Honestly, I am not that much of a Transformers fan. Growing up, I didn’t watch the cartoon and I didn’t have any of the action figures. I saw the first animated movie when I was very young, and I cried when Optimus Prime died fighting Megatron. While I’ve never been a huge fan of this franchise, it took a four year old beat-em-up game to make me realize that Transformers is truly a fun franchise with awesome visuals, great acting and some serious heart where is counts; and despite it’s flaws, Transformers Devastation follows suit, offering up a game that while simple, knows how to deliver with a great Saturday morning cartoon-style plot that doesn’t feel dumbed down.
Transformers Devastation had the simple yet admirable goal of giving gamers the ability to play in the world of the 80’s Transformers animated series. Every character, from Bumblebee to Soundwave looks like the stepped straight out of the small screen and onto our modern plasma screens. The modern day, New York City setting works well enough. While the game never mentions the fact that the Autobots are tooling around NYC, (not one shot of the Statue of Liberty), every review or retrospective piece on this game goes out of its way to mention that this game takes place in New York. Again, I don’t know why because it has no bearing on the story whatsoever.
The large and interconnected maps, while generic cityscapes, are vibrant and nice to look at, but they’re also empty placeholders for explosive robot fighting. This isn’t a complaint, probably because of the aforementioned robot fighting, but once you notice you’re constantly going in circles the game loses some of its luster.
Let’s not forget that this is a beat-em-up game developed by Platinum Games, a developer that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine for it’s focus on action, design and (most importantly) fun. This game doesn’t forget that it’s a Transformers game, and the best part of the combat is how seamlessly you can switch between hand-to-hand combat to gunplay to turning into a car and running over a Decepticon in just a few hits. Seriously, I haven’t played another game with a combat system like this. There are special moves that you can unlock in the Transformers ship, The Ark, thanks to the Transformers loyal tinkerer, Wheeljack. They’re simple moves like throws, counters and parrying, but I rarely felt the need to use them and I didn’t even realize they were a feature I could purchase due to the plentiful in-game currency.
Speaking of turning into a car and driving over your opponents, while there are several driving sequences found in this game, the frame-rate does not suffer at all in this game. No matter how fast your favorite Autobot is headed, not matter how many explosion they drive through, the gameplay doesn’t suffer in the slightest from it. That being said, you’re usually driving down some tight and/or cluttered roadways and you’ll get hung up on an invisible wall or two at some point while playing. There are also several platforming segments that feel like they were put in the game as a way of padding the length, but that’s not to say they were bad, just bland feeling. Ultimately though, these few hiccups take nothing away from the overall fun of the driving and combat. There is also a challenge mode that seems to be something of a horde-mode style element, but honestly, I never felt compelled to try it out, so I can’t and won’t comment on it here.
This game boasts a score by Vince DiCola, composer of the 1986 Transformers animated movie, Rocky IV and Platinum Games own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan. The score is a wonderful blend of synth and rock and roll that feels at home both in the 80’s animated series as well as a game released in 2015. Every boss fight has its own unique song with the best probably being the first fight with Soundwave.
Unfortunately, while the music never feels repetitive or out of place, the music never seems to be loud enough to really appreciate it. This may be because of the crazy action that is almost always on screen, but there’s a lot of great music here that, while being totally unique to this game, sounds familiar enough to be considered 80’s Transformers music.
The story from the outside looking in is kind of bland and by the numbers. Megatron recovers an artifact of immense power and hatches a plan to start “Cyberforming” our planet to create a new Cybertron. At the same time, the Autobots race to stop Megatron, but remain one step behind the Decepticons for the entirety of the game…until the final epic clash between Optimus Prime and Megatron. However, this story is told with such earnestness, character and style that you can’t help but be taken away with it. When you hear Optimus say that he stands for people that can’t stand for themselves, you believe it.
You’re there when the Autobots travel from Earth to Cybertron and back again. This isn’t Shakespeare, it’s Transformers, and while Platinum Games didn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel here, they knew how to write a Transformers story that would appeal to fans both young and old. The fact that they also got most of the voice cast from the 80’s cartoon to reprise their roles (Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Dan Gilvezan, Michael Bell and Greg Berger) from the show is not a step they had to take, but it helps the story feel more authentic when it comes to being a Transformers story.
One Major Flaw
A lot of people may roll their eyes at the “short” four to five hour experience found in Transformers Devastation, but to that I say this game is about twenty bucks now and it’s kind of your fault if you feel ripped off. But the real problem with this game makes itself known just after the midpoint of this game. When chapter five (of seven) begins, it feels as if a new development team took over.
While the gameplay is largely the same, the chapters are much shorter and put more emphasis on the boss fights than the exploration, driving and punching the previous three hours of this game reveled in. There is a sudden spike in dificulty thanks to the alarming and almost overwhelming number of enemies that suddenly appear onscreen now, and the developers waited until the final boss fight of the game to introduce quick-time events often resulting in Megatron inflicting huge damage to the player character.
Not even the story is safe from this sudden shift as the cutscenes now appear darker, that symbol flip thing from the cartoon is everywhere now…
…and the story hastily sets up a sequel involving Nova Prime, a massive character from the Transformer mythos that is kind of a big deal, and none of it leads anywhere. We never got a sequel to this game, which is fine, and I won’t say that the inclusion of Nova Prime comes out of nowhere as the classic whose really behind this-card was played early in this game. But it seemed to set up a boss fight, not a sequel. But this game seems to have hit a tonal brick wall that it doesn’t really recover from. I’m no developer, but this to me reads as someone got greedy and imagined a franchise spinning out of this game and forced a change to the ending of this game. I hope I’m wrong, but failed sequel set-ups happen all the time nowadays.
Platinum Games should be proud of Transformers Devastation. They seemingly wanted to deliver a nostalgia-fueled throwback to the classic 80’s Transformers cartoon that most of us remember fondly, and they nailed it. While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan was a fun update to the TMNT, Transformers Devastation sank it’s teeth into the 80’s and didn’t let go, while delivering a fun, fast and frenetic beat-em-up that can be enjoyed by gamers of any age. It’s sad we never got a sequel, but what’s ever sadder is that Platinum Games didn’t keep going with this. Imagine if we got a beat-em-up/shooter featuring The Real Ghostbusters or another beat-em-up featuring He-Man’s battle with Skeletor or the potential for a G.I.JOE shooter…
I could armchair-quarterback all day, but the point is, is that Platinum Games nailed that balance between nostalgia and gameplay. They didn’t rely on the 80’s but they didn’t shy away from it either and they also delivered a fun fighter, driving and shooting game that makes you feel like you a kid again watching your favorite robot in disguise.
This game could have use a lock-on system though.
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