Release Date: June 23, 2009
This is the problem with blockbuster movie tie-in titles: Once you've seen the film, almost nothing can equal it, and that's how it goes with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. What we have is a decent game — far better than much of the churned-out garbage foisted upon us every summer — that will nevertheless disappoint all but the younger Transformers fans. 'Tis a good thing that kids are the bulk of Transformers mass-market merchandise fans. The movies, on the other hand, those are an entirely different matter.
Departing from the usual order of things in reviews, I'll go ahead and give you a buying recommendation right now: If your kids are fans and are age 12 and under, run, do not walk, and buy this game. You can save it for a birthday or special holiday, but by all means strongly consider this title against the other T-rated games for kids this summer. Children will likely love it. As parents, we think we're being heroes to our children by providing things like a decent education. To our kids, I'm sure it's more about buying them lots of games like these.
For the rest of us, as a game taken on its own merit, expect Transformers to be better than lackluster, but barely. This is not the Transformers movie game it could be, even though the console tech exists and is fairly well used to do some justice to the film's snap and sparkle. As movie tie-in titles go, the missions here don't even follow the movie very well.
I saw and enjoyed the movie. Convoy escort was not a big part of the film. Repeatedly ridding Shanghai of invading Decepticons did not figure greatly into the movie's plot. I'm pleased to announce, and don't let me give anything away here, but convoy-escorting was not in the movie. This may be the humdrum daily beat of your average heroic transforming machine, but it makes for poor narrative, game or movie.
There are two solo campaigns within which you can unlock, and later play as, all the various Transformers good and evil. The missions are fairly static in design and take place in semi-free-roaming regions similar to the first Transformers game: cities, deserts and now the location of the Navy fleet guarding Megatron's watery grave. To Luxoflux's credit, the environments are better realized, more graphically detailed and more visually interactive this time around. Unfortunately, they didn't do so much with those enhanced environments. There are the escort-type (or ambush-style) missions and elimination assault runs — sometimes wrapping up with boss battles that don't quite feel like boss battles.
In my opinion, the most mediocre and repetitive are the repair missions. For example, a number of communications towers are down, and their general area's under siege by Decepticons. You have to destroy the Decepticons around them, locate the broken tower on your radar (the standard circular affair in the lower left corner, above your auto-regenerating health gauge), and then repair the tower. After fixing the first tower, rinse and repeat. While most timers are wisely eliminated from this new Transformers game, the remaining towers have countdown clocks on them, so you have to finish each one in time or start the whole mission over. I hate to see timers jammed into a game to make overly easy missions just hard enough to keep you playing. Mandatory timers are typically one of the poorest of design decisions in games outside racers.
There are still mission timers in the two story campaigns, but for the most part, they're used for the awarding of mission medals and to grant greater amounts of Energon at the end of missions. (Energon is like cash used to upgrade Transformers; it's a feature new to this game — more on Energon in a bit.) There are also blue, glowing Transformers emblems placed all over the map, and if you shoot one, you get a 10-second stall on the main mission timer. Bear in mind that it's seldom worth going far to get a shot at an emblem because you'll burn more than 10 seconds just having your chance.
There you have the typical Revenge of the Fallen mission. Complete one, and you unlock another mission in another region. Play that, unlock another region and mission. Win that one, and unlock the second mission in the original region. That's how it goes until you beat all missions within a certain region, sometimes with certain additional criteria required, at which point you unlock the usual movie tie-in trinkets, videos and the like. Various other examples of in-game good soldiering also unlock these types of things, as well as Xbox Live Achievements. Achievements in Transformers are neither particularly easy nor especially hard to obtain, but most of them require repetition: Go back and win a mission faster, get a better medal, blow up more stuff, etc.
In another gambit to keep you playing the solo campaigns as long as possible, there's a vaguely RPG-ish element to Transformers. Actually, it's more reasonably described as a much-junior sibling of the upgrade systems in hardcore mech-action games. You spend that Energon stuff to upgrade facets of your Transformer's combat skills, such as melee attack strength, maximum health or special attack efficacy. There are a bunch of options, and they upgrade in three stages. The first stage costs a little, the second gets pricey, and the third requires a wallet quite fat with Energon. You can partially fill the upgrade bars, too. While upgrades initially seem to matter little, some later battles can be tough enough that you'll spend that earned Energon like water. A quirk that at first seems peculiar is that Energon upgrades affect your whole squad, though Autobots and Decepticons separately. It seems weird that you can't really blow out Optimus Prime or Bumblebee, leaving Ironhide a little dumpling of a Decepticon breakfast. Some missions allow playing as only certain Transformers even if you've already unlocked others. In regions where you simply must fly, I could understand, but this even occurs in places where it doesn't seem to matter. The only real choice for Energon spending is across-the-board upgrades for entire Transformer factions.
Visually, the environments look nicer in this new Transformers game, over the original's rather dim, diffuse-looking graphics. Clearly there was a lot more attention paid to what happens to a building when a giant robot climbs straight up the side of it, but for some reason, the Transformers models look worse. It's subtle, but don't be surprised if you notice. Since the Transformers in the first game looked a lot better than I'd expected, what perhaps is minimal degradation of quality is not a true problem. It's just odd, I think, to take any of the graphical focus off the stars of this particular show. The rest of the visuals and graphical effects are of mid-range quality for a current-gen console title of this type. No awards here, but they'll do.
Audio is somewhat poor. This is particularly unfortunate for a blockbuster-movie type of experience. It's just an all-around weak example of a Dolby Digital production. Sometimes characters speaking from off to the side sound like they're right in front of you, and other characters that are positioned so they should speak from a side channel, they do indeed speak from there, but their voices are barely audible — even with the home-theater system volume turned up a fair way. Although this sound issue is just plain ugly, it really only matters in cut scenes and when orders are issued in the war room. In actual gameplay, the audio production is only acceptable, but the aforementioned flaws are not noticeable.
In hindsight, control mechanics bothered me the most in the first game. They were often so unresponsive that my mishandling a Transformer seemed to cause the last seconds of those damn mission timers to tick away into oblivion. I'm pleased that control is so much improved in Revenge of the Fallen. It's just an overall refinement, but as an example, chained actions are smooth and even fun to perform: transforming, navigating a few blocks on the road as a car (or whatever) and then transforming back, jumping over a barricade and immediately scaling a wall.
The big addition to this Transformers title is, of course, multiplayer, still uncommon in flat-out movie tie-in games. The technical aspects of online multiplayer via Xbox Live — there is no split-screen multi, a shame for this type of game — are in good shape, but they just don't add much to the solo game. Multiplayer is just something to do once you've maxed out the offline experience as both Autobots and Decepticons. There are five game types with Transformer-ish names, but they boil down to the stock online bag of tricks: deathmatch, team and solo; last-man standing; capture and hold the fixed-position flag; and capture the treasure. Considering the shallow depth of the basic gameplay and the average age of the gamer who will still be playing online in a month or two, everything boils down to a couple types of deathmatch. There are even ranked matches available, but it is the very few who will put in the hours here to keep atop the leaderboards. Online multiplayer feels designed into the game far more as a selling point than a "keeper" point.
Down to brass tacks, if you're expecting a gameplay masterpiece that expands on the Michael Bay Transformers mythology or merely sticks quite close to the new movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen won't fill the bill. The environments are better, the control is clearly better, only the Transformers models are perhaps a tad less impressive — at least up against all the fresh marvels in the new movie. The missions provided for both factions become dull and repetitive, and they're not experiences that you'll crave repeating just to improve your score. Multiplayer, while a welcome addition to a game in this genre, doesn't expand the title much unless you're already madly in love with the basic gameplay in the solo campaigns. Perhaps Transformers' greatest failing is lack of a full-fledged offline co-op mode. There are certainly plenty of opportunities in this sort of a gameplay to add a second controller. I say this because Transformers, with such a uniquely broad age range of avid fans, could have be an absolutely terrific parent/child cooperative adventure. With all that said, Transformers will have its devotees, mostly young ones, and they'll be quite happy with this game for some time to come, chiefly on the merits that it looks nice, plays well and it's the new Transformers game.Score: 7.0/10
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