Game review: Transformers: Devastation for PS4

Okay, so this really, honestly should be my last game review for a while because at this point I don’t have many games left to trade in, and I want to keep most of those to replay when I need a diversion. As it turns out, this last game is one of those keepers. I’d read some unkind reviews of Transformers: Devastation that turned me off of it initially, mainly because they said the boss fights were ridiculously difficult. But hey, it’s a used copy for cheap, and I did beat Dark Souls III. So I can probably hack whatever the game throws at me, right? Yes, actually, I can. And I liked most of what I played.

I’m in agreement that some of those boss fights are ridiculously hard. It’s not so much the bosses themselves that make it hard for me, though. Sure, they have massive health bars and a plethora of attacks, but what makes it hard is the game’s intentionally wonky camera. It seems to me like if a game isn’t hard enough, the game makers mess with the camera to make it harder. Buh.

But so anyway, I should move on to the praise, because there is quite a lot to like in this little sliver of gaming goodness. First of all, being a fan of Transformers going back to the original 80s cartoon and comics, I can attest that it successfully nails the “feel” of the show and comics. The cut scenes merge pretty well with the combat, and the rendering style is almost a perfect match. While the game is really chintzy with ranged weapons ammo, the melee combat works pretty well, or at least well enough that I don’t feel like griping about not having more opportunities to shoot stuff.

It’s a standard control scheme with a light and heavy attack, and jump and use on the face buttons. It’s all very easy to keep track of, and arranged in a logical way that allows for a fluid jump and attack combo. The d-pad selects weapons, and the trigger buttons handle the ranged shooty stuff. The shoulders are used for transforming, for a nigh-ludicrous vehicle attack, (How on earth can a wheeled vehicle peel out on thin air to launch itself at an enemy? Ludicrous. But hey, not any more zany than being able to jump in vehicle mode, something I only sorted out I could do four hours into the game.) and for a Transformer-specific special ability that recharges slowly after each use. There’s also an ultimate attack that is launched by pressing both the analog sticks at the same time, and that ended up being pretty useful in a few situations where I couldn’t sort out how else to deal with certain enemies.

The game follows a standard cartoon plot, with Megatron being his usual arrogant self and attempting to convert Earth into a new Cybertron. As there’s only so many named Decepticons to go around for the various boss battles, the game tosses out what I started calling Genericons. These enemies are all copy pasta warriors who help pad out the various arenas the game locks you into. This is not my favorite style of game, but the limited number of baddies in each locked arena was manageable and never felt too hard that I wanted to give up. There WERE some fights when my hands got sore and I started asking, “Man, how many of these guys are left?” But that was usually the time when the last Genericon fell and gave me a chance to breathe before I moved on to the next arena or boss fight.

The bosses are sometimes ridiculous for the size of their health bars and the increasing number of extra attacks they can do. On several occasions I remember groaning, “I didn’t even know he could do that.” So some of this stuff isn’t canon, yo. But again, it’s manageable, and not a deal breaker for me. (And okay, with such a large cast of possible Decepticon bosses, I did find it annoying that I had to keep facing the same bosses multiple times.)

What almost was a deal breaker were a few sections where the game started messing with the camera angle. I get that they wanted to add some variety, but the top down and side view levels drove me a bit bonkers because I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. Another few level took place in space, and the bosses were moving all over the place so fast that even trying to keep the camera stick moving, I rarely got a lock on them for more than a second. I didn’t win those fights through skill. It was truly dumb luck.

I will pause to complain about this just a little. As I said to my hubby after a really stressing sequence, if you’ve got a competent core game that’s fun and challenging, why would you want to mess with that simply for the sake of some forced variety? Stick with what works, and don’t worry about bolting extra bits onto it.

There’s a fight with Shockwave later in the game that took forever because he clones himself and I had a hard time telling who to hit through all the freaking special effects. Soundwave has a similar fight, with me trying to keep track of him and his many cassette tape buddies and their many ranged attacks all while the floor kept rising and falling to blind me. This is a literal case of fighting on an uneven playing field.

But these were only a few instances of frustration in what was an otherwise enjoyable six hour romp through the land of shiny cartoony nostalgia. This is helped by the fact that the game didn’t suffer from lag or any glitchy behavior. Well…okay, one fight with Devastator and Menasor was a bit wonky, in that these two giant robots were walking through each other, but that’s about the only time I saw any wonkiness.

The controls are good, with no instances of wrong button syndrome striking even in the heat of combat. And with my fat thumbs, you know that has to be the mark of a very good control scheme. The graphics are nice, and the soundtrack really hits the sweet spot for making me feel like I was watching a marathon of the old series.

It’s also good in that it’s a short game, and I finished the whole thing in a single six hour session. (Three hours, followed by a dinner break, followed by another three hours.) The frantic fighting style could easily overstay its welcome in a longer game. This gets in, does its thing, and gets out without making me think “Thank God that’s over.” There’s even a nice little cut scene at the end that hints at a tantalizing direction for a sequel. I saw it coming, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t look forward to seeing a game cover that “episode.”

This is part of the reason I can see playing it over again. Even the parts that drove me nuts were mercifully short, and going through a second or third time, I will at least have a better clue of what those sections wanted me to do. There’s stuff I can try to collect, and even some side missions and challenges that I left alone the first time through that I might give a chance on a replay.

I’ll give Transformers: Devastation 4 stars. It’s almost but not quite good enough to earn that last star, but it is fun and something I can see pulling back out from time to time when I’m feeling the need for Peter Cullen to deliver some classic cliche cheese.