Incredibly faithful to the original cartoon canon, Transformers: Devastation is both more and (a little) less than meets the eye.
I’m a huge Transformers fan, and I mean huge. When I was a kid back in the ’80s I was about more than a few entertainment properties, but when I especially loved something, I loved it to death. Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and (of course) Transformers were pretty far and away my favorites. I dug stuff like Marvel and DC and Star Wars too, no doubt, but I was mostly all about those four cartoons/toy lines.
Oddly enough, there haven’t been all that many great games based on any of the properties I just mentioned other than Star Wars, some comic book stuff, and (long ago)TMNT. Everything else has been decidedly meh… except -as of late- for Transformers.
The Transformers: Cybertron games that Activsion produced in conjunction with developer High Moon Studios were excellent. As of now though, there’ve only been a pair of them (I don’t count Rise of the Dark Spark), and I haven’t seen any hints that another might be on the way (though I hope so).
So when I saw at this past E3 that there was indeed going to be another Transformers game I was pretty excited. When I saw that it was set to be based on the Generation One cartoon continuity though, I had a little bit of a mixed reaction. Sure I loved that cartoon and those designs (and still love ’em in the version that plays out in the IDW comics), but I’ve become so accustomed to the Cybertron games that I really wasn’t all that interested in something that sort of went backwards.
Turns out, I was only half right.
Things start out in Transformers: Devastation in impressive fashion, with the introduction of some old friends, but in a brand new plot line. It seems the ‘The City’ (I guess that’s supposed to be New York?) is under attack, and it’s trouble of the Cybertronian kind. Cue the Autobots.
Appearing in the game, and all of whom are playable eventually, are Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack, and Grimlock. This team of five arrives on the scene to find Megatron and his Deceptions at work doing… something.
Within a short period of time it’s revealed (and this isn’t much of a spoiler) that the Decepticons have command of a massive Cybertronian machine, one capable of reconfiguring the Earth itself and turning it into another Cybertron.
The plot starts out light, which put me off at first, but starts to evolve rather quickly and gets very interesting – especially if you’re a long time fan of the ‘Formers. The story works in all kinds of Transformers periphery characters and even some odds and ends that the most die-hard fans have probably forgotten about (Kremzeek!). It also expands upon that original premise, adding in some pretty cool stuff as things get up to running speed.
As I mentioned, it does take a while to get there though, and I was this close to deciding this was a wasted effort before Devastation kicked things up a notch. So fair warning, when you start this one off, stick around, it does get better.
Helping things along and really keeping my interest through much of that early going were the graphics. There’s no denying that this game looks good, very good in fact. The cel-shading present in Devastation is top notch, and it just flat-out looks like an episode of the old show, and man is that a good thing.
While the first chunk of the environments are all kind of generic looking, all of the characters are stunningly faithful to their original looks. And that goes across the boards, with the playable Autobots and the Decepticons that they battle against all getting the same level of detail. Pretty much the only things I can find to complain about are that Prime lacks his trailer in his alternate mode, and Megatron turns into the now common ‘tank’ form instead of a pistol. All in all, not too shabby.
Also not in the realm of ‘shabby’ is the voice over work, which is phenomenal. Most of the original voice actors are back for the major characters, though some are not. Megatron still sounds like his old tyrannical self thanks to actor Frank Welker, and obviously Peter Cullen is as good as it gets as Optimus Prime. Starscream sounds a fair shade different than you might be used to however, and Wheeljack is a tad off as well. That’s not the fault of anyone though, as one voice actor (Chris Latta) played both characters in the original cartoon, and has since passed away. What’s here as replacement though, is just fine, with Scott Whyte and Christopher Swindle taking up the mantle of both characters respectively.
The gameplay, level architecture, and options of what you can do in the world that Platinum Games has re-created also pick up as you go along, though they also take a while to get going. The opening city level is a bit dull, and actually little confusing thanks to the fact that everything looks very similar. You’ll find yourself using the map a lot, lets just put it that way.
Thankfully though, that’s really just the first part of the game, as it opens up and starts to give you a lot more to do and story to experience. As you play, you’ll come across a plethora of weaponry for instance, and most everything can be equipped with any Autobot (though some things are limited to specific characters).
You’ll head back to the Ark (the Autobots crashed ship) often to assign new hardware as well, and change characters as they become unlocked. I also have to get in here that I would have liked it a lot more if I could have swapped Transformers when I wanted to, or changed weapons on the fly, instead of having to find a hotspot that would allow me to head back to the ship. That’s not a major issue really, but it aggravated me from time to time.
Thankfully, the gameplay is terrific. Platinum Games really made a name for themselves with the Bayonetta series, and the company’s all-out action style has translated nicely to the world of the Transformers.
Much like everything else in this game though, it wasn’t that way at first for me. For some reason, I wasn’t having all that great a time as I went from place to place, punching Decepticon fodder into oblivion. It all just seemed so generic and uninteresting. Then again, I’m not really a Bayonetta super-fan, so maybe that had something to do with it.
Also much like everything else too, that changed. As soon as I got the hang of transforming and swapping between my equipped weapons, I started to ‘get it’. At that point, the game went from something of a slog to a joy to play.
Melee weapons are the clear focus, as every ranged-weapon in the game runs out of ammo lighting fast. Yes, you’ll find more bullets relatively quick, but you’re extremely limited on stock and can’t hold a few hundred rounds of ammunition at a time here, as you could in the Cybertron titles. So basically, you can blast one or two members of Megatron’s army, and then you’ll have to switch to close quarters combat.
Thankfully that CQC is fun, with plenty of options in terms of the weapons that you can assign to your Autobots, and some fun combos that you can pull off. I still missed the gunplay though. Massive blasters have, after all, been a pretty central part of the franchise and it’s kind of weird that guns aren’t more of a presence here. I don’t know if it’s got something to do with the fact that the Cybertron series is very heavy on the firepower and Platinum Games wanted a different feel to their version of the characters, but Devastation is massively tilted in the other direction.
If you’re a fan of the original Generation One Transformers, then this is kind of one not to be missed. All others may want to try and check it out first though, as Transformers: Devastation is definitely a slow-starter.
The first setting is a bit of a drag as it’s the lead-in to the part where things get interesting, the story gets ramped up, and you finally get to see where everything is heading. Once you get into that though, it’s plenty fun, and the constant nods to the original canon are excellently enjoyable. And with one minor quibble being that the original theme isn’t front and center, the A/V package is second to none in terms of Transformers video games.
No, it’s not perfect, but the gameplay is spot-on, the graphics are terrific, and the voice acting is sublime; Transformers: Devastation is a treat for hardcore fans.