Around 1.3 million people die in automobile accidents every year, a number that doesn’t even account for the 10s of millions more who suffer non-fatal injuries. Likewise, in 2013, nearly 34,000 people were killed with firearms. So when rival Transformers chieftains Optimus Prime and Megatron face off, logic dictates that Prime becomes a truck, Megatron turns into a gun, and the loser becomes a grim statistical footnote.
But the Transformers universe is anything but logical. In one classic episode, the two combatants eschew their objectively deadliest forms in favor of something more medieval. Perhaps owing to some ancient Cybertronian code duello, Prime’s right arm sprouts an ax made out of “Energon,” and Megatron responds with an even more improbable morning star. They fight. Megatron knocks Prime from his perch and laughs maniacally (as he does). He then spins the morning star victoriously over his head like a helicopter rotor and ascends into the sky, Inspector Gadget-style.
This inherent goofiness is a big part of Transformers’ lasting appeal. It’s the least-threatening singularity scenario imaginable, and the core simplicity is captured beautifully in Transformers: Devastation. The game is laser focused on capturing the look and feel not just of the first generation of Transformers, but also a simpler era of games.
Devastation does away with the epic, scarred, alien landscapes of the most recent Transformers games, opting instead for a wonderfully bland and generic terrestrial cityscape that hearkens back to the original iteration of the show. Megatron, per his reputation, is up to no good. He and his Decepticons are searching for a weapon that will allow Megatron to turn Earth into a new Cybertron, sans humanity. Opposing him are the Autobots: Optimus Prime, Sideswipe, Bumblebee, Wheeljack, and Grimlock.
Not all five are playable immediately, but within the game’s first two chapters all become available. After mowing down platoons of nameless Decepticon grunts, you engage with the preeminent Decepticons of the day: your Thundercrackers, your Insecticons, your Devastators, your Starscreams. Prime and company employ a variety of melee weapons that hearken back to that memorable first-generation showdown with Megatron. But to succeed against their often larger and meaner enemies, the Autobots will need the most deadly tools in their arsenal—themselves. Indeed, no combo is complete without transforming into a car and capping it off with some vehicular Deceptislaughter.
Does fighting endless waves of enemies with a limited number of fighting moves get repetitive? Sure. Is the story—something about a plasma core and an ancient Autobot ship—ridiculous? Of course. Would Devastation benefit from a multiplayer mode where Autobots and Decepticons could square off in a Hasbro-endorsed battle royale? Definitely. Despite these shortcomings, is this the best Transformers game we’ve ever seen? You bet.
It’s a near-fatal dose of ’80s nostalgia porn: the pitch-perfect art; Peter Cullen and Frank Welker alongside other instantly recognizable voices; original music composed by Vince DiCola, the genius responsible for the miraculous Transformers: The Movie soundtrack. Six-year-old Drew, had he been exposed to this game, would’ve immediately suffered a tragic aneurysm and died in a paroxysm of brain-detonating joy.
Is that Gen X fan service enough? The easiest criticism to level at Devastation is the unvarying nature of its innumerable battles and boss fights. It’s a fair point. Basically all one does is collect power-ups, upgrade weapons, and scuffle with Megatron’s minions, and the environments aren’t dynamic, nor do they hold much to explore.
But all this simplicity and repetition fits perfectly with PlatinumGames’ aesthetic. While the overt Transformers nostalgia factor is right there in your face, there is a more subtle homage going on beneath the surface. It’s brought into focus during a brief scene where you’re speeding over a bridge while being strafed by Blitzwing. Parts of the bridge are out, and you’re jumping over chasms and simultaneously trying to shoot down the jet, which attacks you in predictable patterns. You can’t stop (or even slow down), and the bridge keeps going on forever, until you die or shoot down the plane. It feels just like an old Konami arcade game—realism jettisoned in favor of vintage weirdness. Seen in this light, it’s clear that the power-ups littering the ground, the repetitive boss battles, the simple setting, and the simpler story are all perfectly suited to this wonderful romp through memory lane.