Platforms: Xbox One, PS4 (version played), PC, 360, PS3
Hit, hit, hit, vehicle attack combo, hit, hit, dodge, sweet slowdown. That’s the core rhythm that beats at the heart of Transformers: Devastation and, yes, you’d be absolutely right that it’s practically lifted wholesale (minus the vehicle attack bit) from Platinum’s other high octane action game, Bayonetta.
The crucial thing here is, that isn’t a point of criticism. Yes, Transformers: Devastation is essentially the same game as Bayonetta, albeit replacing witches, angels and fancy hair-does with toy cars and plastic robots, but it works. Why mess with the mechanics themselves? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and this is the axiom that Platinum go by with this particular game.
All that being said, Transformers: Devastation isn’t the kind of game to rest on its laurels. There’s oodles of depth to be played around with here, and it’s clear the developers got a kick out of moulding the Transformers franchise to their own brand of action game.
Combat retains a simple core, and then carefully builds upon it. Attacks are carried out with two buttons, one delivering light attacks, the other heavy. However, certain combos will end with a mighty satisfying vehicle attack, with Optimus Prime walloping enemy robots by switching into a truck mid combat, only to be back into his robot form a second later.
I’d go as far to say that that this is what makes Transformers: Devastation so darn enjoyable. Sure, it’s tactically and mechanically deep (more on that in a moment), but it’s also instantly satisfying on a player-feedback level: you don’t have to be particularly good at the game in order to appreciate what makes it so good. Combos blend into each other seamlessly, and that slow-motion dodge mechanic feeds into that perfect level of risk versus rewards behaviour.
So, for the seven chapters that comprise the game’s campaign, you’ll be left to fiddle with these basic mechanics to your hearts content. Whilst not especially long (the entire thing could feasibly be completed in one sitting) Transformers: Devastation instead packs oodles of depth, not just into its combat, but into its level design. The opening level for instance, is surprisingly spacious, as you traverse the city running to and from objectives. It’s by no means so big that you’ll get lost, but it’s bigger than the typical corridor gauntlet you’d get in, say, Bayonetta or Devil May Cry.
And it’s chock full of little collectibles to earn and bonus missions to complete. Transformers: Devastation thankfully avoids the by-the-numbers padding that plagues many a title, especially ones on a tighter budget, and instead opts for a basic solution with its bonus stages; simply having you complete various challenges (kill x number of enemies, collect x number of boxes) within a certain time limit.
In fact, the game goes one further by grading each fight, including those in the main campaign. Success isn’t finishing Transformers: Devastation, its finishing each mini chuck of gameplay with that coveted SSS ranking.
Platinum also leverage the source material in terms of the characters you play. Perhaps this’ll mean more to fans of the show (I was more of a Beast Machines fan as a kid) but there’s a roster of five different characters to play as. Rather than simply act as a cosmetic change, each character; be it Optimus, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack or Grimlock, all come with a unique ability and a slightly altered basic move set. Take Wheeljack, who boasts better ranged combat than the other Autobots, and also boasts a unique shield to better help him in long range firefights, or Grimlock, who transforms into a hulking great T-Rex rather than a vehicle.
Likewise, the game’s equipment system allows for greater customizability for each Autobot. Optimus and Grimlock, for example, are the only characters capable of wielding heavy weapons. It makes for a more RPGish aspect to the core gameplay than is typically seen in most Japanese action games. Part of me isn’t particularly a fan of this aspect. Many games now seem fit to shoehorn in MMO-RPG elements, bogging down their sleek design, with too much number-crunching, percentage fiddling nonsense that’s almost never needed and usually slowing games down with irritating grinding for level-ups or item drops.
That being said, Transformers: Devastation manages to sidestep these issues for the most part. There’s tweaking and fiddling to be done if you want, but it rarely gets in the way of the core high octane gameplay.
In fact, everything in Transformers: Devastation just…clicks. It all hums along at a great pace, with oodles of experimentation on off and a bevy of weapons to try out. Fists are fast and help rack up huge combos, especially when doled out to Bumblebee, but don’t have particularly high damage. At the opposite end are hammers, great clunking monstrosities that’ll shred through enemies in seconds but, naturally, plague you with slow movement.
There’s a few weaker moments in there to be sure. Whilst the game nails the vehicle transformation aspect in terms of combat, there’s a few chase sequences that are very ropey indeed. The game doesn’t seem to take into account that you’re typically much faster than your adversary, resulting in “chases” where you have to slow down or stop, in order to find whoever it is you’re meant to kill, simply because you were that fast you went hurtling past them.
Despite doing their best on a limited budget, sometimes that smaller budget does catch up. Areas regularly repeat themselves, with some samey-looking environments, and, more crucially, enemies are recycled frequently during the games second half, lacking the same unbounded creativity you see in Platinum’s other titles.
Moreover, despite my attempts to stress just how deep Transformers: Devastation is, they’ll no doubt be some people put off by the games short length. It’s an unusual game in that the people that’ll get the most out of it aren’t the casual fans of the TV shows and kids, but those that really enjoy complex action games, and breaking down the mechanics and system that are hidden within.
It also poses an interesting crux with Transformers: Devastation; it’s an incredibly smart game wrapped up in a bizarrely kid-friendly packaging. Everything, in theory, was working against this title, simply because it would have been such an easy game the phone in.
If there’s something that really gets me excited about this game, it’s the possibility of similar titles with other licenses. Can you imagine Platinum getting their hands on Dragonball Z? Now that’s the kind of game I’d be really excited for.
That being said, Transformers: Devastation is simply one of the best games of 2015. It’s smart, fun to play, and pays perfect homage to the series it’s based on. It’s fascinating in that, for a game that appeals to kids, and lazy geek nostalgia, that could just have easily be phoned in, it ends up being one of the most thought out, carefully crafted games of the year.