Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Transformers: Devastation

While I haven’t played many games made by PlatinumGames, and I probably won’t, one game I was instantly attracted to was their take on Transformers in the form of Transformers: Devastation, thanks in part to the developers’ usual gameplay style and their attempts to capture the feeling of the 1984 The Transformers cartoon as close as possible. While I did play this game when it came out and liked it, I never gave the game a proper review since I was losing my enthusiasm for writing reviews at the time. After deciding to go back and do the game better justice, it’s still one of the better Transformers games out there and it manages to create a world with some interesting potential that will sadly never get properly fleshed out.

The Decepticons, led by Megatron, have launched an attack on New York City with the intent to Cyberform Earth. In response, a small group of Autobots led by Optimus Prime attempt to stop Megatron’s plans. As it turns out, however, Megatron was also after another Autobot ship that had crash-landed in New York millennia ago known as the Proudstar, originally led by Nova Prime.

While short, the story was easy to follow and introduced some interesting lore, such as the Proudstar and its occupants as well as a rather important piece of cargo in the form of the Ferrotaxis, a computer which contains all knowledge of Cybertronian history and culture. It’s also interesting how, while telling a story that worked well with the Generation 1 aesthetic, it managed to work in elements from other sources such as the IDW comics and the then-current toyline in a way that allowed it to stand on its own. The story also leaves itself open to a potentially interesting sequel, though sadly it seems as though this will never come to pass.

There are five playable characters (Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack and Grimlock), each with their own playstyle. Each character can hold up to four weapons at once across one Melee slot, one Ranged slot and two Free slots, which are mapped to the D-Pad. Additional weapons can be obtained through playing the game, either via hidden lootbox-like items scattered across levels or from completing Chapters. Because of the lootbox system, it is incredibly easy to obtain multiple copies of the same weapon, however copies can either be sold for credits or synthesized with other weapons to level them up.

Characters start off with their more iconic weapons, such as Optimus Prime's
Energon Axe that he used for exactly one episode in the 1984 cartoon.

Credits, the game’s form of currency, can be used to purchase additional items, weapons and skills, as well as speed up the process of leveling up Tech Specs. Credits can additionally be used to create T.E.C.H. powerups, however the ability of the T.E.C.H. and how good it is depends entirely on how much you spend and where you land a moving line on a colored bar. While I have been able to get really good T.E.C.H. out of this, such as one that turns excess Health into EXP, I couldn’t help but feel that the system in which they are forged was an unnecessary complication in the form of a glorified lootbox mechanic.

In an interesting twist on the transformation gimmick, the game incorporates this by turning it into a weapon itself. Players can use ranged weapons while in alt-mode, as well as generate enough speed to use the alt-mode as a battering ram or to launch a stronger melee attack. Each character also has a special attack that can be activated once a gauge is filled, with Optimus Prime using his trailer in alt-mode as a whip against nearby enemies. Other characters don't use their alt-mode for this, instead having a technique that works with their play style, such as Wheeljack equipping himself with a shield and Sideswipe performing a quick dash.

As per tradition with PlatinumGames titles, you are graded based on how quickly you can get through a level, though in this case each Chapter has multiple Missions with their own scores, which are then tallied up at the end for a final score. This allows for roaming around the environment for hidden collectibles and various Side Missions that increase the replay value in addition to the multitude of playable characters. In service of promoting the Combiner Wars toyline at the time, two of the bosses include Decepticon Combiners Devastator and Menasor and being able to take them down feels incredibly satisfying.

Combiners are as intimidating as they are large, especially on a first playthrough.
From left: Devastator (Dave Boat), Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen)

What’s interesting about the visuals is how well the game emulates the original 1984 cartoon, down to the character designs perfectly replicating their character models. One of the main exceptions is Megatron, whose model was updated to reflect his now-standard tank alt-mode, since laws have been changed since the 1980s to prevent Megatron from retaining his original gun alt-mode unless under special circumstances. Blitwing’s character model also borrows from the same source material, however what makes him stand out from other iterations is the incorporation of fire and ice powers much like his Transformers Animated counterpart, one which has even influenced some of his more recent interpretations.

While he doesn’t make much of a physical appearance, the character Nova Prime takes his design directly from the 2005 IDW comic book canon, with some minor alterations to the aesthetic to make him appear more like an ‘80s cartoon character model. The level design works into the cartoon look as well, with some clever G1 Easter eggs thrown in such as a background reference to Maccadam’s Old Oil House.

Adding to this, in a rather nice touch, a number of the original voice actors from the 1984 cartoon are brought back to voice some, yet for some reason not all, of their characters represented in the game. While Peter Cullen and Frank Welker are definite highlights, the latter even managing to recapture how he originally played Megatron and Soundwave, one rather notable return is Dan Gilvezan to the role of Bumblebee, having not voiced the character on an official level since the 1980s. Despite his lengthy absence from Transformers, Gilvezan’s portrayal of Bumblebee is such that it sounds like he had been voicing the character for years beyond the cartoon. Similarly, while Michael Bell has had continuing work in Transformers since the original cartoon, this is the first time he gets to voice Sideswipe again and, much like Gilvezan, was able to recapture his original performance.

For characters whose voice actors were not brought back despite being alive at the time the game was released, the voice actors who were brought in make an admirable effort to get as close as possible to the original voice actors’ deliveries. For instance, Darryl Kurylo makes a great pass at imitating Corey Burton’s take on Shockwave, however it was just off enough that I could immediately tell it was not Burton. Scott Whyte, however, does a fantastic job at emulating the late Chris Latta, to where you’d almost think it was actually him.

The music ties everything together well, enhancing the more action-focused gameplay while also working with its Generation 1 aesthetic. During combat, the music has a touch of the style of rock music found in PlatinumGames' own Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which incidentally shares the same director with this game, Kenji Saito. The end credits song, "Face the Devastation", is highly reminiscent of the main title theme from the 1984 cartoon and features an interesting remix of Vince DiCola's score from The Transformers: The Movie.

Transformers: Devastation is a rather short game, however it’s one of the better Transformers games out there next to the games developed by High Moon. Though they were stretching themselves thin at the time, PlatinumGames managed to incorporate their signature gameplay style really well with the Transformers brand, even proving there is still more gameplay potential with a given character’s alternate form. The game has since been delisted from digital storefronts, however it’s still worth giving a try if you’re a fan of PlatinumGames’ style and/or Transformers, especially if you’re a diehard fan of the original cartoon.

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