Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Transformers: Devastation (Xbox One) Review

As a big fan of Transformers, and especially the toys, I was eager to play Transformers: Devastation.  After all, it features one of my favorite Transformers right on the box and pretty much in the title: Devastator!  Even so, that won't get the game a free pass, so let's delve into the review.

First off, I really love the look of the game.  It's a more detailed look of the old "G1" cartoon.  The characters are bright and really pop for me.  They look a bit too detailed, as they seem so shiny.  It's not that bad, as they resemble the IDW artwork from a few years ago.  A lot of the main characters' voice actors reprise their roles, but of course some had to be recast.  Prime and Megatron sound great, and it is always awesome to have Frank Welker also reprise his role as Soundwave (my other favorite Transformer).  Some of the new voices fit fairly well, but you could tell it wasn't the same actor.  Either way, the game does well on the visual and auditory areas.

Looking pretty is one thing, but how does the game play?  If you have played other Platinum Games titles, you probably know what to expect.  Flashy action, rewards for precise dodging and being rated on each encounter.  All of those are true for Devastation.  The action is fast-paced and really flashy.  For example, there is a vehicle attack you can do at the end of your combo, which usually results in you launching your enemy.  So, you just turn into a car (or truck, or... dinosaur) and drive up to them in the air and can continue your combo.  Does it make logical sense?  No, but it looks cool and honestly, you probably did stuff like that as a kid with your toys (or your imagination).

Anyway, the controls are pretty tight, and the dodge window is as well.  If you dodge at just the right moment, you enter a focused state where time slows down and you can easily hit your opponents.  It's exactly like the Witch Time in Bayonetta, which is to be expected.  My complaint with this is that the dodge button and transformation button are the same.  Holding it down will transform you while tapping it will dodge.  I didn't really have a problem accidentally holding it down, but sometimes I did have the opposite problem.  I prefer the transformation button be just a press, as sometimes in the hurry of doing things quickly I would tap instead of hold.  Also, to do the ground pound, you jump and then transform.  This would work better if you didn't have to be absolutely still while transforming.  If you are moving even just a tiny bit, you will lunge forward while transforming and start speeding away.  Not good when you are trying to be precise or under a time constraint.

The combos are neat looking and functional, but I felt no need to do ones other than hitting the X Button.  There a few variations based off when you hit the Y Button instead, but they didn't seem different enough to warrant me doing it.  It's a bit of a let down, since they went with flash for stuff, but didn't give each character cool and unique combo enders that would encourage using them all.  It made the attacking part of the controls feeling rather simplistic.  Shooting was done ok, it just sometimes felt a bit slow.  If you are hit while aiming, you go stumbling back, so it's not something to use in the middle of combat, but is great for shooting snipers and collectibles.

Vehicles themselves handle alright, but feel a bit loose.  There are a few parts where you need to shoot while driving, and those feel sloppy to me, since it's hard to aim and drive at the same time in Devastation.  One section of the game switches to a side-scrolling shooter as you drive on a bridge while fighting a boss.  It's kind of fun at first, but gets more annoying as you go, simply from trying to do a lot of things at once.  You can actually dodge while the car, which I didn't know at first.  It's just hard to avoid everything while trying to figure out where to shoot.  Another similar thing is when the game switches to a top-down view for some story/side missions.  These are harder than normal, simply because of the strange perspective.  I appreciate that they were tying to mix it up and have different experiences, but they just don't feel as polished, or at the least, the exacting style of game doesn't mesh with these other perspectives without more work.

Merge for the kill!
Each Autobot can equip four weapons, one of which must be a melee weapon and one of which must be a ranged weapon.  There are many types to choose from, and even some cool special ones that fans of the different Transformers series may recognize.  They can also be upgraded with the game's synthesis system.  It isn't well explained in the game, but you can put one weapon into another to gain experience and transfer skills.  Since you get so many drops, it is best to use fodder to level up the pieces you use, especially the melee ones.  You can also buy normal items, like healing kits, and make special items you can equip for passive effects.  These special items are made with a little mini-game that tasks you with stopping a cursor in a specific place.  It's... really lose, and hard to get anything great out of, since the effect is random.  Even so, they tend to be cheap and you can get decent stuff eventually.  Worth doing every now and again, but hard to use effectively in my opinion.

The story is a step up from the old cartoon, but still not as good as either of the Cybertron games.  It's more there to move the action along, and while not preferable, is serviceable.  Most cool moments in the story are right before some of the better fights.  There isn't much tension built up from previous encounters with characters unless you are familiar with the property.  For example, at one point you hear about Motormaster, one of the Decepticons.  You will fight him a bit later, but fans of Transformers likely know that he is the center of another combiner, named Menasor.  So when it happens, a non-fan will likely be surprised, but a fan will have build-up because they likely know what it means for a future fight when Motormaster is mentioned.  The boss fights are pretty fun, especially against the giant combiners.  Sure, they are bigger than the separate robots put together, but I'll let that go because fighting giants enemies can be really fun.

Sadly, the story kind of keeps things confined to a few locations.  You are really only fighting in a city and on a Cybertronian ship.  Several areas are reused for each stage.  Enemy variety is a bit better, but not by much.  There are four basic enemies.  One is the car-forming ground based foes, with a stronger commander variant.  There are seeker (airplane) foes, with a tougher variant later in the game.  Insecticons show up from time to time, all three types, and last is the heavy troops, who transform into tanks.  Most of the bosses are based off these types as well, save the giant combiners, and the 'waves (Sound and Shock).  There is an occasional robot tentacle thrown in for good measure, but after you have fought against each of the basic types, you know how to fight 90% of the enemies.  More variety would have been nice, but I wouldn't have minded that if the combos were more varied.

The game's length is probably its biggest detractor.  My first run clocked in at 6 hours, and that was with doing half of the side missions.  I could have done them all, but I more wanted to push through the game and do the side missions later.  They are blatantly filler, but that's fine since it gives you more to do.  They are scattered around the map, forcing you to go out of your way to do them, and don't seem to be unlockable after completion.  Other than getting more experience and items, I don't know if there is another reason to do the side missions, since I didn't see anything about them being marked as 'done' anywhere, unlike the Challenges.  From the Main Menu, there are 50 challenges you can unlock and complete.  Throughout the game there are also several collectibles to get, so make sure you look around (mostly up) and have a sniper rifle equipped.  These tend to unlock concept art, which is always fun to look at.

There are a total of 7 chapters.  The first two are the longest, and the rest can get significantly shorter.  I was playing on the easiest setting, since Platinum games tend to be punish the player for imperfection.  Even so, this game seems a bit easier than their average, which is welcome in my book.  It was definitely more fun for me to have it on a lower difficulty, but I will certainly go back and play the higher ones with better equipment.  Plus, I really want to get a few of the achievements, because of the associated artwork to put as my console background!  Now I just have to beat the bosses without getting hit...

As a fan of Transformers, I did enjoy Devastation.  It looks great and gives a nostalgic feel of making cartoon robots fight each other in flashy ways.  As a gamer, I was a bit disappointed with some of the controls, and the length of the game.  Also, I still really disliked rating each and every encounter.  It's a game, not a term paper!  Anyway, the game is fun, but a bit short unless you want to go through it multiple times and use all of the different playable Autobots.  Still, I am looking forward to a sequel, and hopefully we can play as some Decepticons next time.  If you are a fan of other Platinum Games titles, or the Transformers property, I would recommend at least playing Transformers: Devastation.

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