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Review: Transformers: Devastation

(Image by PlatinumGames)

(Image by Activision)

Transformers: Devastation is exactly what a Transformers game should be.

Developer: PlatinumGames

Publisher: Activision

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One [reviewed], PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Release Date: Oct. 6, 2015

Current MSRP: $49.99

As someone with a casual interest in “Transformers” and knowledge of the series, I don’t have nostalgia blinders on when it comes to the original show. I grew up with the “Beast Wars” and was super into the toys though, so I get why the original Transformers is still so loved over 30 years later.

Devastation is based on the 1980s cartoon, the classic “Generation 1” version. PlatinumGames, the Japanese developer, takes its Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (2013) formula to the Transformers. Transformers and PlatinumGames is the perfect pairing. The studio created a game that an old school fan may not have thought possible anymore after years of disappointing movies and new animated shows.

Devastation features five playable Autobot characters-Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Grimlock and Wheeljack. It starts with three of them playable then increases to five characters as the story progresses. You don’t get to play as any of the Decepticons.

The game’s storyline is that Autobots are trying to save the Earthlings from Megatron’s diabolical plan of Cyberforming the planet, turning it into a new Cybertron.

Save Earth

Devastation is all about massive brawling and smashing up giant robots.

The game’s combat is based on melee attacks and long-range weapon damage with guns, blasters and grenade launchers. Each chapter of the story mode is broken up into several missions, with fights against a group of common Decepticon, Constructicon and Insecticon soldiers along with several bosses. Many battles take place in large, open areas with plenty of room to maneuver in.

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

There are many different ways to take down the Decepticons. (Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

By quickly dodging attacks at the right moment, focus gets activated. Like in the Bayonetta series, activating Focus slows down time for a few seconds, allowing for more hits to land and combos to be extended. If enough hits land successfully in a row a vehicle attack can be performed that deals even more damage.

There’s a variety of ranged weapons, including guns that can also used in vehicle mode while driving around. Every Autobot has four weapon slots. Weapons can be equipped by any character but some are exclusive to certain ones. Guns can be an integral part of combat that accompany the game’s melee attack system nicely.

The Autobots can change seamlessly between their forms in and out of combat. When the vehicle reaches top speed, more combo moves can be used and certain enemy shields can be broken through. Changing forms adds another layer to combat, leading to more complicated attack combinations.

Each Autobot has their own special ultimate attack that can be activated after the gauge fills up, which climbs by performing attacks and combos. This takes time to increase but can be a life-saver during boss battles, doing a high amount of damage.

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

Successful combos lead to stronger and cooler attacks, like this move by Optimus Prime. (Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

All the characters have a different fight style to them. Some move around faster while others have stronger attacks. Grimlock, the game’s resident Dinobot, can chomp on enemies and spit flames. Characters can be swapped out during different checkpoints on a chapter, so you can play the full story mode with all the Autobots.

At the end of each mission a letter ranking is given based on time, damage taken and moves used in combat. Enemies can drop loot like money and instant recovery items. Inventory items that give temporary or permanent stat increases can also be earned. Some of the tougher robots can even leave behind weapons.

There are three initial difficulty levels-Scout, Warrior and Commander. Enemy placements during missions and items are varied for each difficulty. Each chapter also has brief, hidden side missions with objectives like defeating all enemies or destroying targets before time runs out. These aren’t anything special but can give extra loot.

Time Warp

Devastation looks absolutely amazing and feels like it could be a real Transformers cartoon. The cel-shaded characters and cut-scenes are gorgeous. The game features some of the cartoon’s original voice actors like Peter Cullen for Optimus Prime, Frank Welker as Megatron, Dan Gilvezan as Bumblebee and Michael Bell as Sideswipe. There isn’t any Michael Bay influence found here. The story is serviceable and plays out like a typical episode of the show. All these elements combine for a layer of incredible authenticity.

There’s plenty of great battle animations too. The combination of all the melee, shooting and driving abilities creates some awesome attacks. Players at any skill level can pull off some cool-looking combos.

A great soundtrack accompanies the game, picking up the energy and guitar solos when battles get going, especially during boss fights. The metal-style instrumental tracks fit the game perfectly, adding to the feel of the series. The music adds so much to Devastation, not only because of its gameplay style but also for the classic Transformers presentation.

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

The cut-scenes in the game with characters like Soundwave make it feel like you’re watching the show. (Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

While the Transformers themselves look incredible, most of the game’s levels and environments are bland. About half of the game takes place inside an abandoned city. There’s not a lot detail put into the stages. Levels follow a linear path with repeated assets. The high-rise buildings and empty streets are mostly generic and you can’t do any damage to them. There are destructible trees and cars but not much else. You might get lost during a mission since all the streets look the same but there’s an in-game map to point out objectives.

With Devastation launching at a lower price of $50 on all platforms, most of the game’s presumably limited budget probably went into other aspects besides the stages. The Transformers are all so excellently created and presented that it doesn’t distract from the game though.

Devastation is all non-stop, continuous action. The game is a fury of enemies and fast-paced boss battles one after the other. There’s numerous boss fights against characters like Devastator, Megatron, Soundwave and various Insecticons. They’re all awesome and about what you’d expect from PlatinumGames.

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

There’s plenty of great boss battles in the story mode, like this one against Devastator. (Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

There’s also a few driving missions chasing down Decepticons around the city. These are a good addition to the game but never last long enough to be anything meaningful.

Devastation has a deep combat system that takes skill and time to master. Quick reflexes are needed handle all the different attacks coming at the Autobots. There’s constantly action on the screen filled with jets flying around, flashes of explosions and Decepticons trying to kill you.

The Arsenal

Each Autobot can level up and increase their stats like health, melee attack power, defense and other skill sets. The other Autobots gain experience even if you don’t use them. You can also spend credits on each stat to rank them up while in the ARK, the Autobot spaceship and game’s hub menu.

Loot can be gained from finding chests, defeating enemies or destroying objects in the environment. Weapons can only be added to the inventory and equipped after going to the ARK, which can be accessed at different points during a chapter. Each weapon has a rank from common to rare.

Devastation features a weapon upgrade system called Synthesis that at first is a confusing and takes time to learn. Every weapon in the game has a letter ranking and level depending on how good it is. The stats of a weapon can be improved by combining two together and eventually leveling the base weapon up. Just combining weapons won’t increase the base one’s stats. It has to actually reach the next level, which might take a few combinations. Synthesizing a weapon won’t increase its rank and eventually it can’t boost its stats anymore after hitting its max level.

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

Synthesizing weapons upgrades their power and skills. (Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

It costs credits to synthesize each weapon. Skills get transferred to the new weapon and gain its attributes after a combination. Depending on the weapon it has a max level it can reach. Most of the weapons gained on normal difficulty will be in the D or C rank and have a low max level. A weapon can go all the way up to an SS ranking while on the higher difficulties.

There are melee weapons like swords, arms, hammers and character-specific ones. Both melee and ranged weapons can have elemental attributes like lighting, thermal and freeze that can also be transferred over. Throughout the game there will be many weapons gained from loot. Many of them are junk that will just be used to upgrade the stronger weapons or sold off.

On normal difficulty upgrading weapons appears to impact gameplay but not by much. It feels the enemies also adjust themselves with your increases. The synthesis system does add a deep underlying element to Devastation that can lead to many combinations and play styles.

Spending credits to develop T.E.C.H. gives special abilities that can be equipped. Depending on the accuracy of where you land during a timing mini-game, the quality of the T.E.C.H. ranges from excellent to poor. What gets made is completely random and yields different strengths of percentage rates and levels for each item. There’s a big range of abilities like longer focus time, decreased damage taken or higher rate of rare weapon drops.

New skills, attacks and weapons can be bought from the Lab. There’s also downloadable content featuring new character skins and weapons for some of the Autobots that were pre-order bonuses.

The menu (Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

The ARK is where the Autobots can be improved and new weapons created. (Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

Going to the ARK is a nice break from the relentless fights and action-paced missions. It cools down the game’s pace and gives players a chance to recuperate.

Keep Fighting

Devastation can be a challenging game. Even while playing on Warrior difficulty there were several missions I had to continually repeat to get past.

There are a couple of minor annoying aspects about Devastation. There’s no lock-on for the camera during combat, which can be a pain against flying enemies. When driving in vehicle form, the camera tends to get crazy by spinning around and it’s hard to keep track of enemies. There are a few weird top-down, “bird’s-eye” view sections of some missions that feel out of place from most of the game’s structure. The game oddly forces the use of an auto-revive item if it’s in your inventory, which are hard to come by and better used on the hardest bosses, not random enemies.

Devastation isn’t a short game. It took me close to eight hours to finish the story mode on the normal difficulty. There’s seven chapters in the story, with chapter one being on the long side. They get shorter as the game goes on but are still packed with great battles.

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

You can switch out  for different Autobots like Sideswipe and Optimus Prime. (Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

The game has a lot of replayability. Devastation is meant to be replayed to upgrade the Autobots and all the different weapons. It’s designed to go back on harder difficulties or run through the full campaign with each character to unlock Achievements. There’s plenty of collectibles to find like story logs and unlockable artwork, which has a gallery of all the characters and designs from the recent Transformers series.

Weapons, levels and items carry over to a new game and the Challenge Mode. There isn’t necessarily a New Game Plus but everything just blends together across the different modes. The higher the difficulty, the better the weapons and loot. There’s also two higher difficulty levels unlocked by beating the game on hard mode.

Harder difficulties is where weapon synthesizing and battle combos start to matter much more. Better ranking weapons can be found and developed in the ARK on harder settings, which makes the system more important.

The Challenge Mode can get ridiculously hard. It throws many enemy and boss combinations at the player in high impact levels. There are 50 missions that can give many more hours of gameplay time. New weapons can also be unlocked by finishing Challenge Mode missions.

Megatron (Image by Tim Bowman/ Quarter Disorder)

Megatron is still trying to outsmart Optimus Prime. (Image by Tim Bowman/ Quarter Disorder)

Devastation has an addictive element of finding better weapons, upgrading them and leveling up the Autobots, which could keep players with the game for a long time. There are many play styles with the variety of weapon types, skills, attributes and Autobots. Not everyone is going to replay the game but there’s enough awesome moments in Devastation to satisfy a single playthrough.

The game releasing at a lower price isn’t reflective of its quality. With the reputation of licensed titles and the pairing of Activision and PlatinumGames, Devastation is so much better than it should be.

Final Thoughts:

Devastation is an excellent action game, paying homage to the classic Transformers series with an authentic presentation. It goes beyond nostalgia and fan service to create a memorable gameplay experience. Fans of both Transformers and PlatinumGames will be happy with one of the surprises of the year.

 

Positives:

  • Amazing art style
  • Deep combat system
  • Original voice actors return
  • Fantastic music
  • Boss fights
  • Great fan service that feels like the show
  • High replayability
  • Acquiring and developing new weapons

Negatives:

  • Generic level design
  • Weapon upgrade system can be confusing at first
  • Camera while in vehicle form
  • Loot on lower difficulties is weak

 

A retail copy of Transformers: Devastation was purchased new on Xbox One for $39.99 for this review. The game was completed on Warrior difficulty in 7 hours and 42 minutes. As of this publication, 6/30 Achievements were obtained for 120 Gamerscore.

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