Transformers: The Game
-Traveller's Tales / Activision (2007)
-Also on: Xbox 360, PS2.
Autobots and Decepticons fight in small invisible circles.
Even though I am a fan of the original Transformers, the movie was something I approached with much caution. I am not a fan of Michael Bay and only liked one of his movies (The Rock) before it, but now I guess I like two. Transformers movie rocked. Unfortunately, I am not here to talk about the movie, but the broken game based on the movie.
There are two campaigns to choose from; one for Autobots, one for Decepticons. Each campaign has similar missions to the other, except that the Decepticon missions focus a bit more on blowing stuff up instead of defeating a robot that is blowing stuff up. Admittedly, the game started off fun. Transforming felt cool and destroying buildings was great. Although, after the initial rush I had from transforming a few dozen times and destroying puny human installations I began noticing what was wrong with the game. It wasn’t just one thing that was out of whack, but problem after problem, with the robot and vehicle modes each having their own issues.
For one, you can't transform in mid-air. It's a minor grievance, sure, but the Transformers did it all the time in the cartoon. In robot mode, as your transformer walks, the entire screen shakes from side to side. It was very disorientating at first and while I dealt with it for the rest of the game I never fully got used to it. Doesn’t a screen shaking effect like that require extra programming to achieve just the right level of annoyance? Why couldn’t the screen just keep still like every other big mech game?
When I took control of the ground-based transformers such as Bumblebee, Barricade, Ironhide, Jazz, and Optimus, the game presented new problems. The driving controls were loose and the behind-the-car camera felt too low to the ground. The vehicles easily got caught on small things in the environment, such as signs and curbs. The other Transformers also must hate Jazz because when you play as Ironhide you are constantly saving him. No wonder he was killed off in the movie (Oh, spoiler for the five of you that haven't seen the movie yet).
The flying ‘bots such as Blackout, Starscream, and Megatron usually felt fine. However, I had to switch my Y-axis configuration every time I transformed because I'm one of those gamers that likes pressing down for up in flight and pressing down for down on the ground. There is no option for separate flight/ground axis so changing it back and forth was another annoyance.
The Transformers’ weapons feel vastly underpowered. Why doesn’t a single missile destroy a regular civilian car? You can also forget about shooting your way through the military vehicles, robot drones, or the big-name Transformers. You’ll be reduced to just using robot fists because many of the enemies have shields that deflect weapons.
The game seems like it is open, but it's not. You basically have to make it as fast as you can to each new "action zone," which is a small circle only visible on the map. If you do not get to the zone before the counter reaches zero, you loose. If you step out of the invisible boundaries of the zone you have to get back in or you loose the mission. If there is an enemy that is far off in the distance that you need to destroy to end the action zone sequence you’re out-of-luck because in you can not go after it. You must wait until it finally takes its sweet time and reaches the zone. I was often waiting for minutes at a time not doing anything because all the other enemy robots had been destroyed except that one.
The Autobots and Decepticons must have shopped at the same Cybertron robot store before leaving for Earth. Each side has mindless drones that you destroy on your way to the big-name bots that look different in their vehicle modes, but look exactly the same in robot modes. Would it have been too much to add a couple of different robot models?
As for a more character/stage specific annoyance, in one Bumblebee stage I constantly got caught in a deadly loop. Megatron was firing off a pulse blast or something and Bumblebee would get struck by it, making him fly backwards. The time it took Bumblebee to fly backwards and fall to the ground was the same amount of time it took Megatron to fire his weapon again, so I was caught in a loop that only ever ended in Bumblebee’s death. It’s just bad game design.
Since I am such a Transformers fan, I also must acknowledge how much I dislike the box art. I think Optimus and Megatron staring at each other is fine, but their eyes are should be lined-up if that's what they're going to do. Optimus is staring at Megatron's nose. How hard would it have been to move the Optimus or Megatron layer a few lines in Photoshop?
Because of all the problems, when I finally got to play as Optimus, the expected feeling of "Awesome, I'm controlling freaking Optimus Prime!" just wasn't there. It turns out that one of the best Transformers to play as is Scorponok, and he doesn’t even transform. Scorponok can go underground, is easier to control than the car bots, and has some decent firepower. Plus, he doesn’t have the shaky screen effect or a camera that is too low.
There are a few other pluses about the game. The voice-acting is mostly very good with Peter Cullen and Frank Welker reprising Optimus and Megatron respectively. The other voice actors also do a nice job of bringing the hulking robots to life. The Transformers themselves look great. They are detailed and their transformations look real. The environments, on the other hand, look dull and plain, and appear to be PS2 quality graphics at times.
The one cool Transformer fan moment of the game was the Optimus versus Shockwave battle. Shockwave was re-done as a movie style triple-changer. He transforms from robot to cannon to helicopter. The helicopter part may sound strange for a very Cybertronian transformer, but the look works. I would actually suggest playing the game up to that point and then quitting afterwards, because the rest of the game doesn’t touch the cool factor of Shockwave.
After the how good the Transformers PS2 game was, I was expecting this game to at least hold up as well. It turns out I would rather just spend my time re-watching the movie.