Transformers: Devastation review

The robots may be in disguise, but there isn’t anything subtle about Platinum’s love letter to old school Transformers.

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Win, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Activision
Developer PlatinumGames
Release Date Oct 6, 2015

In a world where the battle between Autobots and Decepticons hadn’t been adapted into one of the biggest film franchises on Earth, Transformers: Devastation would be a dizzying dose of nostalgia. Platinum Games, one of the industry’s best action developers, lovingly lifting the original cartoon series (Generation 1, as it’s retroactively known) for a beautifully animated brawler? It would be an answer to the prayers of an 80s-kid-at-heart.

However, we live in this reality, and it’s one where there have been a couple of excellent Transformers games and four extremely loud movies. It’s a reality where Transformers: Devastation doesn’t get a free nostalgia pass, and as a result, its numerous shortcomings will likely warn away all but the most diehard G1 fans. But, if you count yourself among that number, read on, because you are in for a treat.

The plot of Transformers: Devastation is simple: the Decepticons want to turn Earth into Cybertron 2 and the heroic Autobots have to stop them because they really like Earthlings how they are (which is to say, alive). There are innumerable Cyber MacGuffins tossed into the mix, because this is a Transformers story, but it’s easy to follow if you just remember that whatever the Decepticons say they want to do, you, the player controlling the Autobots, want to do the inverse of that.

Platinum has crafted some pretty darn good robot beating

All of that story is reserved for cutscenes (which is a pretty darn good simulacra of Generation 1 Transformers, with plenty of the original voice talent returning). Otherwise, your only meaningful interaction with the world of Transformers: Devastation is beating the living hell out of a whole lot of robots in disguise.

Luckily, Platinum has crafted some pretty darn good robot beating.

transformers devastation tall screen 1

Other Transformers games have built a very competent shooting engine around the bots, but Devastation is much more of a brawler that smartly weaponizes the titular robots' ability to flip instantly between robot and car. Combos are finished, for example, with a vehicle-based attack, like Optimus Prime doing crazy, fire-spitting donuts in his semi truck form. Driving full speed at an enemy can chain into a punishing melee attack that can break enemy shields and kick off combos.

Platinum has also wisely stolen from itself, lifting Bayonetta’s "Witch Time" ability, wherein dodging enemy attacks grants a couple of seconds of slowed time during which enemies are left incredibly vulnerable. I know it was lifted from a better game, but who cares? It’s a fun mechanic, and it’s put to great use here.

There’s plenty of variety in melee combat to keep it fresh. You’ve got a wide range of hammers, powered gauntlets and swords in your arsenal, plus you can switch the OG Autobot under your control, each of which have a unique feel, between missions.

There are ranged weapons available, but between the lack of a lock-on and the frenetic speed of combat, I rarely found myself employing them. In fact, the melee combat is so satisfying, they could have safely been omitted altogether.

That’s not to say lock-on wouldn’t have been helpful. In fact, it would have saved my bacon plenty of times when I was up against a highly mobile horde (some of which were flying) that forced me to wildly spin the camera in a futile effort to keep focused on them. Often, I found myself mindlessly pounding the attack button in the hopes that I would connect with an enemy.

I hit a lot more than I missed, but sadly, the same can’t be said for Transformers: Devastation, which makes some significant missteps whenever it strays from its core competency of one robot pulverizing waves of weaker robots into scrap metal and silicon.

Boss battles in particular are a big frustration. These typically pit your Autobot of choice against one or two fan-favorite Decepticons, and even though taking on a dozen lesser enemies is a satisfying challenge, Platinum’s solution for one-on-one fights is to jack the boss’ health and damage so high that it occasionally feels like you’re the butt of a bad joke. Worse, my victories usually felt like the result of getting lucky catching an enemy in vulnerable parts of their animations or on corners of the environment as opposed to learning effective patterns. It turns what should be high points of the game into draining slogs.

This being a Platinum game, you’re enticed to retry stages and even take on some new one-off challenges in the hopes of attaining a better ranking. The robot-on-robot action is good enough that I was OK hopping back in, plus, you’ll probably be looking for ways to extend the game’s lifespan after the six-hour campaign, which feels paltry even at Devastation’s "budget" price of $50.

If endlessly replaying robot fights free of context or story sounds appealing to you, it’s probably a pretty darn good indicator as to whether or not you’ll want to look into Transformers: Devastation.

Fan service and solid action aside, there is very little to recommend here. In addition to the camera, difficulty and length gripes above, there’s a system for upgrading weapons that’s an absolute chore to manage. There are environments reused repeatedly. There’s a really poorly thought-out leveling system which rewards sticking with one Autobot throughout, which is a bummer when it’s really more fun to hop around the squad.

Transformers: Devastation tall image
This is a love letter to Transformers G1

transformers devastation screen 3

Wrap Up:

Superfans, roll out! Everyone else, on the other hand ...

Transformers: Devastation succeeds as fan service by shoving the things it does poorly far enough into the periphery they're hard to see while pretending to be a robot punching other robots.

That fan service would admittedly be more potent if the Transformers hadn't been so thoroughly nostalgia-mined by Michael Bay and Activision in the last decade, but you could hardly blame Platinum that we don't live in that alternate reality.

"It's not great, but fans will love it" has become a deservedly maligned critical trope, so I'm sort of hesitant to employ it here. But I'm not sure I've come across a game that so perfectly fits the label as Transformers: Devastation. This is a love letter to Transformers G1, and fans left cold by grittier takes on the robots in disguise are going to be delighted, even if the rest of the world can't figure out what the fuss is all about.

Transformers: Devastation was reviewed using a retail PlayStation 4 disc purchased by Polygon. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

About Polygon's Reviews
6.5 PS4