Developer: Savage Entertainment
Release Date: June 26, 2007
When the PSP launched in early 2005, it helped close the gap between modern handhelds and the last generation of consoles. While this advancement in technology helped to pave the way for several creative concepts, it also designated the PSP as a depository for lackluster PlayStation 2 ports. As I entered a recent Activision press event, it was hard not to make the assumption that the PSP iteration of Transformers: The Game would continue that obnoxious trend, but such is not the case.
Transformers: The Game for PSP is a completely different experience than that of the console or Nintendo DS versions, with a single, comprehensive campaign that puts players in charge of both the Autobots and Decepticons. More than 20 playable characters can be unlocked, including Generation One characters and updated versions of characters not seen in the upcoming film. More than anything, the PSP release of Transformers stresses customization and choice, with a bevy of bonus content that takes advantage of the sharp, widescreen display.
"Controls are a very personal experience on the PSP," said Associate Producer Jason Ades, noting the limited button layout and lack of a second analog stick. As such, the developers at Savage Entertainment have added four distinct control schemes to the game, allowing players to pick the arrangement that best suits their play style. The default scheme used the analog stick for movement and two of the face buttons for aiming, while the d-pad held toggle commands, such as swapping between weapons and locking on to an enemy.
Customization extends to the weaponry in the game, which is presented to the player via a weapon loadout screen prior to each mission. The player can choose one weapon each in four general categories: energy weapons (lasers), firearms (machine guns, shotgun), ranged (rockets), and projectiles (mines, grenades). As the player progresses through the campaign, the weapons will accumulate stats and upgrade with time. Each weapon on the loadout screen was broken down in terms of range, power, and speed, allowing the player to construct an arsenal of complementary firearms.
Beneath all of this customization is a single-player campaign that focuses on both sides of the struggle, rather than split them into separate quests (like the console versions). Roughly 15 missions are spread out with 11 distinct environments, creating a campaign that should span some eight or more hours of play. While the Autobot storyline follows that of the film, the Decepticon missions vary a bit, though additional details were not yet made available.
The gameplay is viewed from an over-the-shoulder perspective that keeps the current Autobot or Decepticon to the left-center of the screen at all times. As in the other iterations, each Transformer can change forms, pick up vehicles, and interact with the environments in many different ways. Though I was not able to spend much time with the single-player game, I did see a mission in Qatar where Blackout, a Decepticon who transforms into a helicopter, was downing enemies in a winding, desert canyon.
As with the Nintendo DS versions, Transformers features local (Ad Hoc) wireless play for up to four players, but unlike those dual-screen iterations, the PSP game has quite a bit to it. Ten battlegrounds, many derived from the single-player settings, will be included, with four multiplayer game types available for play. Deathmatch and capture the flag are pretty standard for multiplayer games, but Secure the AllSpark deviates from the norm a bit with gameplay that resembles that of AllSpark Sports (from the DS versions), albeit with a slight modification. Rather than put the item in the other team's goal, your objective is to find the AllSpark piece and bring it back to your own glowing base.
Another strong point of the Transformers PSP experience looks to be the inclusion of a considerable amount of bonus content. Points awarded to the player through gameplay can be used to purchase music, concept art, and game art from within the menu screen. Even more goodies can be unlocked by finding hidden computer chips in the single-player campaign. The large display of the PSP will be put to use with the inclusion of classic Transformers comic book covers and additional visual content.
Savage seems to have a good sense of how to take advantage of the PSP hardware without overtaxing it or forcing advanced gameplay onto a simplistic control scheme. By emphasizing customization and the ability to acquire a heap of bonus goods, Activision may have itself a licensed PSP game that doesn’t feel like an afterthought. Of course, all of this is moot unless the gameplay delivers. Based on what was shown, Transformers: The Game has the elements of a decent adventure, but it remains to be seen if they will come together in the final release to deliver a cohesive, worthwhile experience.
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