Developer: Melbourne House
Release Date: May 11, 2004
The Transformers are BACK, so break out your favorite underoos! Based on the popular '80s cartoon and currently making a strong comeback, the Transformers are all about the fight between good and evil amongst the Autobots and Decepticons. This year marks the Transformers' 20th anniversary, and Atari is going to make sure you won't forget it with its upcoming first/third person action game, due in stores May 11th.
Last night, Atari held a press event on a retired aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Hornet, and we were given a chance to meet with the Transformer developers (Melbourne House), enjoy performances by Drop Box (who signed on to play the title song for the game intro), and of course, play the game. While we could regale you with tales of bravery or descriptions of the hors d'oeuvres, we know you're here for the game info, so we'll get right to it!
The game's storyline is as follows: on the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron, the Decepticons seek to control life-giving planets throughout the universe, and only Optimus Prime and his Autobots stand in their way. On the brink of being overrun by the Decepticlone army, the valiant Autobots are facing defeat when a distress signal from the Mini-Con robots, the long-lost third Transformers race, reaches Cybertron. Stranded on Earth, the Mini-Cons can be equipped as weapons to tip the balance of power in the ongoing Transformers War. Knowing this, the Autobots and Decepticons race to Earth to find the Mini-Cons.
While the cartoon had dozens of different Transformers, Atari's adaptation will let you select from three of them, namely Hot Shot, Red Alert (who happens to be blue), and Optimus Prime. While all are capable of carrying weapons and transforming into vehicles, each also has individual strengths that might affect and/or change the way you play the game; Optimus Prime is heavily armored and slow, while Hot Shot is faster, and more agile but more vulnerable. Through the initial game menu, you can select your favorite Autobot and outfit him from a vast selection of weaponry. There are well over 40, so the sheer amount of combinations can be dizzying: tractor beam, grenade launcher, sniper rifle, homing missiles, EMP blast, stealth mode, shields, flashbang, glide, and plenty more. You can assign primary and secondary weapons to your R1 and R2 buttons, while L1 and L2 are available to assign available Mini-Cons. You then select a "drop zone" -- a different phrase for level -- taking you through a total of eight locations such as the Amazon Jungle, Antarctica, Cybertron, Decepticon ship, etc.
Graphically, Transformers is quite impressive and is definitely a step up from standard PS2 fare. The cut scenes were some of the best that we've seen and could easily compete with today's quality cartoons on TV. Even in this preliminary beta stage, the Transformers themselves are highly detailed, and movement is pretty fluid, but Atari promised that further optimization is going to be done in order to bring the game to the next level. Whether the locale is the dense Amazon Jungle with loads of trees and various undergrowth, or the snow-covered Antarctica filled with rolling hills, ravines or ice formations, the levels are expansive, and you are able to explore, mowing down enemies and achieving objectives along the way. The game has a lot of nice effects, from falling snow to realistic thick smoke trails on homing missiles. When you destroy enemies, the effects are literally quite explosive; they become fiery heaps of misery, and mechanical limbs scatter about. Time to put some shrimp on the barbie!
Regarding gameplay, the only thing that we found lacking was any type of radar or waypoints. We were informed that this feature was intentionally left out to encourage players to roam about and visit every inch of the map. The only guidance you receive is provided by restrictive level design or blue warp gates, which indicate checkpoints. When activated, these warp gates return you to the Autobot HQ to recharge Energon supply or change your Mini-Con setup. Transformers does sport some type of in-game tutorial, as certain events in the game triggered an overhead dialogue box giving hints on how to bypass obstacles. We briefly mentioned in passing that your Autobot can change into a vehicle, but this ability actually serves a purpose and is not merely a gimmick. With a quick tap of the triangle button, you can "transform" to either outrun a boss, jump over ravines, or simply mow down enemies Carmageddon style. Pressing the circle button allows you to switch from third-person to first-person view and gives you the ability to aim more precisely and zoom in on enemies, with the downside that your movement is restricted to where your feet are planted, with the exception of crouching and leaning. The AI in the game was adequate, with the opposing forces trying to figure out where the firing is coming from, and hiding behind trees, boxes, buildings or or making quick peek-and-shoot maneuvers. It is quite obvious that the danger lies more in the amount of enemies you will encounter than their intelligence.
We can't really make a judgment on the game's sound, as either Drop Box was playing, or the resident deejay was sending us back in time with Vanilla Ice tunes. Now, on to more important matters. Someone needs to take an eraser to my head so the Transformers theme song can be banished.
With a few more months left to polish the game, beef up the enemy count, and address minor framerate issues, Atari and Melbourne House are well on their way to being the exception to the rule when it comes to the recent failures of licensed product games. This won't be your typical blast-everything-away shooter game; promising plenty of unlockable goodies, it will actually require you to think, strategize, and appropriately outfit your Autobot. Transformers is sure to please fans of the '80s cartoon series as well as gamers who are just discovering the franchise.
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