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 canít remember if I am a movie reviewer or a game reviewer. Transformers: The Game is the latest game based on the upcoming July 4th motion picture and Savage Games was given the daunting task of bringing this blockbuster to the PSP.
Delivering more than 20 robots, including ones from the movies as well as some fan favorites from the Hasbro archives, Transformers: The Game weaves an engaging story that transitions between Autobots and Decepticons, allowing gamers to play both sides of the war for the AllSpark. Since there are only 13 robots in the movie Savage got to go back and pull from the classic roster and upgrade those designs to make them more contemporary and match with the film cast. Expect to see a lot of G1 characters "movified" for the PSP.
The first thing youíll have to come to terms with is the unwieldy controls. And when you finally master the robot controls you then have to figure out steering, acceleration, and weapons for cars, choppers, and other vehicles.
This is something I complained about in my preview, mostly because of the limited time I had with the game. Now that I have been able to sit down and play the game at length, I was finally able to come to terms with the awkward control scheme, but be prepared for a good 30-minute acquisition period, and even when you do memorize whichever of the four control schemes you settle for, it still wonít make much sense.
For example, tapping right on the D-pad will cycle through your weapons left to right, but left on the D-pad wonít go the other way. This means if you want to switch from weapon slot 2 to weapon slot one you have to go through 3 and 4 because the left on the D-pad is reserved for saving your game.
The two things that annoyed me the most were saving games and reading mission objectives because every 2-3 minutes I was continually being taken out of the game and into the interface, losing all sense of immersion. Whenever you walk by a Transformer logo you get the option to save the game, rather than it just autosaving. If you confirm the save (with the left D-pad) you then have to go through the PSP save game menu, pick a new slot or overwrite an existing one.
Mission objectives were annoying because they could have just as easily been displayed on the HUD. Instead, you get a message on the HUD telling you your objectives have been updated and you have to press Select to go to the map screen and read what to do next. Itís just one extra and unnecessary step.
With those complaints aside, I have to confess I did start to enjoy Transformers on the PSP despite myself. Even though I cursed the controls, even after hours of gameplay, I kept playing and the game managed to keep a smile on my face. The linear nature of the game design takes a lot of the decisions out of your hands. Normally, this would be a bad thing, but for a handheld game it works out nicely.
The story and missions dictate which of the 25 robots you will be controlling, but you do have a few choices in equipping your robot with a variety of weapons like lasers, rockets, and mines. Missions are anywhere from 10-20 minutes long and you can chart your progress and objectives using the strategic map, complete with detailed icons, or the circular mini-map that shows enemies and waypoints while you play.
Combat is a traditional mix of ranged attacks made possibly with a target lock and strafing, but some opponents are shielded and require some physical engagement. Melee combat is handled pretty well and triggers automatically when you get in close enough for the fist icon to appear. You will also build up the Super Move meter as you do battle and once full you can unleash a Super Move attack that is custom to each Transformer. Additionally, each transformer will morph into a car, jet, helicopter, tank, or some other vehicle that also has a specific weapon.
The PSP offers four-player Ad Hoc modes for Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, CTF and King of the Hill, all renamed with cool Transformer names. You'll want to play the solo game first to unlock robots and weapons for use in the multiplayer games. Savage was extremely careful to balance all of the robots and weaponry so there is no advantage to playing any particular characters. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses; you just need to know what they are.
There is just something inherently wrong about playing giant robots on a tiny screen, or at least that is what one would think. It actually took me a few levels before I started to realize the subtle tricks the designers were using to put scale to these massive robots. What I had previously mistaken for crates turned out to be buildings, and there is no mistaking a four-door sedan when you pick it up and toss it like a two-ton rock.
Transformers looks really nice on the PSP with nice detailed models and smooth animation, including some slick transformation animations between robots and vehicles. The backgrounds often reach the quality of the larger consoles while the supporting models like cars, buildings, and drones are simplified and repetitive. Some environments, like the arctic level, are especially nice.
Special effects are pretty cool and include a lot of fire, smoke, sparks and electrical juice, plus some really good environmental destruction. Buildings and bridges will break apart and collapse and most targets will have multiple stages of damage and destruction.
Despite a game design that is totally different from the console versions, the PSP version of Transformers: The Game shares the same killer opening movie crafted by Academy Award winner, Blur Studios, and it looks and just as good on the PSP as it does on a big screen TV. There are numerous cutscenes that make use of Blurís stunning CG, as well as game-engine movies to carry the story.
While the Autobots and Decepticons wonít be shaking any subwoofers with their footsteps and cannon fire, they will do justice to a good pair of headphones. From what I can tell the sound design is identical to that of the console versions and just as powerful with thumping footsteps and hard rocking explosions.
The soundtrack is also extremely polished and infuses the gameplay with just the right amount of energy, suspense, and tension. There also seems to be plenty of variety because I didnít notice a whole lot of repetition. And I would be remiss if I didnít mention the outstanding voice acting, thank in part to great actors and a quality script that follows and embellishes on the plot from the movie to tell a far greater tale.
Most gamers will get 10-12 hours from the story mode in Transformers: The Game and there is a respectable multiplayer component provided you can find friends with a PSP and their own copy of the game. Sadly, there is no online gameplay and even worse, no trading card mode, or robot exchanges, which would have been perfect for the PSP wireless and the whole Transformer collectible mentality.
Obviously, this is a game targeted to a specific audience, and while non-Transformers fans will find a few moments of fun, I can really only recommend this game to diehard fans or perhaps new converts after this summerís movie. With some serious control issues, casual gamers may lose their momentum before the story and gameplay can capture their interest.
But for those who thrive in the world of high-tech morphing robots, this game does what it sets out to do Ė capture the look and feel of the Transformersí world as well as delivering an authentic Transformer experience that holds true to the series, the toys, and the upcoming film.