Welcome to a Beyond Co-Op Review. Though the focus here at Co-Optimus is on games that feature cooperative play, from time to time we take a look at single player games. The title under consideration today is Transformers Devastation, the latest release from PlatinumGames, a developer best known for the Bayonetta series as well as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
Before we get too far into this review, in the interests of full disclosure, you should know that I am a huge Transformers fan. As I write these words, I am sitting in my office, surrounded by hundreds of Transformers toys, ranging from those I kept from my childhood to the latest figures you can still find on store shelves. For more than thirty years, I have loved the Transformers through most of their iterations (the movie series is the only exception), but my absolute favorite is the original 80s toyline and cartoon. I will do my best to see Transformers Devastation through the eyes of a regular gamer, but as the Cybertronian robots are so dear to me, there will naturally be some bias.
Transformers Devastation is a hack and slash action game at its heart. You take on the role of one of five Autobots to defeat the Decepticons. (Sounds familiar!) Most of the time, you are fighting against generic troops of a handful of types. More significant, unique characters like Starscream and Soundwave show up from time to time. Sometimes, they appear as cameos to spice up a level, while others they are full-on boss battles. Vehicle mode levels round out the campaign, with just a few minutes spent in shooting gallery style sequence. Most of the time, you are in robot mode, sometimes shooting, but mostly in hand to hand combat, smashing pack after pack of Decepticon troops.
Since most of the game is spent in melee, the weapon-based combat system in Devastation is of utmost importance. All five characters share the same basic attacks, light and heavy, and each can chain together combo attacks in sequence. The ending moves of these combos conclude with your chosen Autobot transforming into vehicle mode to pile on the damage. Optimus, for example, rises up into the air, shifts into truck mode, and crushes his opponents beneath his wheels before performing a burnout over his pinned enemy until they are pulverized. As you can imagine, this is quite satisfying. The animations of the characters in these attacks are a pleasure to watch and have a pleasing, visceral feel when executed well.
Naturally, your enemies don’t just stand around and watch, so you must time your attacks and movements carefully. The most valuable defensive tool in your arsenal is Focus mode, which is activated by carefully timing a button press right before you are hit with an attack. In Focus mode, time slows down, Matrix-style, allowing your on-screen persona to dodge out of the way, avoiding taking damage, and perhaps even performing a counterattack as your Decepticon foes move in slow motion. Mastering Focus mode is a key to progression through the game; even on the lowest difficulty setting, you cannot just button mash your way to victory. But if you can get the timings down, use Focus just right, and keep those combos going, the action is both frantic and engaging.
Devastation is visually stunning. Even in the middle of gameplay, it looks like you are in a high definition cel-shaded version of the original Generation 1 cartoon. These characters have quite simply never looked better. The character models are true to their 80s counterparts in most cases, with the exception of Bumblebee (not a Volkswagen) and Megatron (who trades his gun mode for a beefy tank). Adding to the authentic appeal is the voice work, featuring many of the original actors. The developers clearly meant for Devastation to bring out the nostalgia in long-time fans like me, and it absolutely works on that level.
The combat system is palatable, and the graphics are amazing, but Devastation has its fair share of problems. For one, the campaign is too short. I would estimate that the first playthrough takes around six hours total. There are three difficulties available to begin, plus a couple more than can be unlocked. There are also challenge missions that can be found during the campaign, though these are very short and not much different from what you find in the campaign anyway.
You can, of course, replay the story using different characters than you did the first time. But the characters have most of the same moves and combos, with only a few differences. Examples of these differences include Bumblebee’s back-strike attack and Wheeljack’s shield. I must admit I was disappointed in how similar the characters play. Even when customized using the weapons and (shared) special moves you can buy and upgrade, Optimus, Grimlock, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, and Wheeljack generally have only cosmetic differences. Different stats help some, but not nearly enough.
Another issue is how repetitive Devastation is. You will fight the same basic troops and the ever present Insecticon clones over and over again. Even the characters that appear as boss fights are reused often. The environments lack variety, too, with nearly all of the action taking place in two locations: a generic city and a crashed Cybertonian spaceship. The city in particular can be difficult to navigate through since there are few landmarks to guide the way. Extended vehicle mode sections do alleviate the sameness somewhat, as does a brief but enjoyable shooting gallery segment. But even with these sprinkled in to spice up the campaign, the game is too samey.
Of course, the biggest downside of Devastation is the lack of co-op. Apart from the tutorial level at the very beginning of the story, all five heroic Transformers appear together in the cutscenes and even in gameplay itself. With no story-based reason for single player, lack of co-op is a serious deficiency. If you could partner up with a friend, the campaign would be far more enjoyable. Replacing the rather generic challenge levels with a cooperative survival mode of some sort would have given the game some much needed replayability, as well.
As a Transformers fan, I do enjoy playing Devastation, but it is far from perfect. Add in more variety of enemies, tweak the character abilities, plug in meaningful customization, let a second player join in on the action, and Devastation could be a really enjoyable co-op action RPG. Instead, it is limited albeit entertaining single player brawler. If you are not a fan of the giant shape-shifting robots, the strong melee combat system and slick art style may not be enough to keep you coming back for more beyond the too-short story mode. Transformers Devastation is a good game, but it could have been (if you’ll pardon the pun) more, much more, than meets the eye.