren’t necessarily better you can still use them to level up your existing weapons. Throughout the areas there’s a way to get back to base and pop in to Synthesize weapons. Basically pick the weapon you want to upgrade and feed another weapon you don’t care about to it. Simple. There are limits to how far you can upgrade a weapon depending on it’s grade. It’s all a letter based system. D would be your starting level, C would be better, B even better and so on. You can also create T.E.C.H. with a mini game by pumping your collected cash into it and trying to time it just right so Wheeljack makes you something amazing to equip. These are always boosts of some kind, either upping your experience intake, or your damage output by a percentage or giving your defense a boost.

Weapon Synthesize screen
Weapon Synthesize screen
Each of the Autobots handles very differently. I’d say the Sideswipe is actually the most balanced of them all. Optimus is kind of a power house but feels a bit slower than Sideswipe. Bumblebee is really quick and nimble. Wheeljack has shields and other toys to play with. Grimlock is kind of the odd duck. He’s really slow and really powerful, but his dino mode takes a long while to get used to as the controls for that are backwards to the driving options of the other Autobots. He can also attack in either form and has unique dinosaur attacks as well, but I can tell you right now he takes a bit to get used to.

The levels are arranged around a city area with blockades forcing you up and over or under buildings and areas to get to where you’re going next. There are hidden chests scattered around as well as what are effectively Codex entries you can unlock to get you more history of the Transformers and the game world. There are little yellow bouncy energy beings you can collect called Kremzeek that unlock artwork and other behind the scenes goodies you can look at later. And if you’re up for it as you find more areas and grade better in fights you unlock any number of the fifty challenges outside of the main story line. They do break up the fights with a few racing sections where you have to race across the city against a Decepticon for a specific target, some minor platforming sections, and a few rail shooting sections where you have to keep the Decepticons off your flying transport. These are handled pretty well, just don’t fall off.

Autobots, Assemble!
Autobots, Assemble!
With a series of trophies that are hidden as well as a set of collectibles, upgrade-able gear, three starting difficulty settings and another two to unlock as well as fifty challenges that’ll have to be unlocked to play through and hidden side missions throughout nearly every stage of the game and hidden loot chests requiring different actions to make them visible. Sure you can blow through the game pretty quick, but if you’re enjoying yourself and want to go back to it there’s plenty here to go back for. Plus they grade you for each stage you’ve gone through, so trying to get the best score is always and option. There is a lot of reasons to play through this again and really to get your money out of it you’ll have to as the story mode is fairly short if you just blow through it.

Here’s where it gets a little dicey. If you’re looking to just play through once and forget about the game, that fifty dollar entrance fee to owning the game will probably raise eyebrows given that I went through this in about five hours and that was with me doing a few side missions and exploring. Other people I know have blown through this in a little over two hours just strictly playing through the story line. This is not a terribly long game if yo don’t do any of the side missions or extras they’ve put into this. If you’re looking to just play this for the story, look for a price drop or rent it. If you love Transformers and loved the original cartoon series however, this is worth picking up from the start. There are enough nostalgia buttons and it plays well enough to warrant that. From an action game or hack and slash standpoint you’ll probably not feel you’re getting enough out of it.

Optimus Axe attack
Optimus Axe attack
The game, while having an original story, still rehashes several plots from both the cartoon and video games as well as the comics. So that’s nothing we haven’t seen before, just not in quite this combination. Well what about gameplay? We’ve seen that before in games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. This has a really very familiar feel it’s just that the pieces haven’t been quite put together this way before making it feel a bit more exciting and new which is a good thing. Just don’t go in expecting them to have reinvented the transformation cog for this one.

I will say that the game is pretty much perfectly paced. It moves you from one area to the next with a few smaller battles before dropping a huge fight on you and moving you to the next section of the story. This makes it really easy to drop a good chunk of time in with it. We’re talking hours here. Like my wife was ticked at me and ready to throw things at me because I was too involved running Optimus and friends around a city to beat on Decepticons. It’s a lot of fun and easy to get lost in. Definitely easy to pick up and engage with.

That's a lot of bugs...
That’s a lot of bugs…
The big draw here is an another action game from Platinum but the big secondary one is that they’re tackling Transformers with their usual hack and slash game style and it works amazingly well with the license. Throw in a huge dose of nostalgia, an obvious love for the property from the developers, lots of Easter eggs, fun gameplay and a trip through your childhood or a chance to deliver on that for someone else, and you have this game. It has huge appeal and despite its short run time is a blast to play for even people who are only passingly interested in Transformers either from the Michael Bay live action films, the original series or the more recent Transformers: Prime.

While I didn’t have any game crashing bugs with this, I did have to fight the camera during boss fights with the big guys quite a bit. It swings around way too much in those fights and can make it a lot tougher on harder difficulty levels. The camera’s also terrible when you switch over to use your gun and it moves at a snails pace to try and aim with by default. The only time that’s useful is when the Seekers are in robot mode and hovering but in jet mode when you’re less likely to get hit while they strafe you it feels like it’s pulling through molasses. The easiest way to use the ranged weapons is to let it Auto grab the enemy and then not move the reticule and just fire, release and then auto aim on the next target. If you do decide to remote play this with your Vita don’t bother trying to play through challenges or the little side missions throughout the levels. They didn’t customize the control scheme at all and the default controls are a bear when you actually need to use your guns instead of your melee attacks. Other than that, no real issues to report. The game overcomes the camera by being a fun and fast-paced experience and I’ll love coming back to this one again.

Short Attention Span Summary
While Transformers: Devastation is probably the best Generation One game we’ve ever gotten, it’s not necessarily the best one for everyone. It is the most nostalgia driven and probably the easiest to get into with some smooth hack and slash controls and a fun but somewhat mindless and predictable plot. There’s lots to unlock and I have to say I got the biggest kick out of the sheer scale of Prime standing next to Devastator and only reaching just below one of his knees. The camera is a little wonky, but the quick action and combos make up for a lot of that as you move through the game. The voice cast and score are outstanding and there is a lot to love if you grew up watching the original cartoon. If you’re balking at the price given the length, fans of the show or just Transformers fans will get more replay out of this than if you’re just into action games.


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