The 80s Transformers cartoon was an exercise in some of the loftiest exponents of philosophical dogma I’ve ever encountered. To me it was the embodiment of Aikido, the Gentle Way, where a martial artist seeks to use an opponent’s inertia and redirect it in the subtlest of manners. Indeed, the cartoon was subdued to the point where the viewer practically had to be well-versed in ancient Japanese Haiku poems in order to have a chance at articulating its deep, thoughtful metaphors.
Actually, anyone old enough to have watched the original Transformer cartoon, full of ham-fisted robots beating the bejesus out of each other for twenty five out of thirty minutes every Saturday morning, they would know that it was singularly loud and abrasive. Hollywood director Michael Bay suitably took the series and made it even more sanctimonious and at times quite deafening, spreading the gospel of the seemingly unstoppable Transformers brand that makes kids of each generation (and nostalgic adults) want to keep on truckin’ along with titular Autobot hero Optimus Prime, at least for just one more jolly romp.
Enter Japan-based Platinum Games, who has teamed up with mighty video game publisher Activision in order to bring us a little hot slice of nostalgia in the form of Tranformers: Devastation. And the result? Most of the time it works. To their credit, Platinum Games took a chance and rolled the dice here by making the latest Transformer game a slugger—as opposed to shooter as with the other games in the venerable series.
Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t: About twenty minutes into the game, I realized that the gameplay primarily boiled down to four beats or facets.
1). Driving to one location or another in bland city environments.
2). Wading through legions of generic, cloned, Decepticons foot soldiers.
3). Listening to stiff, ham-fisted dialogue between your main Autobot character and boss-character Decepticons.
4). Engaging in admittedly fun melee combat (and a little shooting here and there for good measure) until one bag of bolts drops.
I say fun because the hand-to-hand fisticuff nature of Tranformers: Devastation is actually pretty deep and satisfying. The slow-down, bullet-time-esque mode that Platinum Games nailed in their well-regarded smash hit, Bayonetta, is utilized well here. The combo-based combat can also get pretty frenzied since after performing a certain series of attacks, players can bust out special moves which can be really spectacular to behold.
Yes, there are weapons, in the form of big assault rifles, sniper rifles, swords, battleaxes, and the like, but they have separate mechanics which must be studied in order to use them to their full potential. At times, I found myself switching in-between melee and ranged weapons during some of the dramatic boss battles, and found it particularly satisfying, for instance, to pull off a combo, smash an enemy somewhere off in the distance, and then switch to a machinegun or snipe them from range.
The delightful quonk-quonk-quonk-quonk sound of the original Transformers shifting into their vehicle forms is back, but the actual transforming isn’t over-played throughout the game. There are certain areas that require you to transform into order to get past them, as well as certain well-shielded enemies that must be handled in vehicle mode in order to break through their defenses in order to fully damage them, but that’s about it, besides as being used as the preferable form of transportation throughout the city.
Visually, Tranformers: Devastation is somewhat of a mixed bag. While I’m a big fan of the retro-inspired graphics in general, such as the bright, shiny faux-metallic look of the robots, the environments were a little lack-luster. I know that the developers were going for the generic city backdrops that were featured in the 1980s cartoon, but come on, computer graphics have come a long way since them, and jagged edged geometry really looks incongruous with the beautiful cell shading of the robot, weapon, and vehicle models. I could have expected this on a console gaming system from the late 90s but come on now, we’re talking about fully upgraded PC gaming system here, not a Sega Saturn.
Another detriment that takes away from the game’s overall enjoyment is that it’s not all that hard. If you’ve learned the grading system sufficiently and know how to combine certain weapons in order to provide pretty significant bonuses, the more challenging parts of the game such as the boss battles become a breeze. This, combined with the fact that you can beat Tranformers: Devastation is under six hours, and you have a relatively short gaming experience.
However, like a certain park roller coaster ride that you want to jump on once in a while, if played in shorter spurts, Tranformers: Devastation can be a whole lot of fun. Similarly, it is loud, flashy, and can get your adrenaline pumping just like any great amusement park ride, and gamers accepting it for what it is will have a blast with it.
Tranformers: Devastation then, is a massive success as a AAA produced, mid-tier, classic redux which will pull on the heartstrings of nostalgic Transformers fans, as well as hardcore PC gaming folks who want to explore (and re-explore) every facet of the game. Both Activision and Platinum Games should be praised for totally and unabashedly embracing the original source material, and giving both new and older fans alike something to enjoy and look to play again and again (preferably in smaller doses).
Bring the nostalgia fully alive and witness some beautiful cell shading visuals (particularly on 4k gaming setups):
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