Gaming for me recently has mainly consisted of slogging my way through open-world epics such as Batman: Arkham Knight, The Witcher 3 and Far Cry 4. And so with that mind, Platinum Games’ left-of-field release Transformers: Devastation was the most perfect of palate cleansers.
Devastation’s plot, according to Wikipedia is simply "When Megatron discovers a way to harness the power of plasma energy to cyberform the planet Earth, destroying organic life and turning the planet to metal, Optimus Prime and the Autobots must work to bring down the plasma-powered Decepticons." Which is about as perfect a synopsis for a game like this as you can find.
Platinum’s take on the Transformers universe is also a refreshing revert to the Transformers that those of us of a certain age grew up watching and playing with in the 80s. Things couldn’t be further from the Michael Bay testosterone-infused Transformers of recent years with lingering shots of a female protagonist’s derriere constantly leering at you, or split-second jump-cuts reguarly interrupting the action. This is a bright, colourful and cheery, Saturday morning cartoon show where robots beat the nuts and bolts out of each other with a crescendo of familiar sound effects and a naff 80s rock soundtrack all combing to glorious effect.
Platinum perfected the art of the third-person action brawler with Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising, and while Devastation certainly takes some cues from the eponymous witch, Devastation is more of a streamlined experience. The controls are stripped back for a start, with only light and heavy attacks supplemented by ranged weapons. But thanks to each playable character’s ability, to well, you know, transform, there are also a number of vehicular attacks to further mix up the combat.
There’s immense satisfaction to be had in steaming through a level as Sideswipe, hurtling through accelerator portals before unleashing a spectacular uppercut to Megatron’s jaw while a fireworks display of sound and colour erupts all around you. Sure, it’s nowhere near as deep as a game like Bayonetta or DmC, but that’s not necessarily a criticism of the game as it’s also in keeping with its Saturday morning cartoon virtues both literally and metaphorically. This is a game aimed squarely at a younger audience, but one that contains enough strategy, depth and panache for older jaded gamers to still enjoy.
Devastation was clearly developed on a strict budget and nowhere is this more obvious than in the sparsity of its levels. There’s not a whole lot of variety, and sections are repeated and recycled over and over, but thankfully the action is so fast and frenetic that this never really becomes a problem. There are also a few questionable design decisions such as wind generators and electrical forcefields gating access to parts of the levels and that X number of enemies have to be cleared before progress can be made, which sound fairly rote and would otherwise put you off, but is thankfully something you quickly forgive. What Devastation lacks in originality and polish it more than makes up for in fun, which let’s face it, is why we play games in the first place.
Graphically Devastation is a delight with its aesthetics somewhere between Borderlands, a 2015 rendition of Capcom’s Auto Modellista and Ubisoft’s flawed shooter XIII. It’s bold and colourful cel-shaded characters look authentic and vibrant and it kicks along at a fair old pace, too. That it also features the original 80s cartoon show's voice actors was something lost on me as my memories have faded, but is still a nice touch.
Yes it can be completed in four or five hours, but with additional weapons and addons to unlock and different playstyles for each of the five main characters it's still a decent value proposition. That it costs £20 on Xbox 360 and £35 on current-gen consoles also reflects this, but you know what? I'm fine with that.
Transformers: Devastation isn’t going to win any Game of the Year awards, but in this age of hugely expansive games requiring prolonged periods of play to move things along even by 1%, its brevity is welcome. In the same way that there are B-Movies, Devastation is very much the gaming equivalent. It’s solid and distracting, doesn’t outstay its welcome, and brings back memories of the original (and best) Transformers instead of the ADHD-inflected, sexed up monstrosity that is Michael Bay’s version. Perhaps the best plaudit I can give Tranformers: Devastation is that I imagine that if I had a son, it would be the perfect game to buy in the weekly shop and claim it was for him, before then sitting down to play it together, when really, you know what, it was mainly for me.