When I was a boy I used to watch the original Transformers movie on repeat, the poor VHS desperate for the end to come at the hands of its cannibalistic mother. That fate never came. I'm not ashamed to admit that I would hold my finger up to the TV during the film's opening and pretend I was flying through the 'O' of the word 'MOVIE'. For most of my childhood I dreamt of a video game that let me be the Transformers (Hot Rod in particular, but any would do). Transformers Devastation is as close any game has come to realising The Dream.
Devastation is the most fun I've ever had with a Transformers game, yet also a disappointment. Developed by Platinum Games, of Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising fame, and published by Activision, Devastation is a G1-based third-person action title that blends accomplished melee combo combat and gunplay, wrapping it up in a wonderful cel-shaded appearance that expertly rekindles the memory of the 80s cartoon. Yet I'd finished the campaign in just under four hours.
Devastation initially exhibits all the signs of a must-own brawler: wonderful dodge and parry mechanics, counters, aerial juggles, and brilliant combos that combine to be incredibly satisfying. Playing as one of five Autobots, including Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Grimlock, each with their own move sets, it's clear a lot of work has gone into the characters. While not playable, there are a tonne of Decepticons, too, coming at you thick and fast over the course of the campaign - some, such as the Constructicons, join together to form massive towering war machines, which is cool.
Combat with guns is less appealing and a nowhere near as visually impressive, but it is somewhat useful: pick the correct tools and you'll prove rather deadly. It's mostly functional, though, and just can't compete with a flurry of thundering blows followed up with a mid-combo transformation and then piledriver as a truck. Your characters will become more deadly over time, too, with a suite of upgrade and perk tools found in 'The Ark' (a zone you can access at set points) and credits able to be exchanged for XP across a multitude of stats. Bizarrely, the game does an incredibly poor job of explaining any of this
As I said, the fighting feels top notch and is exactly what I want from Transformers, but the game built around this is basic in the extreme. Rather than playing like a full-on adventure, you get a series of battles in closed off arenas within the game world. You move from zone to zone, but it doesn't feel like an adventure, instead a series of fights bookended with dialogue. Diversity is also an issue, with a small handful of locales being reused. None of this really matters when you're in the midst of a battle, but it does make the whole package feel more akin to a TV episode rather than an epic movie.
Although not flashy compared to the bar-setters on current-gen, Devastation's cel-shaded visuals, crisp resolution and smooth 60fps frame rate all impress, as do the moments of storytelling complete with voice work from Peter Cullen, Frank Welker and others who reprise their original roles. It makes me wonder what the team at Platinum Games could have achieved if given a bigger budget and more time.
If Transformers Devastation's campaign is like a tasty but bare bones BBQ rib, at least a side of fries has been added in the form of Challenge Mode. 50 individual challenges await (once they've all been unlocked), putting you in specific battles in locations from the campaign. Your mileage here will depend on your interest in the combat mechanics and eagerness to give each Autobot a proper runout (I stuck mainly with Prime during the campaign). The goal is the achieve the top rank for each stage, on the hardest difficulty - something that will take hours and hours to do, and for many will be impossible.
So, I'm happy Transformers Devastation exists and thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with it, but it's not quite the game I imagined as an idealistic child. For one, it's not based on the original animated movie complete with soundtrack. And secondly, it's four hours long. No matter how you spin it, with options Challenge Mode content and numerous playable characters, for £40 I expect more (than meets the eye).
Version Tested: PS4