If you grew up in the ‘80s, it was hard to avoid exposure to the Transformers. For many kids, it was an early introduction to serialized storytelling and science fiction. Platinum Games and Activision just announced Transformers: Devastation, a new game for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. The surprising new game is strongly inspired by the original cartoon. I visited Activision for an exclusive first look at the title, which included a lengthy hands-on session with three of the game’s five playable Transformers.

Back To The Roots

Transformers: Devastation is coming to us from the same studio that brought us Vanquish, Bayonetta and its sequel, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. In fact, Devastation is being headed up by Kenji Saito, who directed Revengeance. Many of the team members at Platinum are avowed Transformers enthusiasts, and jumped at the chance to craft a game within the beloved mythology.

While the recent High Moon games, War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, drew upon the original “Generation 1” (G1) characters and timelines, Platinum is aiming for something even closer to the original 1980s cartoon. Devastation is officially set in Hasbro’s G1-inspired Generations toy universe, but even a quick glimpse at the visuals reveal that the game feels aesthetically rooted in the ‘80s cartoon. Familiar Autobot and Decepticon characters are peppered throughout the game, and their visualizations are chiefly inspired by the recent Generations toys, the characters’ appearances in the original show, as well as tinges of the characters’ personalities as they appear in the recent G1-themed IDW comic. 

The result is a bright, cartoony, cel-shaded art style that feels lifted right out of the ‘80s. Many of the cartoon’s original voice actors return including Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, Frank Welker as Megatron and Soundwave, Greg Berger as Grimlock, Michael Bell as Sideswipe, and Dan Gilvezan as Bumblebee. If the iconic appearances of these characters don’t nail the nostalgia factor, the sound of their original voices certainly will. 

Devastation’s story follows a strange event unfolding on the Transformers’ adopted planet of Earth. Megatron discovers a massive ship deep underground, and it is the key to discovering why the planet seems to be slowly transforming into a new version of Cybertron. 

A First Look

Our demo opens with Autobot leader Optimus Prime infiltrating the underground ship. The game plays as a third-person action brawler, much like what we’ve come to expect from Platinum. However, as Optimus Prime rolls out through the metallic environs of the ship, two major factors set the gameplay apart. First, Prime can transform at will into his flat-nosed tractor-trailer vehicle form, and zip along corridors, or even ram into enemies during combat. Second, unlike a traditional brawler, players have access to both melee weapons (including the iconic energy axe that some may remember from the cartoon) and a wide array of ranged weaponry. 

After blasting past a swarming mass of Insecticons, Optimus Prime emerges into an open arena space, where none other than Decepticon intelligence officer Soundwave drops in, along with his counterparts, his many transforming cassette tapes. Battle ensues, and I get an early sense of the flow of combat. A normal and heavy attack are mapped to the face buttons, and any number of different combo attacks can be unleashed by combining them. Manage a good combo, and a button prompt encourages you to initiate a vehicle attack; Prime slams into Soundwave repeatedly. Ranged weapons can be fired from the back shoulder buttons, while R1 or RB initiates a dodge. Carefully time a button press, and you can parry an attack, resulting in a brief time slowdown during which you can hammer your opponent. Jump and double jump are both on the same bottom face button, and allow for midair fights. A recharging special attack bar offers regular opportunities to unleash your character’s signature assault, like Optimus Prime summoning his trailer and spinning around in a vast vehicle-based area attack. 

Action animations are reminiscent of the exaggerated movesets that defined ‘80s cartoons, while idle animations recall the personalities of the characters, like Bumblebee putting his hands behind his head and rocking back on his heels. Battles shoot for a melding of stylish action games like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but with a distinctly Transformers palette of moves, colors, and visual cues.

[Next Page: Hands-on with the new game, and details on the crafting and characters]