Transformers is, like a number of established geek franchises, undergoing a bit of a revival right now and is joining ancient nerd pleasures like Doctor Who and Star Trek which are being re-tooled for a more mainstream appeal. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it could be construed as such by some hardcore fans of the series – which there are masses of.
We even know people who think the cartoon movie version of Transformers is the height of artistic achievement.
Still, whether or not you think that the new CGI-laden movie is an insult to the roots of the series then you’ll probably still be attracted to the idea of a Transformers computer game. It’s the one tie-in which doesn’t require a “Warning: Choking Hazard” label or some plot re-writes and dumbing down – it has the innate potential to charm geeks.
Then again, just because it’s a game based on an 80’s cartoon series about massive, transforming robots (the clue’s in the name, d’uh) duking it out on a grand scale, doesn’t mean it will automatically be good. Or does it?
Transformers for Beginners
What’s that, you’ve never really understood Transformers? You poor, pathetic creature – allow us to educate you before the forumites tear you to shreds.
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Transformers is a game with a simple backstory. You see, there’s this race of gigantic, shape-shifting robots who have been divided into two factions; the responsible and stalwart Autobots and the evil, conniving Decepticons. The two sides are fighting in a war of planet-destroying proportions for possession of a device called the AllSpark, a cube which was the originator of their species. Whoever possesses the AllSpark can use it to create new Transformers and to control all forms of mechanical life.
The Decepticons, led by the evil and croaky-sounding Megatron, are after the AllSpark for the usual bad-guy reasons; immortality, power, kleptomaniac tendencies orientated towards items which have more than two capital letters in their name.
The Autobots meanwhile, lead by the huge blue and red Optimus Prime, are trying to save the universe from the power which Megatron may gain and seek only to protect the AllSpark from the Decepticons. True, they too are huge, building-stomping robots who probably eat babies for fuel, but they’ve got a heard of gold. Literally.
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In other words, it’s very fertile ground for a video game experience. We’ve got two teams of huge robots who can turn into all manner of fast-moving vehicles and a simple, but effective plot device which allows for a globe-hopping adventure. Transformers tackles this ground in a theoretically good way. The first thing to do is choose which side you want to fight on – Decepticon or Autobot. The fact that players are given a choice at all is great, especially when it alters which levels you play on and which Transformers you get to use.
The first level for the Decepticon faction lets players jump into the mass destruction as Blackout, a Transformer who can turn into an assault helicopter. Blackout gets to roam over a patch of desert, laying waste to the Army depots dotting the sands. The Autobot campaign however casts players a Bumblebee for the first mission, a yellow Transformer who turns into a beaten up old Camero. Bumblebee gets a selection of small missions which involve racing around the suburbs, pounding the crap out of any Decepticon drones he finds on the way.
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Whichever side you choose to side with, gameplay is essentially the same. Players control a single Transformer in a mid-sized area which can be explored openly. Exploring is very much encouraged in fact because the number of missions is often quite few before the chapter changes. The levels tend to be quite rudimentary and bland however, dotted with identi-kit buildings and only occasional landmarks like a power station.
Levels are dotted with collectible items and extra tasks to pick up, none of which are hard to find thanks to the floating, yellow and purple appearance of the sparkling collectibles that contrast heavily with the bland environments.
Navigating the levels is fun at first and players can freely switch between a vehicle and Transformer mode. Transformer mode is good for combat obviously, hurling cars around and blasting drones to pieces or climbing over buildings, while vehicle mode is best for speedy navigation and getting from A to B quickly. All the vehicles behave the same, which is good for absolute beginners but a major pain for experienced gamers who want to have some height control when in a helicopter.