Transformers: Devastation is a brawler/beat-em-up released in October of 2015 by Platinum Games, loosely based on the G1 Transformers storyline. Don't even try to place it in the chronology...we're so far beyond 2005, that it's not worth your sanity. In it you play one of five Autobots (one or two, initially, more as time goes on) as they fight and kill their way through hordes of Vehicons, Seekers, and other assorted Decepticons to find out just what the Hell is going in this unnamed city that's being cyberformed. It quickly becomes apparent this is not Megatron's doing, but he's got a damn good idea what it is, and he wants in on that action...thus, it behooves you to stop him at all costs.
I admit to being among that minority who were not exactly impressed with the game, even after playing it. It was kinda sprung on us by surprise and seemingly developed in a hurry by Platinum Games, who tend to make decent beat-em-ups like Bayonetta. And after all this time processing, I think I've got the full idea why it irked me. It's a fun game on its own. It's a really REALLY mediocre Transformers game. Platinum Games basically slapped some Transformer character models and 3D props onto their existing game engines...not a bad thing mind you, as it worked fairly well in game play terms, but rather than work out more immersive elements to make it a more 'Transformers' experience, that's about where they ended it. In the end, the thing plays and works like an old coin-op platformer...basically the 3D version of Super Mario Brothers; right down to magical floaty things you grab as power ups (and I'm not kidding on that). The seemingly arbitrary 'grade' you get at the end of each 'mission' really drives it home, and should be familiar to those who play things like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (also from Platinum Games). This whole thing screams 'rush job'. The cityscape, its environments, and areas are reused over and over again several times; to the point where you're really just running around a very small area for about half the game until you finally get into the ship where they finally get the immersion mostly right. In fact, the city portion of the game is probably the weakest. There's one scene for example where Devastator pulls himself over a building, and it barely crumbles, while jumping and landing with nary an environmental issue taken into account. Something that big, that heavy, jumps and lands like that? The whole area would be destroyed...buildings would be toppling...earthquake and shock wave alone...the lack of all that ruins the immersion. Autobots and Decepticons jumping and landing on buildings also does them no favors. If they did that, most buildings would have their roofs caved in since they're not built to handle that sort of abuse. The weird ass artificial boundaries (they show up as a kind of gridded forcefield) of areas that are the go to for people who do not want to make really big areas are really annoying. The floaty power ups from Super Mario Brothers, even with the flavor text you pick up as a data log later explaining them just kill it, along with the 'hidden' items you need to hit a certain probe to activate...yeah, this thing plays just like an old coin-op video game, like I said.
The whole mishandling of characters in the gameplay is a huge problem that really killed the Transformers aspect of the game. I noted there was no Decepticon campaign before, which was probably one of the most widely criticized fuck ups of this game, even by those who sing it praises. One can then move on to their handling of the Vehicon designated ground forces of the Decepticons and just shake their head sadly. They obviously modeled these guys on the Battlechargers, Runamuck and Runabout, but they colored several of them gold, which made them look like Goldbug. There was really no reason to include these guys either, a judicious application of Seeker Squadrons and Insecticons would have given the game play all the cannon fodder needed for an Autobot campaign. Oh right, Insecticons. The ones we have here are not the ones that are actually Decepticons for...reasons. Platinum Games could not even be bothered to come up with any new designs or ideas for any of this shit really. Hell, even their transformation animations are little more than about three different 3D models swapped out quickly (too quickly, really) to simulate the parts and morphing normally associated with the event. Before I go further, yes, Megatron is a tank (no, not an original idea or design). No, he does not triple change into a gun. Yes, they could have done that, but didn't. Then there's the characters themselves. Bumblebee is not a melle fighter. Shiv you in the back of the head stealth kill? Sure. Going toe to toe with Megatron? Bullshit. And on the other end of the spectrum, Grimlock. Getting beat down by Menasaur? Definitely. Getting fragged by Starscream? You're joking, right? Which leads me into one of my next complaints...
The leveling and item system. The only real difference between the Autobots in this game is what you can equip them with; but the differences are almost infinitesimal. Your stats as you level up are shared between all your characters, which is why Bumblebee can go mano-a-mano with Megatron and Grimlock gets his ass kicked by Starscream. I mean, Motormaster...yeah, that'd be a fight for Grimlock, but Starscream? Yes, I'm pissed about that. A few stealth missions with Bumblebee and/or Mirage would have been just what the doctor ordered. Then there's the Ark segments which are little more than 'warp' areas for you to go back there and 'purchase' better weapons, upgrades, and stats from all those parts you were collecting from the floaty stuff and the occasional 'con. This could have been handled worlds better with more immersion. I mean, I doubt one could use the same setup from War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, but a little more thought could have been put into it. Note that most of these problems go away when you finally get into the ship, but even there, the warp areas for the Ark are just...it just doesn't work.
Finally, there's the controls. The fighting is okay, as is the item swap, but one button for dodge, jump, and transform? You can imagine the problems you get into with that. It's like they forgot about L3 and R3...no, there's no fucking excuse for this. Also the ability to remap buttons to specific actions would be a huge help.
I'll give them some credit where credit is due; the voice and music in it was stellar. Not perfect, but it was pretty good all things considered. For the Autobots, they got every single surviving G1 actor they could...which basically means everyone but Wheeljack since Chris Latta is dead. Which then segues into the Decepticons, being treated as the Japanese tend to treat these guys...as afterthoughts really. That said, they got Frank Welker in to do Megatron and Soundwave, which was nice. With Michael Bell, they also had the Constructicon Commander Scrapper. Everyone else, except for Scott Whyte's portrayal of Starscream (his deserves a more detailed mention), was decent but several of these characters' voice actors are still alive. Arthur Burghardt, for example, is still around. I would include Corey Burton, but he's been quoted as to not wanting to return to the role of Shockwave. Still, who they got did a damn fine job, all things considered. That said, let's talk about Starscream a bit. He's always been the hard one to do since Chris Latta died. Doug Parker did a passable one in Beast Wars. Everyone else has always put a little too much guttural in it and not enough scream. Until Tom Kenney, who is best known for his work as Spongebob. When he took the role in Transformers Animated, he brought that character back to life. It was like an old friend coming back, and I literally cried when I heard it for the first time. Scott Whyte's portrayal has another problem. TOO MUCH high pitched scream, almost to the point of Mickey Mousing it. He did get better at it, as time went on, and sounded more and more like the character. Those initial lines, though, were wince-worthy...and were I the voice director I'd have had him dial it back a notch immediately. There was also the problem in that they only had the VAs do three voices per VA. I get this is likely an issue with pay and guild rules, but still...disappointing to see. Getting to the music aspect, it doesn't get much better with Vince DiCola adding his talents to a superb soundtrack. I think the only real issue I'd have with it is the final song, while catchy, is a little TOO simple and Saturday Morning Cartoonish.
Like I said, a lot of this really goes away when you finally get into the Proudstar starship, and the Transformers are now on home turf. Not so much in the way of floaties, more stuff inside of storage containers, places that should be able to take a pounding from creatures like the Transformers, and things like that. Honestly, the game play, taken by itself without the Transformers attached, is really quite fun. That said, they really did do exactly as I originally described: plopped Transformers 3D models in their game engine and had at it. The game engine is near perfect for one wanting to make a beat-em-up using 3D models. That is what you play and that is what you have fun with. The window dressing is interchangeable. We could have tossed in My Little Pony and Power Rangers into this and it still would have played and worked just the same. The story is...okay. Like reading a decent fanfic, but nothing memorable. My only real complaint is how Optimus Prime in recent years is shown to care more about Earth than he is about Cybertron...it's pathological really. Almost like he hates his home, when it was shown originally loving it a great deal, and one day hoping to return to it and make it whole. This wholesale abandonment...it's just not him.
Admittedly that's a lot of complaining up there. Probably summed up as, "It wasn't done by High Moon Studios!" And though honestly, while I wouldn't except High Moon to be tapped to do every single Transformers game (especially not with their pathological disregard of the original VAs aside from two of them), they got the balance of gameplay, story, and Transformers just right. This is something all studios should be looking at to see if they can get that same balance, and frankly, Platinum Games just did not get it, and I honestly doubt they could have even if they were given time. The writer was Autobotcentric and the Japanese helping to code and produce it...well, we've all seen what the Japanese do the Transformers. They quite literally just do not get it, and so the property suffers in their hands. To make this game actually a fun TRANSFORMERS game would require a major overhaul. For starters, an entire destructible city, hundreds of miles of sandboxing so you could get that feeling of being a big bad robot that can plow through shoddy human construction. Get rid of those damn 'missions' and stick more to chapters. If you need an arena, try to use the area itself as the arena and not those stupid magical forcefield grid things that appear arbitrarily when you're trying to back up too far out of it. The floating and hidden power ups that belong in Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog are right out. Work those into the environments too. Keep the characters as themselves, and try to work the upgrade and crafting system better. A little more love for the 'cons would be nice, as well as their VA's. This is not chicken fights for five year olds, these are beloved stories...treat them with that gravitas.
It almost sounds like I'm giving this game a bad rating, and yes, it's not going to be a good one. I can't say as I enjoyed it for anything other than its nostalgia and some game play factor. It is not, like I said before, a game that's not fun, but it has some deep flaws that prevent it from being everything it could be. This is something I'm beginning to see a lot of in the gaming industry. Games that could be epic in every way, but they just stop short, or fuck up a little too much, and you get what was a good idea, but 'meh' execution. If you play it, you'll probably enjoy it, but if you're looking for the ultimate Transformers experience...that was in the days of High Moon Studios, which are passed for the moment.