By Neil Merrett
Transformers Devastation on Playstation 4 – released 2015, Platinum Games
It was once common practice within video gaming magazines to judge and rate a new title, in part, on the value for money a critic believed it offered the consumer.
Sure, there were the other obvious rating factors relating to how good a game looked or sounded, but rarely would a critic for more traditional art forms consider how much value a gamer might get from the money they had outlaid on a painting or a piece of music.
The idea that a piece of music may be worth 99p is ultimately down to an individual, and games are really no different.
On one hand, ascertaining value to a creative work is a somewhat esoteric consideration.
There is also the inverse factor where the overall price of something can be confused with overall quality – like the most expensive bottle of wine you pick up in a restaurant.
Are you enjoying something beautifully produced and immaculately sourced, or rather are you just tasting the amount of money spent?
In our modern videogame age, the common sense approach to determine a game’s value can be based around comparing a title to the most sophisticated, best selling and critically lauded games of the era. Can it match the world building of Grand Theft Auto 5 or the gigantic open world, fantasy exploration of morality offered by The Witcher 3.
Intrinsically, your money is best spent on something deep and encompassing, the most in-depth experience current computers or consoles can provide until the next triple A title is released. But this does not always dictate what games an individual is going to love.
Value clearly is a subjective term, not least when combined with the other great currency of the age – Nostalgia.
Say for next to nothing, you are given the chance to play around in the metal form of a childhood hero, spending hours as a robotic dinosaur or a four wheeled freedom fighter smashing apart evil robots with well timed combos of sword attacks, kicks, slashes, or just punching something a lot in the face.
Transformers Devastation is a kind of smash-em-up game. You crash into and rip apart evil robots – largely denoted by their purple colour scheme – that turn into jets, trains, or monstrous brutes several times the size of your character.
Using a game model that has been around for years, the title is about as sophisticated as a game based on a 1980’s toy commercial-inspired cartoon can be.
You hit, or smash, or chew or crash into endless robots, sometimes with style, other times with brute force. Less a simulation of the 80s cartoon, and more a recreation of how cavalier children treated their action figures in youth.
Transformers is practically a rhythm game, where dance moves and musical cues are replaced with punches, uppercuts, cannily timed forward rolls and then turning into a hatchback to flatten an intergalactic robot warlord in style.
There is no Polish sense of moral ambiguity of the decisions you make, but satisfying sparks and the sound of metal crashing together,
It is a game that distils an iconic young hero to many young people down to his fists, tires and seemingly endless resurrections. In that sense, it is the perfect representation of the character and the strictly defined prospect of what constitutes right and wrong in a child’s cartoons.
What price would you put to live the dream of fisting an endless array of tanks with the solid uppercut of 1980’s justice?
It is the game a lot of four year-olds may have dreamt of playing back in 1987, so it might be reassuring to find it still works on a very primal satisfying level almost thirty years later.
One of the joys of getting older as a gamer is the reward of finding new and more sophisticated methods of storytelling in a digital realm.
But Transformers Devastation is not really sophisticated, or even doing anything new.
The plot of the game swaps out the possibility of exploring any sense of a real living breathing to city to protect, and rather just creates big arenas to fight and drive around in. Cutting out pointless interaction for the next treasure to find and baddie to smack around.
And that is fine.
Nostalgia and pining for the apparent simplicity of bygone era doesn’t rarely is sophisticated or nuanced. At its best, it is just taking stock of what has been and gone.
In the end, we can take some momentary solace in being able to fist an army of hammer carrying robots and malevolent flying trains and briefly accept the experience for what it is.
Value then is intangible. Especially when getting a game for free. For 48 hours, a game can be comfort food, or a beloved song rediscovered, or just something you should be above enjoying and needn’t be anything more than that.
If we’re always moving forward, it’s nice to have a quick look back sometimes. Games are not different.
As a great man once said, “transform and rollout.”