Reviewed: July 9, 2007
Released: June 26, 2007
For those who love movies and videogames you might have some tough choices to make the next time you walk into your software store. Hmmm…Harry Potter, Fantastic Four, Surfs Up, Ratatouille…WHOA! Giant robots kicking ass and chewing bubble gum…what’s that? They’re all out of bubble gum…sign me up!
That’s right. Those enduring, or is it endearing – actually my thesaurus says both are applicable – giant robots from the 80’s have made the leap from TV and toy store shelves to the big screen in this summer’s biggest box office mega-hit. Naturally, Activision is on the scene to capitalize on the hype and along for the ride is Traveller’s Tales, the same guys who brought us Bionicle Heroes last Christmas. In fact, at first glance it looks like they even recycled the same cover art.
Of course I’m referring to Transformers: The Game, now out on just about every game system known to man including your cell phone, but we’ll stick with the next-gen reviews today. For those who didn’t read my preview of this game last month, I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the game during my brief hands-on, but now that I’ve had a few weeks to sit down and experience the full game, complete with story and awesome cutscenes…well, let’s just say I’m still not thrilled, but I am a bit more optomistic.
To their credit, TT Games did a fantastic job of recreating the movie within the confines of a game. With some serious collaboration of Michael Bay, ILM, and the chief toy designer, Aaron Archer over at Hasbro, this could 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, but is it any fun to actually play.
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 an F-22 fighter jet.
Transformers takes place in a large open-ended environments that take anywhere from 30-120 seconds (real time) to drive or fly from border to border. Levels span sprawling rural areas, suburbs, desert military installations, 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. The first 80-90 cubes are pretty easy to find, especially on the nighttime levels, but collecting those final few hard-to-find cubes could take some serious dedication.
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 primary and secondary weapons, but here lies my major complaint with the game. You are totally encouraged (if not forced) to use melee combat a majority of the game.
Not that you’d want to use your ranged weapons all that often. The targeting system is extremely flawed, and while you can lock-on, if there are multiple enemies “stacked” you’ll have an impossible time trying to tag the one you want. At least when you do lock-on you’ll get a padlock camera so you can circle strafe.
Regardless of whether you are an Autobot or a Decepticon a typical encounter goes down in one of a very few ways. You have the standard drone that can be killed with weapons, usually sustained fire of 15-20 seconds, or you can go up and do a 1-2-3 karate combo and turn the drone into debris in two seconds. Then you have the enemies who have shields or some variation of a flail or flame attack where you must first stun the enemy by throwing a car, tree, lamppost, or anything else lying around, then quickly run up and smack them around. Repeat 3-5 times depending on the significance of the encounter.
So even though you are often equipped with missiles, chain gun rounds, rockets, and other high-tech weaponry, you end up destroying most of the enemies with melee moves turning Transformers into an elaborate game of Rock’em Sock’em Robots. And it’s not even that elaborate since you only have one button to punch with and maybe 3-5 variations of combos for those attacks.
The Decepticon campaign is decisively more fun than the initial Autobots story mode for one major reason – you can fly and destroy things. Okay – that’s two reasons. Playing as the Autobots you are discouraged from damaging property or killing humans. If you pick up a car and throw it the designers are careful to show the passengers falling out onto the street and running away, whereas with the Decepticons there is a mission to destroy 100% of the city within a certain time limit.
As for the flying, well, let’s just say the driving in Transformers sucks really bad. Cars glide over pavement like glass or ice with no sense of physics and if you hit anything like another car they bounce off like they are filled with helium. When you combine this annoying driving engine with dozens of missions that require you to drive from point A to B to C to D within 20-40 seconds things can get really frustrating. Surprisingly enough, the bigger vehicles like Optimus Prime handle better than the smaller faster cars like Barricade and Bumblebee.
Flying is where all the fun is, but you’ll have to be one of those dirty no good Decepticons if you want to terrorize humans from the skies. You start the campaign by impersonating a downed chopper and infiltrating a military base, which you promptly destroy. After blasting the base from the air and the tarmac you can then play as Scorponok, the scorpion robot, which is just as much fun. The Decepticons really do have a lot more variety in gameplay and mission design and really save this title from utter disaster.
Another thing that really bothered me was not being able to transform unless I was standing on the ground. This means that if Starscream is falling off a roof he has to hit the ground before he can turn into his F-22 form. And you cannot jump up and transform or transform as you are being hurled back by an enemy blast.
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.
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.
Environmental damage is varied with a few fixed stages of demolition, so there are weird jumps in visual damage. Transformers can climb buildings better than Spider-Man and they might crack the concrete, but glass is surprisingly bot-proof. Transformers running through town will leave a trail of crater-like footprints that mysteriously vanish 20 steps behind you and anything you destroy in one mission is magically rebuilt for the next.
Textures range from excellent to non-existent, which also describes the draw distance. The repetitive building textures vanish if you climb to the highest point in the city along with the traffic. If you are lucky you can still see any energy cubes hiding on rooftops as long as they are within a few surround blocks. It’s easy to see the focus of 90% of the art and design went into the robots.
Special effects are quite good with nice lighting, especially the nighttime levels with an almost magical glow coming off the streetlights in suburbia. There are plenty of cool weapon effects and explosions, EMP blasts, fire, smoke, and debris that all create some seriously destructive gameplay.
After seeing the movie I came away wishing they had focused more on the robots. Characters were stupid and annoying – Jazz summed it up best with his line, “These parents are annoying…can I take them out?” And despite the obvious eye-candy value of #18 on the Maxim Hot 100 list of 2007, Megan Fox, she and Shia LaBeouf combined can’t act their way out of a rusty Camero. It’s pretty bad when CG robots are more expressive in voice and performance than the humans, so when the video game boasts that they got the human cast to reprise their roles…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be bragging about that. It’s hard enough for “good” actors to do studio voiceovers.
Thankfully, the human voice work is limited to a few annoying cutscenes and this totally hilarious sound of panicking (and invisible) humans. You’ll be hopping from rooftop to rooftop or punching away at Megatron in the city park and you’ll hear this short clip of people screaming that sounds either like a bunch of Apache Indians whooping it up on the warpath or it could be the sound effect that South Park used for their rampaging turkeys on their first Thanksgiving special. I’m deadly serious – listen and compare, then laugh at how ridiculous this entirely overused sound is.
The voices for the Autobots and Decepticons are exceptional and the rest of the audio package is also quite good if not somewhat limited by the restrictive and repetitive gameplay. You have nine transformers than morph into various vehicles, each with their own custom sounds and attacks that also create their own sounds, resulting in the endless sounds of explosions and destructions. Sound design includes all of the 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.
While the game 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.
Expect a good 6-8 hours per campaign or about 15 hours in total. The game is primarily a fighting game with some periods of exploration and racing thrown in. I suffered through the Autobots story in about 10 hours only because I was trying for 100% on those energy cubes, and the stupid final boss fight took me two freaking hours. The Decepticon story took about 6 hours because I had long given up on finding all the cubes and just wanted to finish the game. I still haven’t beaten the final boss – much harder than the final mission in the Autobot campaign – and I’m so annoyed with the whole mission I seriously doubt I ever will.
There are a few metric tons of bonus materials tucked away if you have the determination and stamina to unlock them. You’ll need to find almost all of the energy cubes to unlock bonus missions then beat those missions to unlock these extras. There are also two bonus missions – one at the end of each campaign that takes place back on Cybertron. I only played the Autobot one (since I can’t finish the Decepticon story) and it was a pretty lame bonus mission that took place in a boring arena where I had to destroy 20-30 drones in 2-3 minutes.
You can replay any bonus challenge or primary story mission within a level by moving into the glowing area on the map. Missions are scored on several factors, but these scores aren’t really used to earn you anything and they aren’t tracked on any online leaderboards, so it’s not really a competitive thing.
Xbox 360 gamers will have their work cut out for them if they want to earn all 42 Achievements. Some are easily earned by merely finishing each chapter, but others require you to max out all your skills in various areas like speed, jump, destruction, and in the case of the Decepticons, evilness. You are also rewarded for certain number of enemy kills, using melee, and even transforming 500 times. Most of these will come naturally throughout the course of playing both campaigns, but a few, especially the secret challenges, will take some real work.
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, at least until I got into the Decepticon campaign. Then things actually got fun.
There is no doubt that the Transformers is ripe material for a video game. Atari already served up an excellent title back in 2004, which I was compelled to go back and revisit after playing this next-gen title, and guess what? Atari’s game is just as much fun today as it was three years ago and there are no pesky humans to clutter the presentation.
Still, if you liked the movie and have a high tolerance for missed potential and repetitive, button-mashing gameplay, give Transformers: The Game a shot. It’s an impossible purchase recommendation at full price but certainly worth a rental and possibly a purchase when it hits the bargain bins, which probably won’t be too long.