Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mafia III Review

The 1960's were a turbulent time for the United States.  Events during the era such as the Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the matter of civil rights were shifting the country into an unknown direction.  Amidst this backdrop is the story of a man seeking revenge on those who wronged him, all the while gradually turning his hometown into a criminal empire.  As the third game in the long-running series, and the firs to be developed by a different studio other than 2K Czech, Mafia III takes players to a period not commonly explored in video games, and in turn, creates a unique, if flawed, experience.

Set towards the tail-end of the 1960's, the game follows Lincoln Clay, a man who has recently returned to his hometown of New Bordeaux after spending a few years participating in the Vietnam War.  He returns to his adoptive family only to discover that his adoptive father, Sammy Robinson, has been engaged in a feud with the Haitian mafia; thus, the man owes a debt to Sal Marcano, head of the Marcano crime family.  With the help of his surrogate brother, Ellis, Clay eliminates the head of the Haitian mafia and then learns that Marcano is willing to help Sammy pay off his debts if Clay assists his son in a robbery on the union depository.  The heist is pulled off with success, but Sal double-crosses Sammy, killing him, Ellis, and leaving Lincoln Clay for dead.

After being rescued by the local preacher, Clay decides that he is going to enact revenge on the crime lord by dismantling and wrecking everything that man runs in New Bordeaux.  With the help of his friend/CIA operative, John Donovan, Clay will track down and eliminate the heads of every operation; along the way, he receives assistance from the leaders of the Irish, Italian, and reformed Haitian mafia, each of whom holds a grudge against Marcano for their own reasons.

Though the revenge plot-line is a conventional set-up, Mafia III's story should be applauded for how it portrays many controversial topics within its setting, and handling them in a way that is mature and sensible.  As this takes place at the height of the Civil Rights movement, the subject of racism is weaved in and out of the narrative and extends its impact on gameplay too.  Lincoln Clay is a mixed-race African America, and everybody, including Clay himself, uses racial slurs as casual terms when referring to different groups, but it never comes off as forced and feels natural, given the setting.  Meanwhile, who he is affects certain areas of the gameplay.  For example, if he steps into a building that only allows white people, the owner will call the cops, and how it long it takes for the police to arrive can vary depending on what part of town Clay is in.

Everything else about the story is good, but some aspects, particularly the secondary cast, are lacking.  The most impressive part of the tale is how it's presented; the events are shown in the style of a documentary, with cut-scenes that frequently shift between what's happening in the game to interviews with those who knew Lincoln Clay in which they reflect on what he left behind in his trail of vengeance.  Everybody that knew him treats the man as a mythical figure, given how no one knows what his current whereabouts are.  Yet, their words also reflect the man himself; he was just a person who came back home with the intent of visiting family before leaving off for bigger opportunities, but when he got involved with his surrogate father's problems, it resulted in him going down a rabbit hole that got deeper and deeper the further he tore down Marcano's operations.

Although Lincoln Clay is a great protagonist, the rest of the cast lacks that same spark; the problem lies within their numbers.  There are so many characters introduced as things progress that the game has a hard time juggling screen-time for all of them.  The result is that certain individuals are more memorable than others, particularly the likes of the preacher, Reverend James, and John Donovan, who act as the proverbial angel and devil on Lincoln's shoulder.  While the former thinks Lincoln should stop before it gets worse, the latter pushes him to carry through with his plans and make Marcano suffer, which leads to some great moments throughout the narrative.

Even though the game has much going for it in regards to story, Mafia III's gameplay plays it safe, offering familiar open-world action that features some interesting concepts, but a troubled execution.  To bring down Sal Marcano's criminal empire, Lincoln Clay will free each district of New Bordeaux from his clutches by dismantling the multitude of operations that have been set up across town by his lieutenants.  By destroying them, he can lure out the lieutenant that runs it and eliminate him or her.  Afterwards, he can assign control of the district to one of his three underbosses; doing so increases the amount of money their gang earns, which can give Clay access to different benefits.  For example, helping the Irish mafia will give him the ability to have vehicles delivered to wherever he currently is, and each group also offers their own special upgrades and weapons for purchase.  The catch is that if you start to assign more districts to another boss, the other two might come after you.

On the surface, the concept sounds promising, and in the first few hours, it's quite enjoyable, but as things progress, one realizes there's not much else to this formula, and over the next twenty-plus hours, the fun turns into monotony.  For starters, what you do to dismantle the operations plays out the same in each district.  Tasks include destroying property, stealing money, and killing targets; although you can find and interrogate informants to learn of additional spots, that only lengthens how long it will take to reach the lieutenant.  Also, regardless of what the subject is, be it drugs, prostitution, or even the Ku Klux Klan, it's the same old song and dance each time.  The pay-off, however, comes in the form of taking out the boss in a set-piece mission, and though they are satisfying, that joy is diluted knowing you'll be returning to the grind once it's over. 

As you destroy crates and accomplish other goals, you'll have to contend with the goons protecting each racket.  Each scenario gives you the option of using stealth or shooting everything in sight; fortunately, the gunplay is solid and each shot packs a meaty punch.  Plus, Lincoln Clay can wield and select from a multitude of firearms that become more readily available as the game progresses.  Should you decide to use stealth, though, it reveals that the intelligence of your foes is not perfect.  Easy-to-memorize patterns, combined with exploitative distraction mechanics, can make combat encounters a cinch to complete.  Additionally, the selection of foes is very limited, consisting of standard thugs armed with a pistol or an automatic weapon and a heavy-set goon armed with a shotgun.

However, Mafia III's biggest problem is that the city of New Bordeaux lacks things to do.  Though intricately detailed, the only other significant tasks players can do besides causing mayhem is find collectibles or partake in side missions that become available once each boss has been helped.  Granted, there is also the option to partake in races and customize cars, both of which were added in via updates, but it isn't enough to warrant the need for gamers to explore every nook and cranny.  Finding collectibles is probably the best thing to do as the selection of items to find is varied, featuring albums, religious pamphlets, communist posters, and most importantly, Playboy magazines.

Aesthetically, the game sports an excellent visual style that succeeds at making gamers feel like they are in 1960's southern Louisiana through a strong atmosphere and detail.  Developer Hangar 13 certainly pulled out all the stops in this regard, but with the great visuals comes a host of technical problems both big and small.  While the cinematics are well-done and sport fantastic motion-capture performances, the in-game conversations suffer from stiff animations; additionally, the skies of New Bordeaux can occasionally get stuck in a bizarre state where it might be sunny, but a downpour is happening, or some other weird combination.  These pale in comparison to the multitude of bugs that periodically rear their ugly head; they can either be minor, such as people getting stuck on objects, or ridiculous, such as one scenario where after beating a critical story mission, Lincoln Clay's body became warped and stretched for no apparent reason.

On the other hand, the audio does not have such issues, and is very good.  Sound effects for gunfire and vehicles are loud and impactful, and the voice-acting is impressive, yet the real highlight is the music.  The three radio stations that are available to listen to feature a wide selection of genres and artists, including Credence Clearwater Revival, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, Del Shannon, and more, and the licensed songs are integrated well into various moments throughout the campaign.

Mafia III is a game with much ambition, and it succeeds in regards to its story, visuals, and audio.  However, the lack of depth and variety in its gameplay prevents the title from being a great experience.  When it hits, it soars, but those hopes are diminished once you're told to go and dismantle an operation for the umpteenth time.

Final Score: 6/10

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Review

For the past four decades, the Star Wars franchise has evolved and grown from its debut in 1977 to become a giant, pop-culture conglomerate that encapsulates virtually every corner of merchandising that exists.  It's a franchise that appeals to both young and old, with their stories offering amazing action, interesting worlds, and narratives that are easy to follow but offer much when further analyzed.  The universe of Star Wars has grown tremendously through the likes of comic books, novels, television shows, and of course, video games.  The stories they told offer varying takes on the fictional galaxy, and with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, gamers could experience the true power of the force through the perspective of an individual that was one with the dark side.

Set in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, the game follows a sith-in-training known as Starkiller.  As a child, his father was killed by Darth Vader, who tracked him down to the planet of Kashykk as part of Vader's plan to find and eliminate the surviving Jedi.  Grown up, Vader has trained Starkiller in the ways of the dark side so he can finish what the sith lord started, while receiving assistance from Juno, a pilot, and his droid, Proxy.  Before long, though, the Emperor learns of Darth Vader's apprentice, and in retaliation for this, he orders Vader to kill Starkiller and have his partners arrested and sentenced to death.  After being rescued from the brink of death, he learns that Vader wants him to go and form an alliance of rebels, with the intent of overthrowing the Emperor and his empire; thus, once he has saved his friends, Starkiller sets out on this quest.

With its well-written characters and a story that successfully integrates itself into the canon of the films, The Force Unleashed excels in the writing department.  It stands on its own as a tale that can be enjoyed by those unfamiliar with the mythology of the series, but people who are aware of the lore will greatly appreciate it even further, especially with how it connects to the original trilogy.  The cast is solid; Starkiller is a compelling protagonist whose actions paint him out to be only a bad guy at first, but as the narrative progresses, he gradually shifts away from the path of evil and into the realm of good.  He was involuntarily taken from his family at a young age, and at the end of the game, he redeems himself for the benefit of everyone else.  Other characters are equally strong, especially the droid Proxy, whose sarcastic but deadly personality leads to many humorous moments throughout the campaign.

Take God of War and replace Kratos with a man capable of pulling Star Destroyers out of the sky, and you have the basic set-up of the gameplay for The Force Unleashed.  While it follows the template of a hack-and-slash to a fault, the usage of force abilities and more help keep the game fun but also unique.  Initially, Starkiller only starts out with his lightsaber and a few powers including force grip and force push, but as the levels continue, new moves become available for use.  Before long, he can shoot lightning from his hands, impale an enemy with his lightsaber, or unleash a shockwave capable of blowing away the opposition.  These powers and others can be pulled off with ease thanks to solid controls, yet targeting foes and objects can be finicky due to the targeting system sometimes focusing on the wrong item, but such moments are few and far between.

Despite the multitude of abilities available, the game is never a cakewalk thanks to the varied selection of enemies to face.  There are the Stormtroopers, whose poor aim and fragile nature make them prime cannon-fodder, but additional trooper variants offer their own tactics.  Jet-pack troopers will try to snipe you from afar; meanwhile, some are equipped with a special shield that protects them from Starkiller's force attacks, meaning he must get up close with his lightsaber to deal damage.  Unfortunately, the bosses lack that same amount of difficulty, and can be taken out with ease by using a mixture of hit-and-run attacks and aggressive behavior.

Besides combat, there is some light-puzzle solving and platforming during certain sections of the stages.  However, the latter can be annoying as Starkiller's movement is stiff, meaning one can easily fall off the level if they are not careful.  Speaking of which, the environments are varied and rely on a mixture of both familiar and new locations from the Star Wars galaxy, including Kashykk, Raxus Prime, and Cloud City.  Areas do get repeated, especially in the second half of the game, but a nice touch is that each locale has their own unique enemy types, in addition to the empire's forces.  For example, on Raxus Prime, the player will fight junk scavengers and droids brought to life from the scraps of the planet by a mysterious presence, and on the planet Felucia, you'll have to contend with the natives and wildlife that inhabit the place.

Defeating bad-guys with your powers and completing secondary objectives earns the gamer points, and when enough are earned, a talent point is earned.  These can be put to one of three categories that focus on increasing Starkiller's durability and effectiveness in combat, as well as increasing damage for his force moves or unlocking new combos for him to unleash during fights.  Additionally, there are holocrons hidden in every level that offer different rewards including talent points, costumes, or lightsaber crystals.  Some change the color of Starkiller's lightsaber but others can offer a bonus in damage for one of the force powers or the lightsaber.

Visually, the game does a solid job at bringing the world of Star Wars to life through its well-designed environments, characters, and cut-scenes that are superbly directed.  Yet, there is a noticeable lack of polish in the title, primarily in the game's physics engine, Euphoria.  While it is great at enhancing the spectacle of seeing a force push decimate a wall or sending a squadron of troops flying; at times, the amount of chaos can create some unintended, if not hilarious consequences.  There were multiple times in which enemies would randomly trip and fall, or an object would get stuck on something and start to freak out.  Luckily, the audio does no contain such problems, as the voice-acting is great and the soundtrack is just as good with a great mixture of classic orchestral motifs from the films and new ones that were composed for the game.

Though not without its faults, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed does offer players a fresh take on Star Wars, while still being familiar to the franchise.  The story and production values are top-notch and help make the product on par with the films we know and love.  Meanwhile, the gameplay merges the hack-and-slash template with lightsaber combat and force abilities to create an experience that is quite chaotic, despite some design problems.

Final Score: 8/10

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Rise of the Tomb Raider (PS4) Review

In the entertainment industry, sequels act as the backbone for several different mediums, including film, literature, and video games.  While original ideas are necessary to sustain the creative juices of creators, developers, and studios, sequels are equally important.  If a follow-up is created, then it shows that the original product was a success and people want to see more from the property.  As discussed in prior reviews, sequels can go one of two ways, either they offer more of the same but improve upon the concept of the first, or it can try something new altogether.  Although the former is derided by many as the publisher or creator playing it safe, this doesn't mean that the title can still be a solid entry, such is the case with Rise of the Tomb Raider.

After the events of the last game, Lara Croft has become a professional archaeologist, with the intent of following in her father's foot-steps and discovering the unknown treasures of society.  Yet, the process hasn't been easy, as she has had to conduct her research in secrecy ever since what happened on Yamatai went public.  Croft is focusing on an item her father became obsessed over, an object known as the Divine Source, which can grant the wielder immortality and control over the people of the Earth.  She's not the only one who has her sights on the artifact, as during her investigations, Croft discovers that a group named Trinity is also hunting for the Divine Source too.  The leader, Konstantin, believes that by using the object, he can cleanse the planet and start anew with his organization.  After being separated from her research expedition while exploring Siberia, Croft encounters an isolated tribe who follows the Divine Source and its owner, a mysterious man named Jacob.

Despite the name, the story is less about Lara Croft's rise as an individual and is instead focused more on redemption. Croft is searching for the Divine Source not just for the sake of discovering the uncharted, but to also redeem her family's legacy after Lara's father became devoted to something she and others thought was bogus.  However, the structure and moments from the narrative are eerily like Tomb Raider.  It starts with Croft in the middle of her expedition when she gets separated from the others and must survive on her own until she is reunited with the others later.  She also meets a man who becomes her source of determination; in this case, Jacob, and a supernatural element is weaved into the tale and is quite prominent in the finale.

Though this does come off as retreading old ground, it doesn't feel entirely copy-and-paste thanks to sharp-writing and solid characters, for the most part.  Jacob is a compelling protagonist, and who he is makes for an interesting plot point as things progress, but the villain leaves much to be desired.  Konstantin and his motivations are a rehash of Matthias from the last game, and aside from being the antagonist, there's not much else that makes him interesting, aside from a moment towards the climax in which he hints to Lara Croft that Trinity has bigger plans in store, ones which will be revealed when the next installment is announced.

Rise of the Tomb Raider's gameplay is largely unchanged from before, but the refinements and tweaks made keep it just as entertaining as the original.  The level design maintains an excellent balance between open and linear environments, with the sandbox areas providing plenty of opportunities to discover rewards and materials that will help Croft in the long run.  A stronger emphasis has been put on gathering resources such as branches, leaves, animal skins, and other materials, which can be used to create new gear, weapon attachments, or support items, and you can also craft improvised distraction and explosive devices on the fly to distract or harm enemies.  Additionally, certain locations also feature side quests for Croft to partake in, which can reward her with special equipment once the task has been completed.

On that note, most of the equipment and firearms that can be obtained are recycled from Tomb Raider, but some have received adjustments in design, especially the guns.  Every weapon now has an alternate ammo type; for example, the shotgun can fire incendiary rounds in addition to normal shells, and the bow and arrow now sports poison arrow types in addition to the flaming, explosive, and normal ones.  As for gear, the ice picks make their return and are joined by a grappling hook which is used to reach far-off ledges and to latch onto boards that allow you to swing across gaps.  Your tools, while smartly implemented in puzzle-solving, make combat rather easy, which is made more irritating by the fact that all enemy types from the first game are re-purposed here, meaning the tactics one used in the reboot can be applied here as well.

Although fighting is easier, the platforming and puzzle-solving are more complex and satisfying than before.  The puzzles require more thought to figure out, and the tombs, one of the weaker aspects from Tomb Raider, have been greatly improved and are rewarding to complete in all of the right ways.  Discovering locations, killing enemies and wildlife, completing objectives, and solving tombs earns Lara Croft experience, which in turn, earns her a skill-point.  Additionally, her role as an archaeologist is greatly emphasized in various ways, one of which is through her ability to decipher foreign languages.  Reading wall murals and manuscripts betters Croft's linguistic skills that are used to figure out pillars that can pinpoint where hidden treasures are in the stage.

Rise of the Tomb Raider, in addition to featuring a well-designed campaign, also comes with a wealth of bonus content.  For the uninitiated, the game was originally an exclusive for the Xbox One and PC for a brief period when it released in 2015; a year later, developer Crystal Dynamics brought the title to the PlayStation 4, and with it, a host of new options.  Among the bonuses are all alternate costumes, weapons, and side stories, plus the game was packaged in a special case designed to resemble a pocket journal.  The extra side missions focus on Lara's endeavors with the myths of Siberia, and include an encounter with the fabled Baba Yaga Witch, a trip to an abandoned research station that houses a deadly chemical, and a scenario set in the Croft Manor.  The final is rather interesting as it allows players to utilize the PlayStation VR system to explore the surroundings.

Speaking of environments, the game is technically solid across the board, with smooth animations and a great art style that brings the title to life, and the switch from the Xbox 360 to the PlayStation 4 has allowed Crystal Dynamics to increase the size and scope of the levels, resulting in environments that are, at times, breathtaking to look at.  Voice acting reflects the quality of the visuals by featuring top-notch performances from the entire cast, and the soundtrack shifts nicely between dramatic and intense and calm yet grand when needed.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is just as compelling as 2013's Tomb Raider.  Though it lacks the surprise of that game and retreads many elements of that title, both from a narrative and gameplay standpoint, this is still a well-done follow-up that polishes up and expands upon the core mechanics of the original, offering players a fun, action-adventure romp that's good enough to give Uncharted a run for its money.  In short, this is an expedition that is worth your time.

Final Score: 9/10

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Nintendo Switch: Thoughts, Concerns, and Other Things

As of this writing, tomorrow will be the day in which a brand new system debuts, one which is stirring up both excitement and doubt.  In the past, Nintendo has been a company known to take risks, whether it was through saving the gaming industry through the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System or introducing the public to the concept of motion controls, they are risk-takers, and often, they pull those risks off with success.  Nintendo aims to shake things up once again via their new console, the Switch, which is a system capable of being played at home, outside, or anywhere you go.  While the system is shaping up to be a promising success, some, including yours truly, have a few worries as to how the Switch will do in the long run.

First, let's start with the good; judging from the articles and footage presented by multiple outlets, it's a console that lives up to its namesake.  I am truly impressed by the flexibility offered by the console's set-up; although the concept bears some resemblance to the Wii U, it feels like the true potential of that system has been realized with the Switch.  It's great knowing that people will be able to take their games with them and they don't have to stay at home.  After all, what isn't a cooler sight than seeing someone walk down the street as they play the latest Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, or Metroid title, and thinking, "Gee, I can't believe video-games have come this far!"  Additionally, the system will be launching with a slate of quality titles and ones that experiment with the system's capabilities, including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, 1-2 Switch, and Arms.  Plus, we can look forward to Super Mario Odyssey and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim later in the year.

With that said, there are some elements to the system that don't gel as well.  The price point of $300 is not a problem, but having to pay $70 for a traditional controller compatible with the Switch is; secondly, it's unclear right now as to how the paid online service will work out.  In the past, Nintendo's online services were free, but as Microsoft and Sony make their services cost money, Nintendo is following suit, which isn't necessarily bad, but it should not be terribly expensive to pay for, as not everyone can pay upwards to fifty dollars to play with other people across the world.

The biggest concern, for me personally, is the matter of third-party support.  In the past, Nintendo has had a troubled time getting support from publishers and developers for their systems.  This was especially noticeable with the Wii U, despite having excellent first-party titles such as Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Bayonetta 2, and Super Mario 3D World, the console lacked in support from the likes of Activision, Ubisoft, etc.  It started out strong, but as time progressed, the amount of games that came to the system grew smaller and smaller.  With the Switch, I hope that the system keeps the trust of other companies from the beginning and onwards, and it is looking that way, as multiple companies have pledged support for the Switch, but how it plays out in the long run has yet to be seen.

Nintendo is a company that likes to take risks, and try ideas that no one else would.  They're responsible for iconic franchises and equally memorable systems.  The Switch aims to shake things up in regards to how we play games, and I want the system to succeed and be a hit.  Hopefully, if they play their cards right, then any doubts shall be squashed.  While I won't be purchasing the Switch on launch day, due to financial reasons, I do expect to obtain one at some point later down the line this year.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Transformers: Devastation Review

When a licensed property receives a video game adaptation, one of two things can happen, either the publisher can establish a series based off of said intellectual product, or they can produce another game, unrelated to the title prior.  In many cases, companies will go with the latter, especially if the franchise is receiving a new film or any other form of major announcement.  Often, this allows the publisher to let another developer take a stab at the work, and try something else that the prior company didn't attempt.  Released in 2015, Transformers: Devastation is not connected to the Transformers: Cybertron games created by High Moon Studios.  Instead, developer Platinum Games has opted for creating a fast-paced brawler that mirrors the iconic '80's cartoon which many grew up on.

In an unnamed metropolis, the heroic Autobots find themselves confronting the sinister Decepticons once again.  The forces of evil are controlling giant metallic claws and the Insecticon species in an attempt to discover a crashed ship know as the ProudStar.  The ship was piloted by Nova Prime, and it is capable of terraforming planets into ones habitable for the people of Cybertron, the Transformers' home planet.  Thus, Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, wants to find the ship and harness its power so that the Insecticons can turn Earth into a place reminiscent of their now war-torn home.  With no other choice, Optimus Prime and the Autobots set out to stop Megatron's plan for global conquest.

One of Devastation's biggest strengths is the writing and direction, which help keep the structure and feel of the game and narrative in lieu with the original cartoon, despite the overall quality of the storyline being serviceable at best.  It's a simple plot about good vs. evil and a race against time to prevent the destruction of Earth.  Fans will appreciate the plentiful nods to the franchise and the dialogue that highlights the distinguishable character archetypes each robot has, such as Starscream's bickering regarding how he would be a better leader of the Decepticons than Megatron.  Yet, if you don't know about the history of the Transformers, or any of the other terminology referenced elsewhere, it won't matter much in the grand scheme of things.  Fortunately, the strong performances of the cast keep things from being a total bore, and nothing stirs the heart up more than hearing voice actor Peter Cullen, the long-time actor for Optimus Prime, say, "Autobots!  Transform and roll out!"

Instead of being a third-person shooter like prior Transformers games, this newest take on the property is an intense beat-em-up reminiscent of developer Platinum Games' other works.  The Autobots may move and fight with the same fluidity and speed as Bayonetta or Raiden, but controlling a twenty-five-foot-tall robot has its differences.  There are five character to choose from, including Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack, and Grimlock.  Every Autobot is capable of holding up to four weapons, either melee or ranged, and can transform in and out of their vehicle form at any time with the press of a button.  Your Autobot of choice will be pitted up against the Decepticons in fights that require a keen eye.

Combat is frenetic and a joy to partake in thanks to fine-tuned controls and a slew of techniques to utilize.  For example, dodging at the right moment slows down time for a few seconds, allowing you to land in some hits; meanwhile, chaining together attacks can activate a special vehicular move that allows further damage against the opposition.  Doing this and moving quickly will net the player a high performance grade at the end of the encounter, as well as credits, weapons, and other items of interest.  The selection of foes to confront includes a varied assortment of melee and ranged bad guys, but the boss fights are another story, as they require smart fighting in order to bring them down.

On the subject of weapons, acquiring new ones can be done by other means besides fighting enemies.  You can purchase them with credits, open loot chests strewn about each level, or you can complete side-quests.  Every item varies in quality and performance, and to get the most out of the best ones, you can combine gear at the Ark, the Autobots' headquarters.  Alternatively, less powerful weaponry can be sold for money, which is also used to buy recovery items and create special tokens that can buff your character or equipment.

While Transformers: Devastation is strong in its combat, other elements don't gel as well.  The six to eight-hour campaign takes place across a handful of locations, primarily the city, the ProudStar, and a small island located outside of town; as a result, the amount of backtracking that comes with revisiting these areas becomes tedious, even if new items are added in each location for you to find.  The biggest issue with Devastation, though, is that it lacks in replay value; while the fighting is thrilling and challenging, there's not much of an incentive to revisit the story once things have wrapped up, aside from pursuing a better rank and finding the hidden items you may missed.  A challenge mode is available to test your skills, but it isn't enough to warrant another play-through.

On the other hand, the title boasts top-notch production values in both the visuals and audio.  The colorful art style is lifted straight from the '80's cartoon, and it brings the onscreen spectacle to life with eclectic results.  Voice acting is equally good; as alluded to earlier, a majority of the Transformers are voiced by their original actors; besides Peter Cullen reprising his role as Optimus Prime, Frank Welker also returns to play the villainous Megatron, in addition to those two, the game features the likes of Dan Gilvezan, Michael Bell, and Gregg Berger, who play Bumblebee, Sideswipe, and Grimlock respectively.  The solid voice acting, though, pales in comparison to the soundtrack, which puts an emphasis on shredding guitar riffs that fit in perfectly with the over-the-top pacing of the game.

Much like Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, Transformers: Devastation is both a love letter to the franchise and a fun game in its own right.  Under the direction of Platinum Games, the developer has created a product that, for the most part, fits in with the excellent quality of most of their prior works.  Though lacking in depth and an interesting narrative, it makes up for its shortcomings by offering plenty of thrilling action that will appeal to everyone.

Final Score: 7/10