Previewed: June 12, 2007
Release Date: June 26, 2007
If the 2007 line-up of movies won’t break your wallet this summer then the rash of videogame knockoffs based on those movies certainly will. And while each new movie tries to best the one that released the week before, no other movie has the clout, both in sheer spectacle and production star power as the upcoming release of The Transformers movie.
Let’s face it; when you can put Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg’s names on the same movie poster you may as well be printing money, and when the subject matter is giant robots taking over the Earth you get to multiply that value by N (where N = nerd).
But even before you skip the outdoor fireworks in exchange for some indoor “fireworks” this Forth of July, Activision is going to give you a next-gen peek at the movie a full week in advance in Transformers: The Game.
Traveller’s Tales was given the daunting task of bringing this blockbuster to next-gen consoles, and with some serious collaboration of Michael Bay, ILM, and especially chief toy designer, Aaron Archer, over at Hasbro, this could just be the most authentic Transformers game ever made. It certainly encompasses the best parts of the movie as well as totally new and original territory including a whole new “what if” scenario that shows us what might happen if the Decepticons actually won the war.
Transformers fans have been divided right down the middle since the franchise reached its cult status. For every Autobot lover there is a Decepticon fan ready to keep the scales in perfect harmony. To that end, the Transformers game offers a “Choose Your Side” option right from the beginning with two complete campaigns available from the main menu.
The Autobots’ campaign pretty much tells the same story as the film, while the Decepticons campaign takes a much darker look at those events in a totally original story created just for this game. There are 9 playable robots, 4 Autobots who transform into a variety of vehicles and 5 Decepticons who morph into cool and deadly aircraft like an attack chopper and a stealth fighter.
Transformers takes place in a huge open-ended environment about the same size as the world in NFS Most Wanted. Levels span sprawling rural areas, suburbs, and huge cities with towering buildings that form manmade canyons. Nearly everything in these worlds can be destroyed or used as a weapon creating infinite possibilities for rampaging combat. Transformers fans will also find plenty of subtle references like signs and storefronts that pay homage to the original series.
Each campaign consists of four levels, and five missions per level. There are also 100 glowing energy cubes scattered about the world and for every 20 you collect you can unlock one of four bonus missions ranging from races to survival and protect challenges. Complete these missions to unlock special bonuses like skins, TV openers, movie art, and other cool unlockables.
Missions make use of specific robot skills and transformations, and each robot has various strengths and weaknesses you’ll need to master (or exploit). There is hand-to-hand combat as well as long and short-range weapons.
From my limited time playing Transformers: The Game I couldn’t help but feel the gameplay lacked enough substance to hold the interest of anyone but the most devout fanboy. Combat is pure button mashing; a single button that you can press once, twice, or three times, or combo with a jump for a smash attack or a block for a counterattack.
You can pick-up cars or any other object for that matter and toss them at targets; a useful trick on enemies impervious to melee attacks until you stun them, and you can also rip lamp and sign posts from the pavement and swing them around like a club. Batter up! Sadly, there isn’t a whole lot of variety in any of the combat and you will see and do most of the cool moves for each character after a few short minutes of playing each one.
And while transforming into cars and planes is visually stunning, the resulting “ride” is far from thrilling. The cars handle quite poorly, gliding along the pavement like ice. There is no illusion that these cars are even making contact with the road as they slip and slide around turns or bounce over grassy hills or drive right through hedges and even small trees without impact.
And when you do hit something like another car, the resulting collision is almost comical, as the object you just struck will bounce and tumble away (no visible damage) like a super ball while your vehicle barely deviates from its original course.
Expect a good 8-10 hours per campaign or about 20 hours in total. The game is primarily a fighting game with some periods of exploration and racing. To keep the combat fresh, given there are only 9 primary robots, the game makes use of Drones to flesh out the combat. There are nine types of Drones based on classic robots from the original series as well as some new creations, one of which has already been spun into a new toy.
While there are visual moments of next-gen quality, especially in the stunning CG models of the actual Transformers - the same ILM models used in the film - other elements sink this title into last-gen status. On any given street you might see 4-6 different car models at any time and there will likely be 2-3 copies of that car. Buildings also repeat far too often creating an unbelievable façade that is so repetitive it actually distracts and detracts from the gameplay. And then you have some just plain sloppy mistakes like streetlights where the light beams are emitting from the shielded portion of the light rather than the lens.
There were also several instances of crazy camera angles that created havoc with the combat, and some random clipping problems. And finally, while I enjoy a good cutscene as much as the next gamer, Transformers has an excessive amount of these short CG clips that continually interrupt the flow of the game and take you out of the moment. Of course that does not include the killer opening movie crafted by Academy Award winner, Blur Studios.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a huge Transformer fan, so I might not be the best person to be critiquing this game, but then again, I’m also not blinded by pure fandom. I know what makes a game good and fun, and I was quite frankly bored while playing Transformers, and I only spent about 20-30 minutes with each system format. If you’re bored in thirty minutes or less what chance do you have for the rest of a 20-hour game?
While the game occasionally falters on visuals and gameplay, it does resonate with a powerful soundtrack and original score of 100+ minutes composed by Steve Jablonsky who also did the movie soundtrack. Sound design includes all of the sounds and effects from the film as created by Sound Deluxe and the guys who brought movies like King Kong and Lord of the Rings to life. You'll also be treated to authentic voice work from most of the cast from the film.
I’ll be keeping an open mind as I await the final shipping version of Transformers: The Game. After all, my preview time was limited and even a bit rushed at times, but my initial reaction and gut instinct tells me that this is going to be one of those games that will have a strong and loyal following of existing Transformer fans and possibly a few new recruits after the new movie, but casual gamers might want to approach this title with caution.