To quote a tiny yellow robot during one of Transformers: Devastation's many brilliant moments, "I did not see that coming." Despite the killer cel-shaded look and a cast packed with voice actors from the '80s cartoon reprising their roles as the original robots in disguise, all signs pointed towards Transformers: Devastation being a massive disappointment.
Announced at E3 2015 for release less than four months later, developed by a team whose last cel-shaded cartoon tie-in was the lacklustre The Legend of Korra beat-em up — both not good signs. And when publisher Activision told us review code wouldn't be available until launch day — well, it felt like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 all over again.
Then came Tuesday morning. I downloaded the game, started it up and spent several hours grinning like an idiot.
The plot is pure Generation One with a hint of something darker. Megatron has devised a means to harness highly-unstable plasma energy to "cyberform" the Earth, wiping out all organic life in the process of creating a new home for the Decepticons. It's up to Optimus Prime and his crack team of Autobots — Bumblebee, Wheeljack, Sideswipe and Grimlock — to stop Megatron's plan and discover the sinister secret behind the ultra-powerful technology.
The first five minutes were lovely. Within the next five I was battling one of the Autobots' biggest enemies. Over the course of six hours I took out countless nameless Decepticons, uncovered secrets, collected data files, and tore through a roster of big bads that reads like 14-year-old Fahey's Christmas list.
There's obviously love for first generation Transformers on the Platinum Games dev team, but a licence only gets a licensed video game so far. '80s robot nostalgia is the blanket wrapped about this couch cushion fort of a game, but as any secret robot commando knows it's what's inside that counts.
Inside there's war. Brutal, lightning-fast war.
It's exactly the sort of war one would expect from Platinum Games. Silky-smooth melee combos and mildly sloppy shooting come together in a beautiful symphony of destruction. Timed counters factor in heavily, slowing down time and allowing player characters to get in a few extra licks. Players will need to master both the counters and break moves — super-powerful attacks that can only be performed by bot in vehicle mode travelling at max speed — in order to challenge the game's higher difficulty levels.
So we've solid story packed with familiar metal faces that borrows concepts from multiple Generation One continuities and a satisfying combat system that rewards timing and tenacity. All of this takes place across a sprawling city map and several lesser locations packed with secrets and skill challenges and collectibles.
And then there's the random extra junk. There's a weapons synthesis feature that allows players to transform the ridiculous piles of loot they collect in their travels into more powerful weapons.
Developing T.E.C.H. creates stat or skill boosting accessories for the Autobots to wear by spending cash and pressing a button at the right time in a simplistic mini-game.
Plus there's a lab where players can buy and sell weapons, items and a small series of special moves.
Me, I'd rather just bust some Decepti-chops. Every now and then I'll pop into the Teletraan-1 hub and sacrifice some lesser weapons in order to power up my primaries, but for the most part I'm hopping right back into the action.
I'm not so blinded by Transformers: Devastation's nostalgia overload that I don't see its problems. The game's camera is a mess, especially during driving sequences and when battling massive bosses. The battles against minion bots quickly become boring and predictable. Most of the action takes place in the generic city environment, and trips outside (or inside) rarely last for long.
But as stingy as Platinum Games is with environments and minion variety, they're more than generous when it comes to big-name baddies showing up to battle. The fight with Devastator from the very first screenshots of the game? That takes place within the first ten minutes of play, with a showdown with Megatron not far behind. The usual suspects have been rounded up, along with a few not-so-usual ones.
Every time I feel like the game is about to settle into boring old beat-em up patterns, something like what happens in the SPOILERY video below pops up.
And suddenly I am 100 per cent invested and excited once more.
Much fuss has been made about the game's length. I completed the main story in six hours, foregoing most of the 50 challenges missions unlocked as the game progresses. I'm currently in the middle of my second play through on a higher difficulty level in order to unlock the two highest, which supposedly boast mixed-up enemy configurations. I've gotten plenty out of the game so far. I was just slightly sad it had to end at all.
Or does it? This could be the beginning of a beautiful ongoing series, and judging from hints given towards the end of story mode, I'm pretty damn excited to see where Platinum Games takes Transformers next.
Last October Activision quietly released a Platinum Games developed beat-em up based on a beloved cartoon property, and it was not great. The Legend of Korra was a basic game featuring a familiar character but lacking the compelling story and warmth that built the show's massive fan base.
This October Activision quietly released a Platinum Games developed beat-em up based on a beloved cartoon property, and it is great. Transformers: Devastation is a relatively basic game that beats with the shiny metal heart of the franchise that spawned it.