Developer: Platinum Games
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: October 6, 2015
After a few years using High Moon's tried-and-true shooter-focused Transformers games, Hasbro decided it was time for a new approach, and a more solidly "Generation One cartoon"-esque game. To do the job, they contracted Platinum Games to help, a game company that tends to focus on ultra-fast, difficult brawler games that rely on split-second timing and a flurry of punches and special attacks, and their answer to Hasbro-- Transfomers: Devastation-- is no exception.
The core gameplay for Transformers: Devastation revolves around button combos that have you quickly alternating between melee attacks, dodging your enemies' own attacks, and a bit of quick auto-targeting aimed action for some fliers or enemies further away. It's not simply just bashing or shooting away at your enemies, however-- there's a bit of an art to it that may take you a bit to get used to if you haven't played these types of games before. Yes, you're mashing buttons, but this is NOT a "mindless button masher" type of game unless you play it on Easy ("Scout"). You have to inflict considerably more damage than you yourself take, and the major way this is accomplished is by dodging attacks at just the right moment, which will slow time for a few seconds (visually marked by a bluish tint to the screen) and allow you to reorient yourself and get in a few extra hits before the flow of time returns to normal. In addition, after getting in a few hits in a row, your character will flash, giving you a split-second window to transform to vehicle mode and do a "vehicle attack", which does more damage than usual. What's more, after so long your character will build up to capacity their "Ultimate" meter, which will allow the character do use a specific move that basically cleans out the area around you if you're facing "normal" enemies or do at least some severe damage to the myriad bosses and tougher enemies in the game. Getting down the button presses at the right time and thinking ahead of yourself in this fast-paced game is they key to victory; you can chain together combos that continually hammer your foes without letting them barely get in a hit edgewise if you're good enough (which, admittedly, I am not). The controls are largely air-tight and the frame rate silky smooth, however, so if you're not doing well it's very likely your own fault, not the game's. I'm also impressed by just how much your alternate mode plays a role in the combat; you're transforming back and forth several times a minute, and it all feels natural and smooth. This game captures the essence of your Transformer's alternate mode being a part of them better than any other TF game I've played to date.
When you're not fighting, you drive/walk around devastated towns, islands, and some areas on Cybertron, doing short side-missions that give you some goodies if you complete them in a limited time and finding hidden caches, as well as participating in a few small-scale races or sharpshooter tests to get to a "chest" before it disappears and get the loot inside. There's also a few short segments that mix up the style a bit, such as an "on-rails" shooter segment on a highway against Blitzwing, turret-firing sequences, and a few minor platforming segments, as well as the usual collectibles to grab/shoot that unlock concept art (some of which are ridiculously well-hidden). The levels are designed well to slowly give you access to different parts of them (at least if you're playing in the city-centric levels), with multiple paths to your destination to explore, even if the large city level layout is used in later levels. Unfortunately, once you get to the later segments on Cybertron, things become very linear and shorter-- there are 7 chapters total in the game, but I tended to spend about as much time in just the first 2-3 that I did in the last 4-5. Speaking of chapters, the story for the game will ALSO remind you of an episode of the G1 cartoon-- i.e., not all that engaging. It's mostly a "Megatron found a MacGufffin, stop him before he destroys the Earth with it". In fact, in the last three chapters of the game literally all you are doing is trying to get to Megatron before he sets off the MacGuffin for good. Unfortunately, most of the interesting revelations in the game actually come right before and after the credits roll, where they're clearly setting up a sequel.
The amount of customization you can give your character in this game is nothing short of astounding. There are five different Autobots you can play as in the campaign (sorry, you can't play as any bad guys in this game)-- Optimus Prime, who's a general "all-around" type of character; Bumblebee, who's light on health but is very nimble; Sideswipe, who specializes in raw speed; Wheeljack, who's more of a defense-oriented character, with his special ability being a timed shield weapon; and Grimlock, who's more brawl-focused and strong, yet slow. Generally they all play well, though I have a few caveats about Grimlock; the game doesn't feel like it's designed for him as much as the others. For example, getting him going fast in dino mode requires repetitive tapping of a button, as opposed to just "gassing" it, and his fire breath in dino mode doesn't reach very far, whereas the others have guns in their alt mode. Thus, he feels a bit more limited in terms of getting around quickly and doing long-range attacks to the point where he feels like a less effective character, even though if you go by the raw numbers he has the strongest attacks and a lot of HP. (It's also much easier to accidentally switch between modes with him than it is with the others, due to the way in which his combos work.)
To say that you can pick between five different Autobots vastly underplays the amount of customization in this game, however. Each character has "tech specs" based upon the classic eight rankings on the back of the toy boxes, and you can spend credits you earn from playing to upgrade these statistics, making your character stronger as you play. You also pick up power-ups that you can pause the game and deploy at any time you're in a level-- these range from automatically reviving you if you lose all your health to restoring part of your current ranged weapons' ammo to temporarily increasing the XP earned by defeating enemies. Most importantly, however, are the weapons you pickup (qualified as "Common", "Uncommon" or "Rare"-- there's a TON of different weapons, both melee and ranged, and most can be wielded by all the different characters, though there are a few character-specific weapons. They're also all based upon different TF weapons, from the more easily discernible (Optimus Prime's gun) to the more obscure (those are Masterpiece G2 Sideswipe's guns! And movieverse Grimlock's mace!), which really shows a love for the lore from the developers. You find out which weapons you get whenever you go back to base at set intervals/checkpoints to manage your characters and/or switch them out. In addition to having different effects, ranges, rapidity of fire, and the like, the weapons also are ranked from a "D" to an "SS" rank, with the lower difficulties giving you weapons ranked more towards the bottom of that spectrum and the tougher difficulties giving you weapons at the high end of that spectrum. In addition, you can combine ("synthesize") weapons for a certain amount of credits, boosting one base weapon's stats and abilities by destroying another weapon. This will usually lead to you sticking to a few "go-to" weapons as you go through the game, and using the other weapons to upgrade your primary weapons or selling them for credits to use on other things. (Each character can have up to four weapons equipped-- one ranged, one melee, and two "free" slots. Simply by pressing a directional button in-game you switch out between them.) You can also buy extra combos/moves with credits, though admittedly I didn't use them that much and stuck with the basics-- I'm not good at remembering combo strings, so perhaps my experience isn't typical here.
This leads to the primary draw of the game, and the reason to go through the relatively short campaign (it will likely take you 5-7 hours) multiple times. Leveling up your character and getting weapons allows you to tackle the next-highest difficulty with a bit more ease. Going through THIS difficulty with your acquired upgrades thus makes the NEXT difficulty up easier, and so on. However, by the time you get to "Commander" (Hard) difficulty, the game is quite difficult regardless unless you can pull off dodge moves considerably more often than you get hit and string together long combos without breaking much of a sweat-- and there are two MORE difficulties that unlock ("Magnus" and "Prime") after Commander! Needless to say, this means that this game can get downright punishing and masochistic for all but the absolute best players. You can level up your characters and acquire more weapons via a Challenge Mode, however, which is sometimes more efficient that playing the story mode over and over again. Challenge Mode features 50 different missions ranging from simple "kill multiple waves of enemies" tasks to "protect your friends" to "get to the finish before the timer runs out". In addition, in the main story almost any time you get into a fight with regular enemies and for every boss fight, you enter a "mission" as well. After you complete any story and challenge mission, you receive a "grade" on how well you did (which takes into account primarily how much time it took you and how much damage you took on the mission). Grades range from "D" at the bottom to "SS" at the top, just like with your weapon ranks. Many of the trophies/achievements for this game require you to perform flawlessly not only during major boss fights-- already difficult enough-- but for every mission in the game (and no, you can't replay story missions without replaying the entire level they're in). Thus, this game is quite stingy when it comes to trophies/achievements. On all the previous Transformers games I've played on the PS3, I've been able to Platinum them-- sometimes it took a fair amount of effort, but I was able to do so. With Devastation, I wasn't even able to get close (65%), and this was after playing the game through five times (once with each character) and completing the Challenge Mode. Thus, unless you're a big-time trophy hunter or a completist, going through this game over and over again may not be enough of a draw for you considering how little you "get" from subsequent playthroughs, and here it's where the 5-7 hour playthrough time is more of a downer.
The game also has a few other drawbacks-- the primary one being that this game could really have used an instruction booklet. I've really disliked the modern trend of games forgoing physical instruction books, though this one forgoes even an electronic one, as well. The major beats of the game-- how to dodge, transform, etc.-- are covered in short instructional messages during gameplay, but the more subtle stuff is left up for the player to discover (or not discover, as the case may be). For example, your character's tech specs that you upgrade-- it's obvious what some like Strength and Fireblast affect when you level them up, but what about Courage? Intelligence? I'm not sure what those correlate to, and the game never tells you (it does list short tips if you die, but I never saw a tip that related to what those tech specs each affected, and I'd like to know about things without having to die, thanks). To give a few more examples-- at one time, I was trying to find a way up to physically "capture" a Decepticon flag way on top of a skyscraper that looked reachable, only to find that a couple of paths that looked possible to me were blocked on the building roofs by invisible walls. After all, physically capturing them was the only way I could get the Kremzeek collectibles. Only much later did I accidentally discover that you're supposed to SHOOT the Decepticon flags to add them to your found collectibles (same with the "Spy Ops" Laserbeaks), and some are far enough away that you can only ever get them by equipping sniper rifles. It also took me some time to discover that you didn't always have to "supercharge" your vehicle mode by running through a moving shadowy circle to break through large purple crystal-like barriers; sometimes simply driving up to them full speed and doing an "uppercut" would break through them, as well. These all would have been REALLY nice for me to have known beforehand (though I'm sure reading Internet FAQs after this game has been out for a while will mostly negate this issue for later adopters). Some other, more minor, issues crop up in the game, as well. For one, the camera does NOT automatically center behind you in vehicle/dino mode, as it usually does when in racing games. This takes quite a while to get used to, and early in the game when I needed to chase Megatron riding away on top of Long Haul, it turned what could have been a cool chase sequence into an exercise in frustration as the road kept turning this way and that and the camera was not doing the same. Also, there is a special move for you to unearth collectibles that involves you transforming into vehicle mode in mid-air and "slamming down" on the ground-- unfortunately, this will sometimes home in to the left or right of where you're attempting to aim, which can get particularly frustrating when the collectibles are near obstacles that will hurt you.
The graphics for the game are decent, but not spectacular. This aspect of the game is at its high point in the middle of intense boss battles, when you've got all kinds of well-done effects flying around and everything's in fast-motion. The cell-shaded nature of the Transformers helps make them look better than they otherwise would have, but it still works. When you're simply walking around and taking in the sights, though, the environments are a bit simplistic for relatively full-priced PS3/Xbox 360 games, never mind the PS4/Xbox One generation of consoles. Buildings that are little more than mere boxes, not enough "small" debris around on the streets given how large of a robot you are, invisible collision boxes around what should be considerably more complex structures that you should be able to climb up-- all of these are present in the game. On Cybertron things look a bit better, though there admittedly things are supposed to be more simplistic-looking and scaled to your character. The audio for the game really shines, with much of the G1 cast (Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Dan Gilvezan, Michael Bell) back, along with more popular "modern" voice actors filling in some of the more minor roles. (Why they didn't get Corey Burton for Shockwave, though, baffles me.) Starscream is the major exception here, as his voice is nails-on-a-chalkboard awful, and I'm not talking about it simply being screechy like his voice normally is (and was when played by the late great Chris Latta in the G1 cartoon). You-- yes, you-- do your best whiny Starscream impression. That's how "good" Starscream's voice is in the game. Ugh. The music in this game, however, is one of the best parts, by leaps and bounds. Partially written by G1 animated movie music-man Vince DiCola, it's a fantastic mix of '80s-style guitar riffs and techno that really gets you in the mood for fast-paced fights and fits Transformers perfectly. This is the only game I've reviewed on this site where I would, without hesitation, buy a soundtrack of it were it offered. More than once I've paused the game during a boss fight just to listen to the awesome music, and I've spent multiple hours listening to Soundwave's theme music on Youtube, which is the best of the best, in my opinion. This is one of the rare occurrences where I've given part of the game a rating ABOVE perfect, as I feel it's so good it can actually make up for deficiencies slightly in other areas.
is an extremely polished, well-done fighting game that will remind you
of the G1 cartoon universe in all the right ways. You've got to be fast,
and it's very challenging, but this is all part-and-parcel of Platinum
Games' products. What it DOES lack are a few niggling camera issues, explanations
for some of the more subtle mechanics (instructions please!), an engaging
story, and a length that I feel would justify its price point even if you
only played the game once through. If you're a G1 cartoon fan and a combo-fighting
game fan-- or just a fan of Platinum' Games usual games-- than this is
absolutely an easy recommendation at full price. If you're not sure about
the genre and only want to play it through once, wait for a sale-- but
it's still a good enough game to at least try out and support, regardless.
Level Design: 9/10
Overall Rating:88/100 Great
(NOTE: Although this review was for the PS3 version of the game, the Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PS4 versions are identical, so this should apply to the releases for those systems as well, minus some system-specific bugs. The PC version is also pretty much identical, though because of the gameplay, I HIGHLY recommend you attach a gamepad to your computer if you're considering playing it on the PC. Also make sure your PC can easily handle the system requirements, as being good at this game REQUIRES an excellent frame rate/response time.)
(Screencaps taken from Gamespot.com)
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