I donít know what is going on at Activision, but their last few licensed releases have been poor at best and horrible at worst. Shrek the THiRD, Spider-Man 3, and now Transformers: The Game are riddled with technical and design flaws that are the apparent and unfortunate by-products of tight schedules coinciding with the film releases. From getting stuck behind objects (Shrek), having characters float into cut scenes (Spider-Man), to a game revolving around a three-punch combo system (Transformers), Activisionís licensed titles have been bereft of sound design and attention to the gamers whose hard-earned dollars are seemingly being taken for granted. Transformers: The Game might not suffer from as many technical flaws as the other titles, but it is far from being worth your time and money.
I donít think itís too much of a stretch to say that most people reading this have been, at one time or another, a big fan of Transformers. Growing up, I simply did not understand how my parents could not find cartoon giant robots battling each other the most enthralling site ever witnessed on Earth. I mean, good robots fighting bad robots that all transform into real-world vehicles? What were they missing? They transform for crying out loud. Alas, they were content with their Miami Vice and their nightly news. I knew I had something better - well, until the original movie came out and crushed my childhood.
So, like most of you, Transformers was a big part of my childhood that fill my memories of yesteryear with sunny afternoons spent with large metal toys, humming a rocking theme song. With the new systems out and a slightly revamped style for the new movie, I was more than willing to embrace an updated roster for a new generation, fully prepared to recall those great childhood days. Then I was punched fifty feet into the air, landing too far outside the action zone to make it back before the timer ran out and I lost the mission. Again.
Why, Travellerís Tales? Why did you make me curse in front of Optimus Prime?
I donít understand why licensed material gets a pass. Aside from a comment about titles based on licensed material not being particularly good, anything above Cutthroat Island gets a gentle touch because itís not a blank disc in a case. Well, a purchase or rental price goes a long way, so a game not sucking as bad as it possibly could have doesnít really matter - if a game isnít good, it isnít good. With that said, Transformers: The Game isnít good. Regardless of whether itís based on a movie or cartoon, itís not a game worth the MSRP, or the license. It is true that a license can bring a lot to the table and that a game can really miss some great opportunities to work in and play with a universe thatís already established, and that is certainly the case here. Screwing up giant transforming robots bashing each other in the middle of a city is tough to do, but screw it up they did.
Transformers: The Game isnít exactly like the movie. The story was changed some as to not ruin the surprises of the film, and in some ways the gameís story is actually better: there is a lack of a ham handed, needless romance element and the over-the-top Sector 7 bit. The movie assumed that giant robots going at it wasnít enough; the game does not. And the game is all the better for that. There are still portions of the movie that are the same, told through cut scenes, but not too much will be spoiled if you havenít seen the movie yet. The most noticeable similarities are the new designs for both the cybertronian and vehicle versions of each Transformer, and that was carried over in great detail, with smooth transforming animations and pristine models. Models aside, the game is its own beast.
With the AllSpark, the powerful device giving sentience to the Transformers and powering their world, crashing to Earth, the Autobots are in pursuit to ensure that the Decepticons are kept away from the sole device that could end their ongoing war. The game allows for you to play as either side from the beginning, with the main differences being that Autobots are penalized for wanton destruction and the Decepticons rewarded for it, as well as the SIXAXIS controller able to control some of the flying elements of the Decepticon units by tilt. I turned this off early on in the game, but itís there for those who like making their experience needlessly difficult. This makes the Decepticonsí portion a little more tolerable, simply because some of the numerous restrictions are relaxed.
The mission structure is largely the same for both sides: a spot needs to be races to; a crude transition to a poorly rendered and compressed cutscene occurs; a crude transition back to the game; and then destroy X number of units. Do this a few times, a few more times for the other side, and then enjoy the credits. The game can be finished in one sitting, though hard grips on the controller and cursing will occur. Despite being short, the game manages to feel long due to a good number of aggravating elements. For starters, the developer loves timed sequences; for whatever reason, a significant portion of the game is timed. The game also has loose controls that arenít terribly responsive, which means that racing to the next checkpoint is a nerve-wracking experience because youíre trying to force a chunk of metal that obeys at whim through traffic with police chasing, or over hostile territory, with weird physics that can have a bus fly out of your way but a cop car grind you to a halt, to a checkpoint in hopes of not failing and having to restart the entire level again. There are also small action zones that force you to stay within a narrow confinement of a large area, for no particular reason, the exiting of which initiates a countdown timer that can result in losing and having to restart. These artificial challenges really soured me on a lot of the game, as they offered nothing positive and prolonged levels needlessly.
The only thing left is combat, and that is also lackluster. Each Transformer has a strong and weak weapon attack, but all but the smallest units Ė human and robot Ė have shields that make them impervious to such attacks. But! They are not impervious to wires that several units sling above their head, with contact resulting in a unit flying fifty feet into the air in slow motion. Somehow wires are more confusing to deal with than powerful projectiles traveling at a high rate of speed. Go figure. How do you deal with this type of unit, the swinger, the most dangerous in the game? Throw something at them. Again: shields can stop bullets and lasers but not a park bench or a light post, or hell, an umbrella. Once the unit is stunned, then melee is engaged Ė combatís bread and butter Ė when you beating the other unit to a pulp. While all of this is going on, you are forced to approach objects almost exact to pick them up, and thanks to a poor targeting system your item might even miss them, and anytime youíre hit youíre tossed faaaaaar away, often out of the action zone. Because you go in slow motion out and are sluggish in general, and the action zone timers vary, itís not uncommon to lose and have to restart a level because you couldnít make it back to the action in time.
This flying all over the place business also seriously undermines the laws of the gameworld. These are giant robots that cause craters when they walk and collapse building walls when slammed into them, yet they cannot stand up to a punch? During these moments, and afterwards, especially if you land near a building, the camera doesnít know how the handle the situation and will focus on weird angles and objects. The shields, the same shields that render half of your offensive abilities mute, cannot stop an umbrella? And for all of the postulating about not hurting humans by Optimus Prime in the movie, carried over from the cartoon, why am I purposely destroying gas stations inside a city? Sure people get out of the vehicles before you pick them up, but Iím still laying waste to all kinds of property, not to mention the law enforcement I ram into during the timed automobile portions. I can understand some of this, because it would be difficult to have a giant robot game otherwise, but being tasked to cause destruction and harm goes against the grain of the entire Autobots mythos.
There is often no avenue to victory other than through attrition. There are moments that seem so unfair that you just want to quit. One level in particular has a near paralyzed Megatron shooting you with a giant cannon, each shot sending you flying into the air, with no real recharge rate or way to dodge, and a small action zone to stay alive for three minutes while being attacked by smaller enemies. I won that level by luck: several previous attempts were just me being bounced around by Megatronís blast, with surviving just not possible, until finally I was able to gain enough health by killing the smaller units and just not being hit by the cannon enough to live through the 3-minute timer Ė yes, another timed portion. There are other times when you fight an enemy, they limp away wounded, then reappear fully charged, while your health power-ups are slow to replenish or absent.
There are goodies and extra levels sprawled throughout. The extra levels involve more bashing, while the goodies are often boring movie ads. The coolest extra, and the one that could cause many to try this, is the ability to unlock G1 costumes, the costumes everyone remembers from the Ď80s. This doesnít make the game any better, but itís certainly nice to see Megatron and Optimus spruced up and retro fitted. Good stuff.
Transformers: The Game is a shallow, barebones title set in a universe that offers so much more. A short, flawed single-player campaign with token extras Ė G1 costume awesomeness aside Ė is a poor showing in every regard. Trouncing around and bashing transforming robots carries a title a long way, but somehow it canít even go a smidge further to offer an experience that isnít repetitive rubbish.