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]
Hands-On With The Robots In Disguise
My hands-on time with Transformers: Devastation confirmed what the non-playable demo hinted. Anyone who has played a Platinum game will recognize the feel of the action, which flips between low-key periods of running and uncovering secrets in a series of corridor-like environments, and then opening up into large arena spaces where fights unfold. Playing as Optimus Prime, I quickly got a feel for the fighting. Combos are easy to complete, and after a few fights I got a handle on the timing needed to dodge and parry attacks.
Weapons are mapped to the d-pad, and you can have any four items equipped at one time, as long as at least one of them is melee and one is ranged. Prime’s ion blaster made short work of Decepticon jet seekers as they flew by overhead, while ground-based soldiers are easy targets for my energy axe. Platinum plans to include around 150 distinct weapons in the game, including everything from Wheeljack’s wrenches to sniper rifles, homing missiles, and weapons that fire slowing gel.
As I explored the Earth-based city, I occasionally found hidden item caches with randomized loot. Rewards are sometimes one-time consumables, which can apply effects like increased item-find rate, or a higher health total. Other drops are new weapons, all of which carry a quality rating between 1 and 99. Play on a higher difficulty setting, and the quality of the loot increases, offering a suitable reward for tackling the bigger challenge.
After defeating several smaller minion fights, I emerged into an open city square just in time to see the hulking mass of Devastator crawl over the opposite building and drop down in front of me. Fans will recall that Devastator is the combined form of the six Constructicons, and Platinum has gone out of its way to make the combiner robot look gigantic. His ground-smashing attacks wreck my health, but careful dodging allows me to get behind and slash his legs. From time to time, his attacks uproot large patches of earth, which act as a perfect ramp for Optimus Prime to transform and zoom up, before he transforms back into robot form to slash at the Decepticon’s huge head.
The battle against Devastator helped showcase the game’s leveling system, which harkens back to the original eight stats that once appeared on all the original Transformers toys: strength, intelligence, speed, endurance, rank, courage, firepower, and skill. By defeating enemies, each of the game’s five playable characters levels up in a pre-ordained upgrade path, slowly working them up toward a max 99 skill in each category, which in turn allows for easier tackling of the highest difficulties. Whichever character you’re playing gets the bulk of the experience and skill upgrades, but in order to keep everyone roughly at pace, your inactive characters also level at a slower pace as well.
In a later fight against Megatron, I switched characters and took on the role of spunky Bumblebee, who lacks Prime’s strength, but makes it up for it in agility and speed. His special attack allowed me to slip underneath Megatron’s legs and attack from behind, even as an NPC version of Prime attacked from the front. This fight also gave me the opportunity to try out the rush attack. Chiefly used to bring down an enemy’s energy shields, I transformed into Bumblebee’s VW bug form and sped around for a couple of seconds to build up speed before slamming into Megatron to unleash a combo attack.
Sideswipe offers a similarly fast play style, but with the distinct feel of a martial artist or ninja thrown into the mix. Sideswipe defaults to wielding dual swords against his enemies, and his special move allows for a near-instantaneous leap forward to crash into enemies. I also tried out his ultimate move (a slower charging attack distinct from each character’s special), which unleashed a bevy of shoulder-mounted missiles against nearby targets.
Through it all, the music is roaring ‘80s-style rock – a perfect accompaniment to the action.
More Than Just Fighting
After racing through the city streets in Sideswipe’s sweet sports-car mode, I came across a Teletraan Uplink station, linking me up to the Autobot’s home base and computer. By entering the point, I’m teleported back to headquarters. Here, I’m able to change characters as well as engage in Devastation’s crafting system. Two different weapons can be synthesized together to create a better version that shares the best traits of the parent weapons. In addition, the Teletraan computer also allows me to craft new T.E.C.H. items. I pay money (acquired as loot during missions) to get a chance at a timing-based crafting mini-game, which determines the final quality of the T.E.C.H. item I receive. These items can provide a boost to an existing stat, and must be equipped onto individual Autobots into one of several T.E.C.H. slots.
Teleporting back into the city, I’m treated to one last action sequence to play, in which Megatron is fleeing while crouched in the back of the Constructicon Long Haul’s dump-truck bed. The running chase scene has me dodging blasts from Megatron’s fusion cannon as I race to catch up to him. After knocking out Long Haul, I continue to pursue Megatron after he has transformed into a massive silver tank with its turret pointed back at me. The fight ends as I finally catch up and tackle the Decepticon leader.
While I got a good feel for Optimus Prime, Sideswipe, and Bumblebee, the demo I played didn’t give me a chance to see Devastation’s other playable heroes: Grimlock and Wheeljack. Both unlock a little further into the campaign. Grimlock is described as a bruiser of a character in both robot and dinosaur form. He’s slow but extremely powerful, with special moves that let him grapple and throw enemies, as well as breathe fire. Meanwhile, Wheeljack is described as the ranged-focused character, with the broadest array of allowable weapons to try out, and an energy shield special that blocks all incoming attacks in a particular direction.
Transformers: Devastation is awash in nostalgia, and it shouldn’t have any trouble catching the eye of older fans. At the same time, the stylish, fast-paced combat has the potential to draw in younger Transformers fans who may have been raised on the live-action movies or one of the several recent cartoon series, like Transformers: Prime. Whatever your entry point, it’s clear that Platinum is putting a lot of heart into nailing the Transformers aesthetic, and adding in a lot of bonus features to keep fans happy. I saw a turret sequence in which Optimus Prime took down gathering waves of Insecticons, much like certain old-school arcade games. I also found a hidden collectible in the world that was a bouncing, hard-to-catch creature that turned out to be Kremzeek, a relatively obscure reference from the ‘80s cartoon. And to show off that the game is more than just a story mode, Activision revealed that Platinum is also implementing a challenge-game mode that includes 50 escalating objective-based combat missions, which are said to be wildly difficult.
Until I’ve had more time with the combat system, it’s hard to say with certainty how well the combo-based action will hold up over a full game. However, my early play test left a strong impression, both that Platinum has brought their A-game to this property, and that the developer understands the fun and overblown nature of the Transformers property. I’m eager to get the full dose of ‘80s nostalgia when Transformers: Devastation releases late this year.