Trans­form­ers: Dev­as­ta­tion

Pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion De­vel­oper Plat­inumGames For­mat 360, PC, PS3, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

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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

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