Video Game Review - Transformers: Devastation
Thank you Platinum Games.
You brought me back to my Xbox One after Batman Arkham Knight pushed me away. But also, thank you for pulling the Transformers video game franchise out of its downward spiral.
A brief history lesson: Activision’s Transformers games mostly fell in two camps, movie tie-in games ranging from meh to suck and games based on a “Unified” G1-inspired continuity which were generally accepted with positive feedback ranging from good to awesome. Their most recent game, Rise of the Dark Spark, sought to merge these two camps together…resulting in a game that…well, we’d rather not revisit that. At the end of our review for Rise of the Dark Spark, we were hoping that High Moon would return to give us a G1 game set on Earth that didn’t suck. They didn’t.
Platinum Games did.
In changing developers, the style of the game changed as well. Gone are the cover-based shooting mechanics of High Moon’s games, instead replaced with an emphasis on over-the-top melee action and insane combos that Platinum is so well known for. That’s not to say there’s no gunplay in Transformers Devastation [Good job finally getting around to mentioning the actual name of the game – Ed.], there are guns to shoot and shoot them you will, as often times a well-placed shot is likely to save your bacon…er…skidplate? [Good recovery – Ed.] If you’ve played Platinum’s Vanquish [which we here at the Cat loved and would highly recommend – Ed.], you’ve got an idea as to what you’re in store for here.
One improvement that must be highlighted on its own is the use of vehicle mode. In High Moon’s games, there weren’t a whole lot of instances where you had to transform…aside from fliers/seekers. Most of the time, land based Transformers would transform to either speed up getting from point A to point B or because your robot mode weapons had run out of ammo while you’re vehicle weapons were full up and there were still enemies to be destroyed. While you can still opt for the point A to point B shortening in Devastation, Platinum has also factored vehicle mode into your attack combos. It’s simple enough to pull off…just hit RB…but you have to do it at the right time. The game will cue you, both with audio and with a pop up, as to when to press the button, but the action gets pretty heated, and your timing has to be absolutely spot on. If successful, you transform and use your vehicle mode to put some additional hurt on before transforming back to robot mode to continue your combo. If you’re unsuccessful, then you’ll simply dodge, but you’re forced to try and start your combo all over again. Integrating this into gameplay, you can see now why Cybertronians opted for the whole changing forms thing…because you can kick some SERIOUS ass!
The game’s story has its roots in two places. On the surface, sure, it looks like a simple G1 story straight from the old 80s cartoons: Megatron’s out to cyberform a nameless city and the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (naturally) have to stop him. One of the sources reveals itself very early on…that being Hasbro’s current Combiner Wars theme for their Transformers: Generations toyline. And by that I mean, the first boss you fight? Devastator. As you progress further into the game, you find that there are story elements from IDW’s run of Transformers comics…as the reasons for this current conflagration can be traced all the way back to Nova Prime’s ill-fated voyage. With the addition of text logs scattered throughout the game’s levels, you can make the story as deep as you’d like, finding out more about Nova’s crew members and their thoughts on their leader’s mission.
The game itself is a little on the short side. It took me between 8 to 9 hours to finish the main story mode on the normal (or Warrior) difficulty setting…and one of those hours was devoted solely to trying to defeat Blitzwing (I had run out of repair kits and didn’t have enough money to buy more!). At the same time though, given how the game brutally tests you, I think that kind of time frame is just about right. Anything longer than that and you’ve got a LOT of overweight and/or out of shape nerds suffering coronaries! I’m not exaggerating…for the final boss fight, I literally had to pause the game, mutter “fuck you game”, go grab some alcohol to deaden my nerves, then resume play. This game is merciless from boss 1. I know I had the misconception of thinking ‘no, I’ll have some time to warm up before they throw something big at me’. Nope. As I said before, boss 1 is goddamn Devastator. Boss 2? Megatron. So yeah, it’s short, but trust me, your nerves and heart will thank you in the long run.
A couple of features do exist to help you pad out the time you spend on the game, those being Challenge Mode missions (which, I’ll be honest, I’ve only played one so far) and playing around in the Ark…and by this I mean making use of the Tech and Weapons sub-menus. You see, as you play through the game, bosses and scattered caches will cough up weapons more powerful than those you start with…as well as weapons that are less powerful. The point of the Weapons sub-menu is to take the various weapons you earn throughout the game and forge them into upgraded forms, resulting in more powerful weapons to face the ever-increasing difficulty of the game! The Tech sub-menu allows you to spend some cash to enter a slider-bar mini-game that has you essentially betting on whether or not Wheeljack is going to create something useful, something harmful or just something that’s going to blow up in his face. I must admit, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with this one simply because I was using most of my money to buy repair kits!
All reviews end up touching on the repetitive nature of the backgrounds in this game. The number of locations in the actual game is pretty small, you have the city, the city’s outskirts (across the bridge on an island) the interior of Nova Prime’s ship, the Proudstar, Cybertron and, briefly, in transit within the Space Bridge. As there are only 7 chapters to the game, sure, a small amount of locations can be expected. The only time I found this to be a bit of a pain is during the first chapter. So much of the city looks the same and once you start to accomplish your missions, the number of places you have to go starts to diminish…and thus limiting the effectiveness of the mini-map. Instead, I found myself having to pause and take a look at the big map the same way someone with severe short term memory damage has to look at a mall directory. After that first level though, I can’t say it was a problem. Also, I’d like to add that if you’re REALLY fixating on the repetitive nature of the backgrounds…well, you’re not going to last long in this game! Sure, I get that review sites get paid to nit-pick…and I’m certainly not above it myself…but this game throws enough at you in terms of combat that, again, if you’re admiring the wallpaper, you’re not long for this world…at all.
Since we’re on graphics, simply call up any footage from this game on YouTube and make your own judgement. If you care about my opinion (and since you’re reading this, my poor, fragile ego sure would like to think so), I found them to be amazing. Not perfect, certainly, as there are a couple of instances you can see where Platinum’s cheats regarding the cel-shading come back to bite them. Also, there are moments where the animation model doesn’t allow for certain movements…but the moves are made anyway…with Optimus’ chin disappearing into his chest for example. Sure, you can call it a nod to the similar animation mistakes made in the G1 cartoon…and yes, I do realize this is a minor nit to pick…but it bugged me. Over all, though, there is so much positive here to outshine any minor flaws.
The sound within the game is certainly worth discussion…as a few of the original voice actors reprise their roles. Yes, everyone will latch onto the return of Peter Cullen and Frank Welker as Optimus and Megatron respectively, but you also have Michael Bell as Sideswipe (and Scrapper for that matter!), Greg Berger as Grimlock, and Dan Gilvizan as Bumblebee. With a little electronic help, just like in G1, Welker also reprises his role as Soundwave. While Chris Latta, the voice behind both Starscream and Wheeljack, has long since passed, the stand in voices did a good job bringing their characters to life in a way that wasn’t jarring. Starscream had an off-note here and there, but Wheeljack was pretty much dead on. One not so obvious addition from G1 was also present in the music as Vince DiCola contributed to the soundtrack. As I said, it’s not obvious, but every once and a while, you’ll hear a guitar riff or a sequence of synthesizer notes that lets you know that, sure enough, he’s there! Another online review did point out that there is one thing missing that keeps this from being…well…I won’t say perfect, but let’s say a perfect homage to the G1 series…and that is an appearance from Stan Bush. Then again, he did contribute to High Moon’s games…and, let’s face it, since Transformers is the only thing he’s really remembered for, I can certainly see why he’d think he needs a break from it!
This game lives up to its name. It wants to devastate you…and it will, piece by piece. The graphics will devastate your eyes while hearing the original voices (for the main characters anyway) will do the same to your ears. And your nerves? Oh yeah, it’ll devastate those too. In the short span of time from when this game was announced in mid-June and when it was released in early October, the end product is amazing. Sure, not perfect, but filled with enough “DAAAAAAAAAAAMN” moments that outshine any negatives. Transformers: Devstation gives us such a solid foundation for future games to build upon…and given how the game ends, one can only hope a sequel is on the way. With more time devoted to the development of this potential sequel, the seemingly universal wish list of more playable characters (both Autobots and Decepticons), more environments, and a little bit of Stan Bush could easily be met. And, like with Devastation, I’ll be there on day 1.