The Transformers have been with us for thirty years now, and in that time they’ve graced every form of media you can imagine. We’ve had cartoons, comics, movies, music and books. But so rarely have there been Transformers video games, you could count them on the fingers of one hand. If you only counted the good ones, you’d end up making a very rude gesture indeed.
Transformers games of the past have included the dire Commodore 64 game; the infamous Famicom Mystery of Convoy; and the PS2 bore-fest from (*snigger*) Winkysoft. So where does Devastation stand?
First of all, the graphics are lovely, even if you’re playing on your old Xbox 360. The game moves along at a silky-smooth framerate that never slows even when things get busy on screen. Coming from the studio that brought us Viewtiful Joe and Okami, it’s no surprise that everything has a painted, cel-shaded look that manages to emulate the old 80s cartoon yet provide a crisp, metallic sheen to the characters.
It looks like the old Transformers cartoon come to vivid life, and it’s brilliant. The Transformers themselves are reminiscent of the old cartoon designs but are more intricately detailed. The animation is top-notch and the characters leap around like gymnasts, tumbling and somersaulting around the levels. At any time you can transform into vehicle mode, and it’s intensely satisfying – you’ll no doubt spend a little while just transforming back and forth.
If you had asked a kid back in the eighties to describe the perfect Transformer computer game (and, well, a computer to play it on) he would not in his wildest dreams have thought up anything half as good as this. That said, we do wonder if the kids of today will be put off by the cartoonish stylings. Not for nothing have the modern Transformer movies made four billion dollars – it may be too much to ask for people to make the leap back to the old cartoony style.
The game is primarily an “action combat game”, or hack ‘n’ slasher as they’re more commonly known. It seems a strange and risky choice for a Transformers title, given the relatively small audience for the genre. Indeed, we were a bit apprehensive about it, but you couldn’t have surgically removed the smile from Adam’s face as he tore around the first level as Sideswipe in Lamborghini mode and sped towards a Decepticon, before transforming back to robot mode at 100mph and uppercutting him square beneath the jaw. Kabosh!
The freedom of movement is fantastic. The superb animation combined with slick motion and camera controls means that you’ll spend a few minutes running around each new environment just for the fun of it. There’s nothing quite like leaping around the city as Optimus Prime – the real Optimus Prime, not Michael Bay’s movie monster – then with a press of a button transforming to truck mode to drive through underground tunnels while your headlights illuminate the path ahead.
The playable characters – Prime, Sideswipe, Bumblebee, Wheejack and Grimlock – can either use their traditional weaponry that they’re famous for (Optimus’ axe, Sideswipe’s shoulder cannon, etc) or swap them out for a huge variety of blasters, flamethrowers, swords and hammers to take on the legions of Decepticon goons and – far more frequently than you might expect – big hitters like Megatron, Soundwave or the mighty Devastator!
You can upgrade your character and weapons, but frankly it makes our heads spin. There are way too many statistics and XP points and whatnot – it’s very daunting. However, the game is first and foremost a hack ‘n’ slasher so these things are to be expected. Many players will enjoy improving their weapons or leveling-up their characters, no doubt.
Upgrades and power-ups can be found scattered around the environments or can be created in Wheeljack’s lab in a fun little mini-game found on the character-select screen.
There are little cameos and appearances from Transformers characters and lore long forgotten. Some are pretty obvious, like the little Kremzeek that hides in the dark alleyways, and others more subtle, like the image of Prowl’s stern face staring back at you from a computer monitor.
There are quite a few unlockables to be found, including artwork from the game and the wider Transformers universe, as well as weapons and downloadable skins for your characters. Bumblebee and Sideswipe become Goldbug and Red Alert at the touch of a button. It won’t add much replayability to the game, but it’s nice for fans of the latter two characters and bodes well for future DLC content.
The graphics and presentation are wonderful, but the music is quite generic, despite Vince DiCola’s input. Most of the time you won’t even notice it, but when you do it has that inoffensive ‘rawk’ feel that puts us in mind of Sonic Adventure. The voices are spot-on, though, with several of the original cast returning to reprise their roles. The most obvious – apart from Peter Cullen and Frank Welker – being the unmistakable Michael Bell. The characters will narrate your gameplay and mutter amusing non-sequiturs to themselves, and also talk to each other via a little pop-up in the bottom of the screen, much like your team mates in Star Fox.
We doubt that many casual players will want to see the game through to the end. It’s really only for die-hard hack ‘n’ slashers. It’s a shame, as the joy of movement, great graphics and slick combat could have made for an unbeatable action-platformer.
As it is, the environments are a little too small for players uninterested in the combat to make a game of exploring, and we worry that the relatively niche genre will put off most players. It also seems strange that you can only play as the Autobots, despite the enemy Decepticons being so well designed that it seems like a cruel tease to have them unplayable.
It’s a more entertaining game than the grisly and grim War for Cybertron, but the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long. A bargain at £25 (if you settle for last gen), it’s great while it lasts – if you love games like Bayonetta, Devil May Cry or Oneechanbara, then add a point to the score. If you also love Transformers, add another point – you’ll be in heaven.