Review: Transformers: Devastation

Transformers: Devastation is everything you’d want out of a Transformers game: sick guitar riffs, sicker explosions and the ability to play as a rad robot dinosaur. Licensed games are always a mixed bag, and Transformers games in particular have only ever been passable at best, but in Devastation, the action is fresh, the drama is hot and the robots are fly. It’s a game where an enemy bursts into the scene and yells “you’re mine, Auto-jerk!” at Optimus Prime, and if that doesn’t convince you that Devastation is worth your time, there’s not much else that will. Well, the pedigree of PlatinumGames might do the trick.

With games like BayonettaVanquish and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance under its belt, developer PlatinumGames has made quite the name for itself in the “balls-out action” genre, and playing Devastation, it’s easy to see why. Devastation borrows heavily from the formula PlatinumGames established with Bayonetta, a character-action brawler where organic combo chains lessened the need to memorize long “dial-a-combo” input strings to pop off specific moves and last-second dodges of enemy attacks yielded short periods of slowed-down action. Not much has changed in PlatinumGames’s formula in the six years since Bayonetta first came out, but the developer managed to build in some unique mechanics around the Transformers license that feel as natural as if they had been there from the start. Since Transformers can switch between humanlike and vehicle forms at will, many combos will end with a flash of blue to signal that you can unleash a vehicle attack for high damage if you tap the transform button in time. It’s a satisfying goal to shoot for during a combo and keeps the combat from feeling like a slapdash Bayonetta reskin.

Beyond that move, though, there’s not much else to separate the two games. Devastation puts more of an emphasis on guns and ranged combat than Bayonetta did, but that’s mostly to its detriment. Shooting an enemy at range with a dinky blaster pistol or even a machine gun is a lot less fulfilling than turning into a truck or a racecar or a robot dinosaur and slamming into that same enemy. There’s less skill and fewer hair-trigger reflexes required in pulling a trigger, so the lineup of flamethrowers, grenade launchers and sniper rifles only ever felt useful to us if enemies were too far away or if we were too low on health to engage up close. Devastation retains the heavy focus on dodging at the right time to trigger a quick moment of invulnerability where the action slows to a crawl but your character keeps fighting at the same speed. It’s a crucial mechanic to master as early as you can because once the game decides to drop the training wheels, it significantly ramps up the challenge and you’re going to need to be able to count on your dodging abilities to get the edge in a fight. Even six years later, it’s a mechanic that still looks and feels great, but with the added bonus that you don’t have to watch Bayonetta stroke herself if you dodge too many times in a row. Instead, this is a game about cool robots doing cool robot stuff, and hey, that’s pretty cool.

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To its credit, Devastation tries to add more complexity with its cast of five playable characters to choose from, each of which has stats to upgrade separately, as well as some light weapon and skill crafting. Characters will level up normally while fighting, but in-game currency can also be spent to boost stats like health and attack power faster. Don’t go spending all those Transformers bucks in one place, though, because they’re also needed to forge better weapons, a process that amounts to “feed crappy weapons you don’t like to weapons you do like to make them more powerful,” but ultimately doesn’t add much to the game. It takes up too much time and effort to go through the process for not enough gain and a more straightforward system like skill trees per weapon or even a dead-simple “weapons level up as you use them” would’ve been appreciated. Skill crafting fares a little better since it’s just a quick minigame of chance that can net you a useful upgrade for your favorite characters, but it feels similarly unnecessary all the same.

Devastation‘s premise is threadbare even by Transformers standards, but it gets you into the action immediately and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. To be clear, Devastation is not an origin story and it expects you to be up on your Transformers lore: there’s no preamble here to introduce the robots and explain why they’re so often in disguise. Don’t expect to get a recap of why the Transformers are on Earth in the first place, the philosophical differences between the Autobots and Decepticons, or the deep political machinations of the Predacons that led to the civil wars on Cybertron and the power struggles therein. However, if you absolutely need to get your lore fix and you’re willing to hunt down some audiologs (yes, apparently even Transformers games need audiologs these days), then you’ll be treated to answers to such burning questions as “what are Energon Cubes?” and “how does Cyberforming work?” It’s all very riveting stuff, of course.

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Devastation 
isn’t a long game, but it doesn’t wear off its welcome, either; it’s one of the few games that gets more varied as it goes rather than burning through its best material in the beginning and sputtering across the finish line. In classic PlatinumGames fashion, the stakes get astronomically high by the end of the game in a way that leaves you grinning helplessly. It feels like watching a full season of the old Transformers cartoon, with all the ever-escalating action and emotional highs that go along with it.

Impressively enough, as well as feeling like the old cartoons, Devastation looks the part, too. While the environments are muddy and bare, the actual Transformers themselves look fantastic: bright, crisp and vibrant. They’re shinier than their old cartoon counterparts in a way that feels modern and true to the spirit all at once. Likewise, the righteous guitar solos and pounding drums that make up the soundtrack do wonders to set the mood, as does the excellent, nostalgic voice work from the members of the original cartoon’s cast.

Closing Comments:

In a lot of ways, Transformers: Devastation feels like Bayonetta in disguise. It has the same linear arena combat format that alternates between narrow hallways (in this case, roads) and open environments that signal a fight from miles away, even borrowing a few similar action set piece ideas later in the game. That’s not a bad thing; Bayonetta‘s gameplay was solid, but its world and tone proved polarizing and its story was nigh-incomprehensible. Devastation takes some of the best pieces of Bayonetta and throws them in a package you can feel unadulteratedly good about while also producing the best Transformers game yet.