Review: Transformers: Devastation for PlayStation 4
G1 and then some.
This is it: Welcome to the very first PlayStation 4 review on Mario’s Hat! And to be honest, I can’t think of a better game to kick things off.
Of course, it’s on other platforms, too, but PlayStation 4 is the one I’m covering here.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a lifelong Transformers fan — you’ll scarcely see me without my Autobot necklace on — and over the years, I’ve been a fan of pretty much every single iteration of the franchise to come down the line, from Generation One to Beast Wars to Robots in Disguise to the Unicron Trilogy to Animated to Rescue Bots to another Robots in Disguise and all points in between. Heck, I even like the Michael Bay movie stuff — the movies themselves are kind of hit and miss in terms of execution, but I usually find a lot of concepts I like that have sprung forth from those anyway.
That said, it’s hard for me not to have a little bit of a soft spot for the original Generation One material, and that is by and large the main draw of Transformers: Devastation. While not exactly a pure G1 game, technically speaking (the developers have said it draws more from the G1-inspired Generations and Combiner Wars toy lines), it still reeks of classic cartoon awesomeness while updating things just so as to be a little beyond some of the cheesier elements from that animated series.
For the most part, the voice actors for the Autobots you play are are reprising their roles from the original cartoon, with Peter Cullen himself starring as Optimus Prime while Gregg Berger is once again Grimlock, Dan Gilvezan is Bumblebee, and Michael Bell is Sideswipe. The fifth playable character, Wheeljack, was originally voiced by the late, great Chris Latta, and is respectably replaced by Christopher Swindle.
The Decepticon side is not quite so lucky, however. Frank Welker reprises his iconic roles as Megatron and Soundwave, but not Rumble and Frenzy. With the exception of two Constructions whose actors were already on board with the Autobot side, pretty much everyone else has been recast. Scott Whyte does an appreciable job in trying to keep the spirit of the original Starscream intact, but with that voice in particular, there is no replacing Latta. Others have done tremendously with their own takes on other versions of the character (Tom Kenny in Animated, for instance), but the developers were clearly up against a wall here and did well with what they had. In other cases, such as Corey Burton not taking up the role of Shockwave once again, it’s a little more disappointing, but those who answered the casting call — in this case, Darryl Kurylo — did well enough, especially considering how little screen time the character has anyway.
There’s more than just voices going on here, though. As noted, it’s been said to follow the path of the more contemporary Generations toyline than the original cartoon, and you can see that clearly in how Bumblebee, Wheeljack, and Megatron take their design cues more from those toys than the original designs, particularly in their vehicle modes. At the same time, Optimus, Grimlock, and Sideswipe are about as G1 as you can get (though the latter seems to take on the swords of his movie or Robots in Disguise counterparts), though one might be generous enough to include the “Masterpiece” line and the more cartoon-accurate collector-based toys as a part of that line. But then that leaves the question of why Bumblebee and Wheeljack’s recent “Masterpiece” toys weren’t used instead, and… maybe licensing was involved. Who knows?
In any case, the voice acting and the character models are combined with a cel shaded look that truly brings the comparatively simplistic visuals of the original cartoon into the modern day, and the result is almost breathtaking, at least for an old hand like me. The backdrops throughout the game feature lighting effects and details that elevate things to another level, with sunsets and fires casting all sorts of illumination that add a new sense of life to everything. I can’t emphasize this enough, but it largely feels like watching a new episode of the original cartoon, but with one humongous budget to go alongside it. Even the original animated movie, as beautiful as it was, can have a hard time comparing to some points in this.
The story reads largely like an episode of the original cartoon as well — in fact, it even seems familiar at first. A human city on Earth is in the process of being cyberformed — the Cybertronian equivalent of terraforming — when Optimus Prime and the other Autobots arrive to find Megatron and his Decepticons up to some mischief. I won’t go into much further detail here, because if you’re a longtime fan, it’s something you’ll want to experience yourself. Suffice to say that throughout your quest to stop Megatron, there are plenty of familiar callbacks to all sorts of Transformers lore, from Insecticon hordes to allusions to future events of the original cartoon, and even some elements from IDW’s comics integrated — don’t say thrown in — in such a way as to work more with the original cartoon. Each new revelation brought a smile to my face as I recognized it from its original place and how it was woven into this new tale, and the final battle felt like it hit all the right notes.
Crud, now I want an animated feature done up like this. Now I’m just making myself sad. Fortunately, there seem to be some hints — or at least some threads left open for a possible sequel.
If there is one way in which this game deviates from the Generation One cartoon, it’s in the action — but in a good way. Fights in the original cartoon typically amounted to either firefights or slugfests. This is a PlatinumGames production, however, and their signature style and tight quality is written all over as the fighting feels a lot more kinetic and flowing as you perform combos, dodge, and when prompted after a series of successive hits, transform with a press of a button to vehicle (or dino, as you will) mode to really lay into the various Decepticon thralls with a — pardon the expression — devastating final blow. It can take some getting used to, but you develop a feel for it as you improve and try to get the best rank you can in each encounter.
Though melee is the focus, you can equip firearms, too — and even use them in some alternate modes! Sometimes Decepticon Seeker jets will fly by in formation, raining a hail of fire down on you, but you can also blow them out of the sky. Similarly, you can do so to ground troops as well, though they tend to be a bit hardier.
There are times when you’ll need to stick to your vehicle mode for longer periods, including a nice, large portion of one chapter which is racing along a bridge and opening fire while Blitzwing (who borrows the fire and ice abilities from his Animated counterpart) flies by in his jet mode to strafe you before transforming into a tank to blast away at you. You can transform into robot mode here as well, momentarily, in order to try to inflict some combo damage to him or dodge his attacks, but for the most part, that portion is for vehicle mode.
On the subject of weapons, this is another part of the game filled to the brim with fan service. By defeating foes, finding hidden caches, or just completing missions, you’ll acquire all kinds of weapons which look familiar to longtime fans, from Menasor’s sword to Megatron’s fusion cannon to Devastator’s drills to a set of swords which look very much like those of Prime’s descendant, Optimus Primal. Each has its own elemental powers for different status effects, with several having additional effects, and you can combine different weapons to form more powerful versions as well. Of course, there are some weapons that will only work with some characters, too.
As much as I love this game, I can’t quite call it perfect, however. One issue I had was with the camera; while not terrible, it was bothersome in that it requires you to position it pretty much every step of the way. During walking sections, this isn’t so bad, but it becomes a greater chore when driving, particularly during parts that requires taking a lot of turns and corners.
Another, without spoiling, is the presence of a particular button-mashing certain mechanic that pops up during the last battles that I don’t recall seeing anywhere else throughout the game. You’re prompted right in the center of the screen, and it’s surprisingly easy to miss the first time. It up doesn’t ruin the game or anything, but it can break the intended dramatic effect of that moment, and that was a little disappointing after realization dawned on me of what had just happened, so consider this a heads-up.
The last thing that I have less issue with, but may bother some, is how short the game is overall. There are only about seven chapters of varying lengths, and for the most part, the game is pretty linear on top of that. Even so, it was made with replayability in mind on several levels.
In addition to playing on harder difficulty levels (three to start, two unlockable, which you can change at almost any time during your session, shy of in the middle of the action) and trying to gain improved rankings on your battles, there are all kinds of collectibles to find. Data disks, many of which are narrated by Teletraan-1 (voiced by Jim Ward in place of the late Casey Kasem), are scattered throughout (though it’s largely linear in terms of going from one goal to the next, some portions do allow for a bit of roaming and exploration), as are Decepticon flags, spies, and Kremzeeks, each of which unlocks various art pieces in the gallery.
There are also optional side missions in some chapters which you can come back to later, and 50 Challenges opened as you progress through the game. The ability to use five different Autobots with different styles (Grimlock’s being the most distinct, of course) and experiment in equipping them with all sorts of different weapons further adds more options. From a strict story mode perspective, it isn’t very long, but it is rather broad.
I could probably gush on and on about this game all day, even despite its few relative shortcomings that really don’t bring things down all that much. This is a game I never thought we would ever see the likes of, and it just absolutely nails it in my mind. As much as I’ve enjoyed previous games to bear the Transformers brand, I think this one has raised the bar to a whole new standard for me.
If I didn’t have other games I need to either wrap up or move on to and review, I’d be spending a lot more time on this one — and since I have it digitally downloaded, I might sneak in a quick session here or there, anyway.
In the meantime, buzz about a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game developed by PlatinumGames and published by Activision has me on the edge of my seat waiting for an announcement. And as much as I love Nickelodeon’s new(-ish) cartoon series, I find myself almost hoping they do for that franchise’s original cartoon what they’ve done for Transformers: Generation One here.
A review copy of the PlayStation 4 version was provided by Activision.