Many Transformers games have come and gone over the years, all faithful to the franchise, but none made any sort of lasting impression, beyond the fact that they were instantly forgettable. However, Transformers: Devastation manages to bust through that spiral of pointlessness. Publisher Activision has, for once, taken a punt by inviting maverick Japanese developer Platinum Games (of Bayonetta fame) to have a go at the perennially popular films/cartoons/toys franchise – and Platinum simply doesn’t do forgettable. The result is by some distance the best Transformers game ever.
Sensibly, Platinum opted to keep things pretty simple. There are elements of Bayonetta in its control system, which mixes building melee combos with a bit of shooting and driving (naturally, since you play as one of five Autobots) and features a crucial bullet-time-style system that temporarily slows down time and is triggered when you dodge an incoming attack.
Visually, it’s reminiscent of the cult Wii game MadWorld, albeit without the ultraviolence and buckets of blood. That’s because Transformers: Devastation also opts to employ cel-shaded, cartoon-style graphics. But unlike MadWorld, it looks insanely colourful, with a migraine-inducing primary-colours palette. In combination with the cheesy music, Transformers: Devastation’s visuals lend it something of an 80s-retro air, which sounds awful, yet somehow seems appropriate and renders it very distinctive.
Transformers: Devastation is set on Earth, which is in the grip of a Decepticon attack; as an Autobot, you must stop the planet from being destroyed. And naturally, there is a deeper back-story which involves delving below the Earth’s surface in order to kick out the baddies and also reclaim the Transformers’ stolen history and culture. But while the story will hold the attention of Transformers addicts, it really only functions as a means of stitching together big action set-pieces – often enacted in settings which, in visual terms, border on the psychedelic.
As you progress through the game, you build up a team of five Transformers which you can switch between, including, naturally, Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, as well as the likes of Sideswipe. Selecting the correct Transformer adds a tactical element, since their attributes and special moves (which build up slowly during combat) vary wildly. The ones which are quick when transformed into cars, for example, are useful in sequences where you have to drive in the face of giant wind-machines.
There’s a great melee and ranged weapon-generating system which lets you create hybrids, but the key element of Transformers: Devastation is its combat. At first it seems pretty simple – there are just quick and heavy attacks, plus the special moves and the ability to use ranged weapons, which quickly run out of ammo – but you learn that it has surprising depth when you start coming up against more challenging enemies (boss-battles abound). The time-slowing move becomes integral, and you learn when to step away from enemies and finish them off with ranged weapons. You get rewarded for landing strings of attacks, but have to be on the ball to cash in those rewards.
Transformers: Devastation is also surprisingly meaty, with a long main campaign, some side-missions and short but satisfying challenges to be unlocked. Transformers’ enduring appeal is beyond dispute, but it’s a travesty that it took so long for a game that does justice to the general franchise’s popularity to arrive. Let’s hope Platinum Games continues to make the Transformers games from now on.