Let me take you back on a personal history of my particular brand of nerdery…
One of the first toys I can remember owning is a Transformers Generation 2 Hubcap which I sadly no longer own but, according to my mom, I took EVERYWHERE. I was a huge Transformers fan basically from then on, and remain so to this day – yeah, go ahead and laugh, but everyone needs a hobby right?
As a kid, however, one thing bothered me – where were all the Transformers video games? There was a terrible Commodore 64 game, a few awful Beast Wars games, and several terrible Transformers games that we never got in the States, none of which could really sate my needs. I contented myself for a while with the the stream of decent Transformers games we would receive, starting with the surprisingly good PS2 Transformers: Armada title, up through War for Cybertron/Fall of Cybertron and the middling-to-not-bad games based on the Michael Bay movie franchise. They were all decent enough, and I was pretty sure they were the best I was going to get…until Transformers: Devastation.
One of the more surprising announcements in an E3 full of what-the-hell moments, Transformers: Devastation was announced as a cel-shaded brawler, aping the art style, characters, and voice actors of the original Generation 1 cartoon that so many of us grew up on (even if I myself had to grow up on it through VHS rentals and Sci-Fi Channel reruns before school). Better yet…it was being developed by Platinum. You know, the Bayonetta and Vanquish guys. This game became an instant contender for “Tim’s Secret Favorite Game of 2015 Even If He Tells Everyone It’s Actually Metal Gear” before I’d ever had the chance to play it.
Upon playing, its position was secured.
Devastation places you in the shoes of a handful of Autobots (sorry, Decepticreeps, this game is a no-fly-zone if you get my meaning) who set off on a mission to hack, slash, drive, and shoot their way through Megatron’s newest master plan – a surprisingly complicated one, all things considered. Anyone familiar with recent action games, Platinum or otherwise, kind of knows what to expect here – there’s light attacks, strong attacks, combos, a dodge that sends you into a slowed-down “focus mode” when done successfully, and unique special attacks for each one of the Autobots (whose numbers include the criminally underused Wheeljack, who was always my favorite in the cartoons).
But calling it “just another Platinum game” is doing it something of a disservice. Despite being an Activision-published, licensed title (and especially considering the lukewarm reaction their previous licensed game based upon The Legend of Korra received), Devastation is still just as fun and well-crafted as anything else the studio has made, even if it is slightly rougher around a few of the edges. The combat is a perfect balance of Bayonetta-esq precision and the sort of forgiveness that many more causal players might want just because they’re a Transformers fan and not exactly someone willing to learn a complicated fighting system, with a lot of grace periods for things like dodging and combo attacks. The ranged shooting is much better instituted than it is in many games of similar ilk, and you’ll actually find yourself willingly switching up between them as the situation demands.
Alright, so it’s a decent brawler – but is it a Transformers game? By the name of Primus, yes. It touches all the little fan-service buttons you’d expect: fan-favorite characters, returning old-school voice actors, a lot of little nods to various different Transformers stories and continuities, and even some more subtle callbacks here and there. But even more so than that, it actually feels like it’s a Transformers game, as opposed to just having the license applied to it.
Turning into a car (or truck, or dinosaur, as the case may be) is actually a big part of game play as opposed to just being “something you have to do sometimes” like in the older games. Yes, there are missions where you need to stay in vehicle mode and navigate a highway littered with hazards to pursue Thundercracker or something, but the vehicle modes actually factor into combat, which is a lot of fun. At various points during your combos, you can actually enter vehicle mode to do a special attack (which varies from Autobot to Autobot) to chain combos together, and certain attacks can only be performed while in vehicle mode – and the game will actually give you reason to do them.
So the combat is great, the graphics are gorgeous, and it totally feels like Transformers. The only thing I have that resembles an issue with this game is the weird pacing and occasionally repetitive nature. The fights you have with nameless Decepticon drone soldiers (which are still obviously based upon real Decepticons, in a nice touch) get a little samey after a while, and although the game tries its damndest to always provide special strategies or conditions to each fight, you still feel like you’re fighting the same three jet and car guys after a while. There’s a TON of boss fights to break things up – which makes sense, as Transformers has always really been about battles between groups of unique, named characters as opposed to armies of Stormtroopers or anything. These boss battles, however, can occasionally feel kind of…unceasing, as you’ll find yourself basically running down a hallway having a few boss fights along the way. They’re basically always fun and unique, however, and between the boss battles and the novel levels that suddenly turn the game into a top-down puzzle game or a side-scrolling shooter, the lack of enemy variety eventually falls to the wayside.
I promise, I’m trying to be as objective as possible. As a piece of Generation 1 Transformers fan service, this game succeeds on all counts even if Bumblebee isn’t allowed to turn into a Volkswagen Beetle. Hearing basically everyone’s original voices – and the spot-on replacement voices for characters like Wheeljack and Starscream (whose actors had passed away) — in a beautifully cartoony art style doing battle, throwing around words like “energon” and “Insecticons” will remind you of the hundreds of playground robot battles you and your friends had as kids.
And even if you DON’T carry the same sort of memories or fondness for Transformers, you’ll still find a mechanically sound and gorgeous-looking beat em up that maybe isn’t as deep or technically competent as Bayonetta or DmC, but is still entertaining as hell, especially if you need something to take your mind off the glut of open-world adventures this year has given to us.
Or, if you’re one of those people who either hates Transformers, modern action games, or both…in the words of Ultra Magnus, I can’t deal with that now. Fallout 4 will be out soon, calm down. Me? I’m going to try to find some way to let 5-year-old me know that there will one day be a video game where I get to be Wheeljack, it’s just gonna be a while. And that game is gonna be so fun.