Publisher Activision Developer PlatinumGames Format 360, PC, PS3, PS4 (version tested), Xbox One Release Out now
360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One
Or, if you prefer, Transformers: Witches In Disguise. From any studio but PlatinumGames, this would be considered a clone, a cut-and-shut job welding licensed Transformers fan service to Bayonetta’s best-in-class melee action. Coming from Platinum, though? Well, it’s still that, but it is also elegant, often spectacular and, above all, a work of good old common sense. Transformers, it turns out, are a fine fit for the Bayonetta template – perhaps even, in places, as fine as the Umbran Witch herself.
Though not, admittedly, without taking liberties. We don’t recall Bumblebee, Grimlock et al being blessed with double jumps or swanky light-light-heavy combos in the 1980s cartoon on which this is aesthetically based. Nor do we recall Optimus Prime and Sideswipe being able to slow time with a perfectly executed dodge. But the Autobots’ vehicle morphs make sense in the Platinum house style, powering a hard-hitting combo ender that plays the role of Wicked Weave, and a vehicle mode for quickly covering space that is the perfect replacement for Bayonetta’s panther transformation.
It’s Bayonetta on the battlefield, then – and off it, too. The Ark, the Autobots’ base of operations, plays host to a shop that sells genre-standard restorative items and some highly familiar extra moves, including a parry and a quick shove to knock an opponent off balance. Yet the Ark also helps set Devastation apart from its obvious inspiration, since it’s here that you’ll choose which of the five playable Autobots you’ll be taking into battle, and tinker with their loadouts.
Each has their default weapons, but many more are dropped by enemies or found out in the world, locked in chests or buried in caches that can be unearthed with a vehicular ground pound. The weaker finds can be fed to your favourite weapons to power them up; elemental properties and stat buffs can be passed over too. The process itself could be speedier – weapons have to be dismantled one at a time, which is a chore when you’ve just finished a level with 20 additions to your inventory, and it takes four or five of them to push your favourite sword or gun up a level – but you won’t be complaining when you end up with a fire-infused shotgun that does several-thousand damage with every headshot.
Yes, headshot. While the majority of Devastation’s moment-to-moment action consists of Platinum’s signature balletic fisticuffs, there will be times when you need to draw a gun. The Decepticons can transform too, after all, and as the game progresses they become fond of turning into things that can fly. A quick burst of gunfire will bring them back down to terra firma for a beating. Weapons are equally useful up close (fired mid-dodge, perhaps, in a delightful nod to Vanquish) and from mid-range, where they’re ideal for finishing off a dangerous bot from a safe distance when you get down to your last few pixels of health. Which happens a lot.
Appearances can be deceiving, and it’s tempting to see Devastation as a lighter take on the 3D brawler, especially after the studio’s work on the overly gentle The Legend Of Korra. On first inspection, this is also a somewhat more mainstream action game than Platinum is known for, which feels like a logical decision given that the logo on the box is as likely to draw the eye of ’80s nostalgists (and kids who sit through Michael Bay’s various movie versions) as it is action-game fanatics. The complexity of the combo system has been toned down a bit too, in order to bring big damage within the reach of the less genre-savvy player. But by the time you’re halfway through this seven-chapter campaign on Warrior (normal) difficulty, you will start to struggle. Enemies hit like trucks – and not just the ones that are trucks. A boss fight can be going perfectly until a single mistake gets you stunned, then caught in a three-hit combo that kills you. And as things progress, Platinum stacks the odds higher and higher until the screen is full of threats – robots swinging big hammers at your face; robots sniping from behind shields on far-off platforms; robot planes swooping above, dropping their neon payloads on your head. Even on Warrior, the action can frustrate. On Commander, the next difficulty up, enemies hit even harder. And on Prime, the game’s hardest tier, they move twice as fast. Bayonetta Lite? Not exactly, no.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel fair. A couple of set-piece fights are set entirely in mid-air, and keeping track of an opponent blessed with an optional flight mode through a large 360 space is a bit of a disaster. While audio and visual cues signal imminent attacks, the length of time between cue and action is too variable for a game that places so many threats offscreen. And things are further muddled by the way Platinum uses the same sound effect to signal attacks and opportunities to use your vehicular combo ender. In this genre, we expect to be overwhelmed, and attacked by unseen aggressors, but we also expect to be given the tools and the information to cope. It’s something Platinum understands as well as any studio, but doesn’t quite put into consistent enough practice here.
Yet there are shades of Platinum at its best here too. The ’ 80s-cartoon aesthetic looks delightful, despite some bland environments. The script delivers the same blend of portentous and cheeky as the source material. Most importantly, there are moments where everything flows, where every dodge is perfectly timed, enemy health bars melt away and the mission-complete screen pops up with an SS rating – that Zen-like feeling of absolute mastery that so many studios strive for, but so very few can reach. Transformers: Devastation may not be pure Platinum, but there’s more than enough of its glimmer in here to disguise the little flaws.
Enemies hit like trucks – and not just the ones that are trucks. A boss can be going perfectly until a mistake gets you stunned