Reviewed: June 24, 2007
Released: June 21, 2007
Activision is quickly becoming the king of the movie-to-video game spin-offs; and with titles like Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third I often can’t remember if I am a movie reviewer or a game reviewer. Transformers: Autobots is the latest game, part of a twin-release for the NDS, based on the upcoming July 4th motion picture and Vicarious Visions was given the daunting task of bringing not one, but two Transformers titles to the NDS. Choose your side and cast your vote by purchasing your favorite group of robots, or ride the fence and get them both. Either way, you are in for a spectacular handheld experience.
I have to confess that I don’t play a lot of NDS games so my basis for comparison may be limited, but then again, I tend to only play the best releases for the NDS, so perhaps it carries more weight when I say that Transformers is one of the best times I’ve had on my DS this year, both in single play and multiplayer. I really had my doubts that a game about giant robots could hold up on a 2-inch screen, but it only took about 15 minutes to totally fall in love with this game.
The obvious hook with the NDS release of Transformers is the dual titles; Autobots and Decepticons, but unlike the recent Pokemon Diamond and Pearl titles that were essentially the same game, you get two very distinct games depending on which title you end up with.
Autobots tells the story from the “good guys” point of view, including the origins of the Transformers, the history of the AllSpark, and the ongoing battle with the Decepticons that has now found its way to Earth. Missions are specific to each side, and in the case of the Autobots, protectors of all that is good; you must refrain from human casualties or excessive property damage. Decepticons, on the other hand, are encouraged to wreak havoc and even maintain high alert levels during entire missions.
Transformers eases you into the action and the intuitive control scheme with a brief tutorial that covers the basics like movement, targeting, and attacks. Additional functions and advanced commands are introduced as the story progresses, making this an extremely easy game to simply pick up and start playing.
The D-pad handles movement while the left and right triggers rotate the camera view. The face buttons handle jumping, ranged and melee attacks, and grab/throw moves and the touch screen features icons for transforming into a variety of vehicles. Unique to the DS version is the ability to scan civilian traffic (another touch screen function). Simply center a car or truck in the upper screen and touch the scan icon to initiate a scan that takes about 8-10 seconds.
Once scanned, the object will either be rejected or entered into your database as a possible transformation. You can change the color of these cars and pick from a long list of previously scanned vehicles in the Pause menu. Whichever vehicle you have selected is what you will change into when you touch the transformation icon, and the color of that vehicle will also alter your body panel colors while in robot form.
Combat is a clever mix of melee and ranged attacks. As you engage and defeat the enemy you will earn experience points and slowly level-up your characters earning new abilities and improved stats. Unlike the other versions of Transformers where you play the star robots, on the NDS you actually play your own character, the hero of your own story within the scope of the expanded film plot. And with the ability to transform into cars, trucks, planes, and helicopters, the variety of gameplay is far greater than the console and PSP versions.
The gameplay evolves as you progress through the story and level-up. You’ll actually have to earn the right to climb buildings or shoot while in vehicle form. Even your weapons and melee attacks get more complicated and powerful as your stats increase.
Missions take place across surprisingly large cities and other outdoor environments with objectives indicated by waypoint beacons. Between missions you will need to dodge the cops and avoid the Decepticons who will appear as civilian traffic until you get close. It was really cool and totally surprising to be driving down the city street and bumping into another car only to have it turn into a giant robot and start attacking. There is a great sense of suspense in not knowing where the enemy is lurking, and considerable strategy when it comes time to avoid the cops until the alert level goes down.
Transformers really shines in the multiplayer department with full multi-card support for versus and team-based games like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and AllSpark Sports. Of course the real treat is the Battle for the AllSpark, a global battle being waged daily online. You’ll engage in a specific offline challenge then upload your results to the War Center, a global server that will track everyone’s contributions to determine the victor. Your contribution will also be rewarded with Wi-Fi tokens you can use to unlock more offline game content.
Transformers might not be the prettiest NDS game I’ve ever played but it does have style. It all starts with a really good opening movie then moves into a slick yet simple 3D environment in the upper screen and a cool radar and interface screen on the bottom that is also customized and color themed to Autobot or Decepticon.
Buildings are simple textures and cars are low-poly box models with only small variations in design. Planes, choppers, and especially the Transformers themselves, really shine in the design department with some smooth and fluid animation, both running and transforming. There is also a cool lock-on and scan interface when analyzing vehicles for your database.
There are a few camera issues, especially in multiplayer where it becomes nearly impossible to maintain a lock on unpredictable human opposition. It would have been nice to have a targeting system that would not only maintain a lock when you aren’t facing the enemy, but also lock the camera. Trying to move, while simultaneously rotating the camera and keeping the enemy in front of you can be frustrating at times.
The music and sound effects are outstanding, especially for a DS game. With a good pair of headphones you will really get into the heavy footsteps of these metal giants and revel in the crater-like prints they leave when they jump and run through the city streets.
What really stood out for me was the amount of speech they managed to pack onto the DS game card. Movies, mission briefings, and mid-game cutscenes are all fully voiced. Sure, things get repetitive at times, especially with the one-liners from the cops and the battle chatter with the enemy, but the quality of the acting and the sheer amount of spoken dialogue is impressive.
There are 20 missions in all plus another 20 challenge missions to keep you busy for upwards of 15-20 hours. Depending on just how much you get into this game the Battle for the AllSpark can keep you engaged for months to come, and the best part is your contribution to the war can take as few as 15-20 minutes.
The multiplayer modes are great fun provided you can find others with a copy of the game, and it was nice to learn you can play with others who have either the Autobot or Decepticon version of the game. And finally, the flexibility of the RPG-lite stat system, and sheer amount of unlockable content makes this game a fantastic value.
As to whether you should pick up both versions of the game, that is ultimately up to you, but it should be noted that each game is very unique with specific missions, a unique story, and even exclusive environments and levels. While other versions combine both Autobots and Decepticons as playable characters, Transformers for the NDS does a good job of dividing those sides into two very appealing titles.
Obviously, this is a game targeted to a specific audience, and while non-Transformers fans will find plenty to like it might be best as a rental. But for those who thrive in the world of high-tech morphing robots, the Battle for the AllSpark is a most tempting gameplay feature that will have thousands of gamers making daily contributions to the ongoing war.
Ultimately, this game does what it sets out to do – capture the look and feel of the Transformers’ world as well as delivering an authentic Transformer experience that holds true to the series, the toys, and the upcoming film.