Autobots wage their battles to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons in glorious, fast-paced HD
Like many popular properties, Transformers has been a crapshoot on the video game front until recently. Much like Batman was saved by the Arkham series, Transformers was saved by High Moon's two great games, War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron. Platinum, the studio that brought you Bayonetta and Revengeance, has thrown its hat into the ring with Transformers: Devastation, resulting in a glorious nostalgia bomb that steadily brings you back to the ground.
Optimus Prime is always willing to axe the tough questions
The most striking part of Devastation is its visuals, with a clean, cel-shaded look lifted right out of the classic Generation 1 cartoon, with most of G1's voice actors returning to fill their roles. Obviously, while Chris Latta's signature raspy shriek was not available for Starscream (RIP), it's still great to hear Peter Cullen and Frank Welker trading monologues alongside Soundwave's classic synth voice. Even the plot works as a G1 episode--something about an ancient Autobot ship and Megatron trying to use it to wipe out humanity. It's nice and simple and really focuses your attention on the action and gameplay.
Me Grimlock no pole dance in the middle of combo, that Bumblebee's job
Playing Devastation is very familiar, crossing Bayonetta with loot collect-a-thons like Diablo or Darksiders. Dodge attacks at the last moment to activate "Focus," slowing time down to strike off-guard enemies with combos, then transform into a car (or dinosaur) and finish with a big hit. Defeated enemies drop loot, which you can fuse together to create stronger gear for your five Autobot heroes. Instead of the solid run-and-gun gameplay from Fall of Cybertron, Devastation focuses heavily on melee combat while using ranged weapons as backup. This focus meant that I didn't find much use in upgrading anything besides my melee weaponry (and a handful of OP blasters), so my inventory filled up with junk pretty quickly once I maxed out my chosen gear.
"Dude, what did you say to piss Prime off?!"
Additionally, combat is cut down to the basics--despite lifting a signature gameplay element, this isn't Bayonetta we're dealing with, so there's not much combo variety or reward for performing different combos. Just by using the standard "mash light attack and transform" combo, you can push enemies into persistent loops and wear them down much more effectively than if you hop around and actually fight. While initially exciting, the combat did eventually become pretty rote for me, as I felt no push from the game to change my tactics.
I'm sorry, G1 Wheeljack is kind of lame, he was much cooler in Prime
You're generally allowed your choice of character for most segments, but you'll have a chance to play each of Devastation's leads over the game's brief campaign. It clocks in at a fair six hours, a bit longer if you decide to explore every nook and cranny of the labyrinthine city and max out each character's gear. Each Autobot plays differently: Optimus Prime feels the most balanced, Bumblebee is light and fast, Grimlock is a heavyweight grappler, while Sideswipe and Wheeljack fill in-between spots, and you're encouraged to use each character's moves outside of combat to open up new paths or reveal hidden rewards.
One thing Platinum tends to excel at is boss fights, but unfortunately Devastation doesn't deliver quite as well on this front. Instead of tightly-balanced challenges that take what you've learned over the course of the game and test you, Devastation just throws out more enemies with more health, or maybe a huge enemy with tons of health and deals more damage, or two huge enemies with tons of health that can kill you in a handful of hits. Couple this with the game's unfocused camera and the normally fast-paced combat becomes a slog, waiting for the right moment to dodge and--you guessed it--use your "mash light attack and transform" combo until you stagger the boss, then repeat the process all over again.
Famous last words: "I have you now, Optimus Prime"
As a purely-concentrated dose of nostalgia, Transformers: Devastation is a winner. It's a fun, very well-made love letter to Generation 1, and brought me back to the days of fighting it out with my own Transformers toys. However, this is a budget game on a non-budget price ($50, holy crap), so much of the defense I had for Platinum's similarly only-okay The Legend of Korra doesn't hold up. Devastation only somewhat delivers as a complete product, but Platinum has even more in store for the coming years with Star Fox Zero, Scalebound, and the new Nier, so a little patience will show us their A-game once more.
+ Visually and aurally perfect representation of Transformers' Generation 1 in video game form
+ Five playable Autobots each feel different and use unique skills and gear
+/- Fast-paced action that's really fun at first, but that feeling quickly wears off
+/- Lots to do if you take your time and explore every corner, but still feels samey and repetitive
+/- Boss fights have a great sense of scale, but expect to do the same fight (with a different coat of paint) again and again
- Near-full price ($50) for what feels like a budget downloadable game
- Clunky camera doesn't focus on enemies as often as it should
- I'm usually okay with a shorter game length (6-8 hours), but Devastation still feels padded