Atari brings us a visually stunning videogame based on the Transformers Armada cartoon series.
The Eighties - the decade of bizarre fashion trends and odd music, and some of the most successful and recognisable cartoons ever. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters and of course Transformers were among the most popular, and many of these franchises have lived on either through multiple spin-offs, uber-dedicated fanboys or endless mass marketing by the corporate overseers. Transformers is one such franchise, and with the Bot-Con held each year, new shows, popular toys and a dedicated fanbase, no time is better to launch the latest spin-off - the all-important video game.
Transformers fans should be forewarned that this game is based on the newer incarnation of the series: Transformers Armada. This isn't a bad thing by any means, as long as those nostalgic fanboys remember that it's not based on the 1980's cult hit (although there are of course more similarities than differences).
Being that we're dealing with a licensed game here, does that mean it has to be dull? Nope, there's a whole lot to be impressed with. It's perhaps more striking because expectations are initially low, but to play off the theme of the old show, this is "more than meets the eye."
Transformers has some of the most visually impressive and downright gorgeous graphics to date on the aging PS2. You get your first taste of visual splendor while watching the opening video. Rarely has FMV looked so good, and that is far from an exaggeration. The quality can be compared in many ways to the Beast Wars or Beast Machines Transformers shows, which were done entirely in brilliant CG.
After the jaw-dropping cinema, the game thrusts you into your role as a defender of Cybertron headed to earth to save the Mini-cons. Your first mission takes place in the Amazon jungle and man is it gorgeous. You can literally see the entire level from its highest point with no sign of fog anywhere. If you look even closer, you can see individual blades of grass and little details on the trees. I cannot stress enough just how stunning this looks.
So there's a catch right? Nope. Each level adds something unique, whether it be snow, rain or varied lighting. Not only that, but everything is done to scale; when you take one of the Auto-bots through the environments you somehow actually feel like you're larger than a human. This is a very cool feeling.
The character models are equally impressive, right down to the fenders and rims. [Careful - Ed]. Megatron and his decepticon thugs also brandish the same awesome detail, which makes destroying them almost a sad thing. Even during the intense battles the graphics engine is pumping out explosions and rendering like there is nothing holding it back. Transformers really is more than meets the eye - much more.
You'll want to explore as much as possible to soak in all the great stuff. Aside from some very minute polygon tearing (you'll see some tiny white lines on "seams" between objects like the ground and a mountain) there is almost nothing that could be done to make this game look better.
Sadly there is somewhat of a drop off in quality when referring to the actual gameplay. While it looks purdy, the gameplay has certainly been done before. This doesn't make the game bad, just makes it a bit tiresome after a while, since so many games play like this and Transformers does little to distinguish itself.
The key technical downfall is the somewhat clunky controls. While moving your hero is easy, you may find taking corners a bit tough sometimes. On the plus side, the only time I ever had a problem with the camera was in narrow tunnels, aside from that the camera is fully manual and totally great.
You have to work your way through each level blasting "decepticlones" and ultimately collect the Mini-Cons before Megatron. You will often be thrust into battle not knowing why or how what you're doing will influence the overall story, or lack thereof. I was disappointed by this because they had a great chance to make this game feel like a lost episode or something of that nature.
It's your standard dual analog set up, with a bit of a twist. Did you think you were collecting Mini-Cons for nothing? You can equip up to four of them at any one time, each serving a specific purpose - some will enhance your blaster, others give you missles or mines. Then you have defensive guys who will give you shields. Each Mini-Con is color coded, providing an element of strategy to who you equip and when. Equipping two or more of the same color gives you health and other bonuses, which are essential to victory. This RPG-like equipment system actually works very well and becomes very fun as you search for the newest little guys. Best of all, each one is equipped to one of the four shoulder buttons so you have instant access to each one and absolutely no menu to navigate to use them.
Transformers itself implies that you can transform into something. Each Auto-Bot has his own vehicle mode. They all have slightly different stats, but the only noticeable difference is speed. Optimus is the slowest given that he is a semi, but also the strongest, while Hot Shot is much faster, but weaker. I would say Red Alert lies somewhere in the middle. But the thing is, the speed means nothing in terms of the gameplay here. There is not one instance in the game where you have to use your vehicle mode so it is better to focus on the defensive and offensive capabilities when choosing your hero. Vehicle mode can be useful for traversing the large environments or plowing the enemy, but both are really unnecessary.
Music is another area that Transformers really surprised me. While there was some typical "battle music", which happened to be the TV theme slightly remixed, the rest was great and totally out of character for Transformers. Instead of cheesy techno riffs or synthesizer notes, Transformers has a generous amount of orchestral music, that fits the environments very well. There was "fight" music when needed, but when you are exploring you hear nothing but the sound effects and some great music. Things could have been better by eliminating "silent" moments, but what they did have was used well.
The sound effects and voice acting are fine. All the voices were pulled straight from the show, and what little dialogue they did read was done on par with any episode of the show. Blasters and missiles and the ever important transforming noise were all there and sound just as you would expect to hear if you were watching instead of playing.
With flawless visuals and above average gameplay and sound, this is pretty much as good as it gets for fanboys and shooter fans alike. Even though transforming is practically useless, it doesn't make the game unplayable. It seems that if things were a bit more thought out (like the vehicles or the story) things would be a lot more engaging.
Transformers is certainly worth a play and should be given credit for what it is. I enjoyed it and I think many others will as well. If rating on cool factor alone it would get straight 10s - the FMV alone is enough to make you drool.