Transformers has been a cultural phenomenon since its inception as a line of toys in 1984, right through to the current day. While many of the newer generations will (unfortunately) associate the series with the terrible, boring and soulless Michael Bay films, there are many of us who still remember the Transformers golden age of the 80s and early 90s. I can recollect with absolute clarity the blissful Saturday mornings spent watching Autobots and Decepticons battle it out, marvelling at the seemingly endless variations of awesome robot and vehicle combinations. Nostalgia is a strange beast though, we look back at the things we loved with rose-tinted glasses and only see the magic. This is in part why we are so protective of these symbols of our youth, and the reason that the recent live-action films which bear so little resemblance to the franchise I grew up with fill me with such deep sorrow. So when I discovered that the excellent studio PlatinumGames were giving us their take on the vast Transformers universe, a spark of hope formed that a game that truly does justice to the series might actually exist in my lifetime. I am happy to say that PlatinumGames have not only treated the source material with immense reverence, but have managed to meld it perfectly into a blinding action game that stands as the definitive Transformers experience of the modern era, against which all others should be measured.
Transformers Devastation takes place shortly after mysterious machinations appear on Earth following the landing of a strange ship. It turns out the forces on this ship are hell bent on cyberforming Earth to make it into a new Cybertron, the Autobot and Decepticon home world that was lost after being torn apart by civil war. It is up to the Autobots, led by their fearless leader and sometimes semi-trailer Optimus Prime, to uncover the secrets of the ship and stop it from destroying the Earth that they now call home. Of course, the Decepticon forces are never far away, with Megatron seeking to make the power behind the ship his own and ensure the destruction of both humanity and the Autobots. I won’t spoil the finer details, but the story is excellent and plays exactly like an episode lifted straight from the show. It is brimming with grandiose themes of sacrifice, the sanctity of life and the protection of Earth at any cost, but also perfectly balances this seriousness against the slightly silly, campy feel that typified the early cartoons.
PlatinumsGames play to their strengths as an excellent hack and slash developer, and the DNA of their stellar title Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and the Bayonetta series runs deep through the gameplay. You have a light and heavy attack that can be combined to generate flashy combos, and at the end of a successful combo you can then perform a powerful vehicle attack which sends your foes reeling. You can also dodge enemy attacks, and if performed at the right moment a dodge can initiate a time slowdown reminiscent of Witch Time in Bayonetta. Combat is blindingly fast and fluid, and for the most part the controls are quite intuitive, allowing you to pull off seamless combos with relative ease. You can also mix things up with a vast array of ranged weapons, from twin blasters, to sniper rifles and machine guns. A minor issue I had was with the vehicle transform command, which is mapped to a holding of the R1/RB button. This is the same button you use to dodge and often in the heat of battle I found myself transforming into a vehicle instead of dodging. It’s not a huge issue as you can still go on the offensive as a vehicle, and indeed during combat you’ll be making liberal use of both robot and vehicle mode.
You can play as one of five Autobots: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack or Grimlock. With the exception of Grimlock (whose transform turns him into a dinosaur), the Autobots only have subtle differences in how they play and the vehicles don’t really feel all that different from one another. Each character has a unique special attack mapped to L1 and ultimate moves that can be unleashed periodically for maximum devastation. Once I’d experimented with the Autobots I settled on Sideswipe, who turns into a sweet red sports car and had some powerful vehicle attack finisher combos. The game features an RPG-style progression system, where you’ll level up stats either by using certain skills repeatedly, or paying for them with credits. There’s also a cool weapon upgrade system in which you can improve your favourite melee and ranged weapons by cannibalising other weapons you find strewn around the levels and in various secret caches. While combat leans towards the simplistic side of things, it is incredibly fun and there’s never a dull moment. Much like Platinum’s other games, at the end of each encounter you are rated on your combat prowess, from lowly D-rank to the dizzying heights of SS-rank. To achieve the latter you’ll want to be combining all your skills and by the end of the game I was definitely a force to be reckoned with.
By far the game’s greatest asset is its incredible art direction, with the environments and Transformers brought to life in a gorgeous and lavishly detailed cell-shaded style. The textures are minimalist, but pop with clean, vivid colour and attention to detail. From the warmer colours of the Autobots to the menacing cooler colours of the Decepticons, you’ll never be wondering who is friend or foe. There’s not a lot of variation to the environments, taking place mostly in the city at the nexus of the cyberforming as well as on the ship responsible for all the havoc. What the game lacks in environments, it more than makes up for in the huge roster of Decepticon enemies to fight. Amongst dozens of others you’ll battle against Menasor, Starscream, Devastator, Motormaster, Shockwave and my all-time favourite Decepticon, Soundwave. Soundwave has a tape player in his chest that shoots out cassettes that transform into smaller Transformers like Blitzwing, Lazerbeak and Rumble, and I remember the Soundwave figurine I had as a child being one of my most prized possessions. There is a veritable smorgasbord of unique enemies to battle against, and I applaud Platinum for making such extensive use of the license. The sound design is absolutely pitch-perfect, with cheesy dialogue and the added bonus that many of the Transformers are voiced by their original actors. From the hilarious pontifications of Peter Cullen’s unmistakable Optimus Prime, to Scott Whyte’s snivelling Starscream, I felt like I was transported straight back to my starry-eyed five-year old self sitting on a hideous 80s couch watching the cartoons. Battles are punctuated by ear-melting metal riffs that heighten the atmosphere and match the pace, and the power metal outro after the finale is one of the finest bits of music put to game in recent memory.
While it is quite short (weighing in about 6-8 hours for the main story mode), I was thoroughly entertained during the campaign, and hugely satisfied when the credits rolled. For those worried about the length, there is some replayability in the form of attempting higher difficulties and better rankings, as well as trying out your skills in any of the fifty unlockable challenge maps. There’s no doubt that the hardcore completionists out there will be at it for a while. There are also a myriad of collectibles throughout the eight chapters which unlock cool art and original character models if you’re keen on taking a trip down memory lane.
Where Michael Bay is content to pervert everything Transformers is about in the quest for the mighty dollar, Platinum respects the source material and takes us back to where it all began. In every aspect the game embodies the heart and soul of the series that I grew up with. It seems Platinum games are fully aware of what made this series great, and have managed to take the Transformers universe and meld it beautifully with their own distinctive gameplay flavour. If you have even a passing love of the Transformers series, you owe it to yourself to play this game.
Reviewed on PS4