Transformers: Bayonetta in disguise. Don't try to sing it to the old TV theme tune because it doesn't fit. Sorry. But, hey - it is true. Transformers Devastation is made by Platinum Games and plays just like their classic 3rd-person witch-em-up (and 30th best game of all time (opens in new tab)) Bayonetta. From the slow-mo hit opportunities that follow a perfectly-timed dodge, to its grading system, huge bosses and control scheme, this Transformers game has the core of a AAA classic. In case you hadn't guessed, that's very exciting.
But even without that DNA, 'very exciting' doesn't even come near to describing it from a Transformers fan's point of view. You control any of five classic Autobots and take on the familiar Decepticon menace in environments designed to look like the classic '80s cartoon series. Some of the old voice cast return too, including omnipresent Peter Cullen who, at 74, sounds even more authoritative as the voice of Optimus Prime. And being able to essentially participate in a 5-hour long episode of Transformers as Optimus, Bumblebee and even Grimlock will be a childhood dream come true for many fans. In fact, I'd say it's better to watch than the old cartoons. If you liked them, you'll love this.
License aside, as a video game, the fighting action is simply wonderful. It's basically a robot-themed brawler, and you'll spend most of your time smashing up robots in-between short but solid story scenes. The slow motion window for combos plays a major role in proceedings, and seeing as taking hits instantly lowers your level grade, you'll need to master it to do well. That's fine by me. If anything, the game focuses more on mastering a few mechanics compared to Bayonetta's wealth of attacking options, allowing you to get your teeth into the gameplay. There's also a vehicular attack that flashes up at key moments in a combo, allowing you to get an extra-strong hit in if you're quick, or learn when it's coming. Get in the zone and it all falls into place, allowing you to boss the action.
The transforming element isn't overplayed. Some enemies carry large, pink shields, which require you to transform into your vehicle form and gather enough speed to perform a mega smash punch to break this defense, before unleashing a combo. But that aside, you'll do most of your fighting in humanoid form. There is a special bar attached to L1 that allows you to perform a character-specific special move, such as picking up and throwing foes as Grimlock or performing a circular powerslide as Optimus Prime. Further to this, a second power gauge fills up during battle until you can depress both analog sticks at the same time and perform your biggest attack. Time this right to end the fight and the final, climactic blow looks spectacular as it plays out in super-slow motion.
The d-pad affords you four weapon slots in which to equip weapons, ranging from sniper rifles and machine guns through to flame-throwers and elementally-charged hammers. Switching between your pre-decided loadout in an instant makes for some wonderfully involving battles, and taking down a flying foe with a burst of fire from a fully-upgraded weapon lets you know you're working its systems correctly. The never-faltering 60fps frame rate ensures responsive controls and impressive conflagrations. I wouldn't say it's more spectacular than Bayonetta, but then, few games are.
Sounds great, doesn't it? It is. It really is. But there are still some aspects that fall short of greatness. For starters, that '5-hour episode thing' is a slight problem. The action is decently-paced and always engaging, but I finished the story during my second sitting. There are side challenges to complete for some rare equipment, and the three initial difficulty tiers let you master the game in stages, charting your progress with grades the whole time. The option is there to play through again as a different character, but since you can switch between them at will during the first play-through, it's not like there are any huge surprises there.
The other underwhelming aspect is the level design. It's perhaps understandable that the city itself is light on detail, as it's supposed to look like the original cartoon. But PS2-era level geometry makes for some disappointingly simplistic environmental traversal, and the driving sections between boss fights feel lightweight and throwaway. If the combat wasn't so good, this would be dangerously close to bargain bucket fodder.
There are a few neat non-battle variations to the gameplay, such as moving floors in a later level and some one-off sections like a side-scrolling shooting section, a top-down camera and a particularly memorable turret section. Platinum loves to ape classic games in such moments, and the turret's enemy patterns are reminiscent of Space Harrier. It's a pity there aren't more of these sections, since the fighting action can get a little samey, especially as you essentially play the boss fights in exactly the same way as the regular fights. But when it's always 'the same excellence', it's not something that bothers me too much.
There is extra depth if you're willing to go looking for it for it. Weapons can be infused with other weapons to level them up and carry over attributes, there's a skill-based minigame to win stat boosts and perks for your bot, and your move set can be augmented with new moves bought with credits you earn as you play. Some of these extra moves will be familiar to Bayonetta players, notably the 'push stick towards incoming attack' to parry, which has the potential to change the whole way you play the game.
But seeing as there's only one truly difficult section in normal difficulty (that damn bridge) and the fact all the climactic boss fights are downright easy if you've levelled up properly, the longevity only really comes from the grading system and increased difficulty. Not only is that sort of thing not for everyone, even though it is for me, I don't feel the need to go back and perfect it. I'd rather just switch it on for a quick blast now and then. If that's what a video game about Transformers should offer, it absolutely does its job.
As a Transformers product, Devastation is a massive success. By faithfully reproducing its source material and lifting the template of a AAA classic wholesale, there wasn't much that could go wrong and the result is superb. Fun, slick and satisfying, it's everything a Transformers game should be. And I do take a lot of delight in the thought that some Transformers fans out there will buy this having never played Bayonetta and think 'wow this is a great video game'. It's a wonderfully thin disguise.
This game was reviewed on PS4.