Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release Date: June 26, 2007
Transformers: The Game represents a united next-generation front for Activision, which went a different route with its recent licensed mega-release, Spider-Man 3. In the case of the web-headed adventure, the Wii version was considerably different from the one prepared for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, though none of the console versions were especially well-received.
With Transformers, Traveller's Tales has been tasked with crafting a multi-platform experience that can hold up even on the less-powerful, waggle-enabled Wii. While some will bemoan the release of a game that doesn't appear to take particular advantage of any one piece of hardware, it does allow the developer to polish a singular entry instead of dividing up its resources for multiple iterations.
Transformers has always been about the struggle between the Autobots and Decepticons, and the next-gen versions of Transformers: The Game will let players duke it out as each side in a pair of campaigns, each containing 20 missions. Nine playable characters will be utilized over the course of the game, with four Autobots (Bumblebee, Ironhide, Jazz, and Optimus Prime) and five Decepticons (Barricade, Blackout, Megatron, Scorponok, and Starscream) filling out the roster. Each mission appears to come with a predetermined playable character, but players will be able to unlock the ability to use additional Transformers to replay completed levels.
The Autobot campaign largely mirrors the narrative of the film, which finds the two sides coming to Earth in search of the long-hidden AllSpark, an epic power source. Teenager Sam Witwicki is caught between the warring factions, as his great-grandfather's old spectacles are etched with the location of the AllSpark. As such, the Autobots snap into action, with Bumblebee taking the form of a Camaro to protect the teenager and keep the Decepticons from destroying the planet. Conversely, the Decepticon campaign flips the script, putting the emphasis on destruction — both of the Autobots and the modern human cities in which the game takes place.
Each of the playable Transformers has been immaculately recreated from the Industrial Light and Magic models created for the film, and it shows in the intricate nuances seen from top to bottom on these 30' mechanical beasts. Great emphasis has been put on the actual transformation process, albeit without the use of cut scenes or obnoxious cinematic flourishes. In one swift animation, an Autobot will fluidly spiral from its standing position into the four-wheel form attached to that particular character (including a Pontiac Solstice and a 4x4 truck). Decepticons aren't limited to automobile action, though; some can transform into jets or stealth planes, while Scorponok becomes a massive mechanical scorpion with spinning claws.
Five city "hubs" with four missions each set the stage for each campaign, and while the hubs lack the expansive nature of Spider-Man 3's Manhattan, each location offers a variety of terrain to traverse — and ultimately destroy. Buildings can be demolished and mashed into bits, while trees, lampposts, and vehicles can be wielded as weapons and thrown at enemies. Most amusingly, giant donuts and hot dogs can be grabbed from atop buildings and billboards and heaved at the enemy or police cruiser of your choice. As the chaos builds, those police cruisers will follow your every move, attempting to impede your route to the next "action zone."
While initially an impressive experience, the little details seem to have been fudged in the process. The destruction is not as random as it may seem; when a train platform is demolished, it breaks down into just a handful of neat chunks, like pre-determined puzzle pieces. Trees are distinctly last-gen, cars are infinitely replicated across the city, and bystanders tend not to react in pressure situations, such as when a car is barreling toward them. In what could possibly be an attempt to avoid an "M" rating, pedestrians are gently nudged aside by the speeding vehicle, rather than be violently crushed or knocked out of the way.
Much of the action takes place within action zones, which are blocked-off bubbles of the city in which the player must battle. Once you defeat the enemies in one zone, you have a limited amount of time to race over to the next zone for another battle. Granted, not every mission follows this simple template, but it seems safe to assume that many missions will be spent taking down non-essential characters.
The on-foot combat engine allows for a variety of options, with a pair of weapon attacks, a melee/reversal button, and the ability to pick up and toss pretty much anything in view. The Transformers can also put up an energy shield to protect them from both physical and electrified attacks. If a shielded boss character is shooting out an energy wave at regular intervals, toss up your shield, take a few steps, and repeat until you're close enough for a melee attack. The vehicle forms also have projectile weapons, as evidenced in a mission in which Bumblebee had to chase down and quickly eliminate a pair of enemy racers.
With the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 iterations of Transformers: The Game making essential use of every face and shoulder button, the Wiimote and Nunchuk are tasked with handling quite a bit. Luckily, the developers didn't have to make use of the 1 and 2 buttons, which can be tough to tap in the heat of battle. Light movements are used for melee attacks (left/right) and grabbing/throwing (up/down), with the weapon attacks mapped to A and B on the Wiimote.
Gamers can perform movement commands on either the Wiimote or Nunchuk at any time, though the Nunchuk is recommended due to the camera and targeting controls being mapped to the Wiimote pointer. All other commands are handled with the d-pad or shoulder buttons, and the overall experience seemed fairly cohesive, though the camera could prove to be tricky.
The camera was a common issue on the other consoles, as well. Chaotic battles are not well-served by a camera that floats mere virtual feet behind the massive characters, and there were times in which the perspective made it tough to see what was even happening (such as when I was surrounded by trees). While the game typically ran at a decent clip on all three systems, there were apparent frame rate glitches that popped up from time to time, especially on the PlayStation 3 build.
More than five minutes of CG cut scenes were prepared for the game by Blur Studio, which developed the CG for Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Principal actors Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox (among others) were brought in to voice their computer-generated counterparts. Also carried over from the film is its composer, Steve Jablonsky, who contributed over 100 minutes of music to the game.
Like the PSP version, the console iterations of Transformers: The Game look to be packed with bonus content, including trailers, comic book covers, and Generation One costumes for many of the characters. Each city stage plays host to a bevy of Energon cubes, which can be collected to unlock challenge missions and race events. On the Xbox 360, roughly 40% of the Achievements are mapped to completion of the campaign, while others will be earned through accumulation of Energon cubes and by performing in-game actions (such as executing 1,000 melee attacks).
Transformers: The Game is just two weeks from retail, and with a ship date that precedes the release of the film by a full week, it should serve as the perfect complement for those who wish to mark this nation's independence in an air-conditioned movie theater. Check back for a slew of reviews in the coming weeks.
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