February 5, 2006

Fans of the [i]Transformers[/i] series have wanted a game released in the U.S. for a while now, and Atari has finally delivered with [i]Transformers[/i]. [i]Transformers[/i], for the PS2 console, takes place in the [i]Transformers[/i]: Armada universe, rather than the old [i]Transformers[/i] people might remember from the 1980’s. While the emphasis is still on vehicles that transform into gigantic robots waging war against one another, in [i]Transformers[/i], the goal is to retrieve the tiny Mini-cons before the Decepticons can do so themselves. [i]Transformers[/i] is, surprisingly, a very rewarding game, with intense combat, great controls, and overall, great game play.

In [i]Transformers[/i], the main conflict is between the Autobots and the Decepticons, both trying to get all the Mini-cons to enhance their powers by linking with them. You play as the Autobots, who have followed the Decepticons to Earth after the Mini-cons, who crash-landed millions of years ago, were activated. Optimus Prime, Hotshot, and Red Alert make up the three selectable characters in the game, each having their own advantages and disadvantages. You will progress through a number of levels set in different parts of the world, including the Amazonian jungle, a research base in Antarctica, the middle of the Atlantic, and more in search of the tiny bots.

[i]Transformers[/i] is essentially a third-person shooter. You go through the game battling Megatron’s “Decepticlones,” which are endless masses of robots sent to battle the Autobots. You eventually come across higher ranked characters like Starscream and Cyclonus, usually at the end of a level, which act as boss fights. As you take damage, your life, or Energon as the Autobots call it, will drain and begin to make a rather annoying beeping noise when it is about to run completely out. You find life by destroying enemies, and it can be a little hard to find life if you are taking on a large squadron.

You start out with a simple blaster, but soon you will inherit new abilities through the Mini-cons. One of the interesting parts of [i]Transformers[/i] is the Mini-con system, which lets you set Mini-cons to the different shoulder buttons. Each Mini-con you find can be linked onto your character to give them weapons, defensive, or other upgrades. Many include missile and grenade launchers, while others include defensive shields. Some have special abilities, like Mini-cons who can activate Energon vision (which is essentially what we Earth people call thermal vision), or ones that let you glide through the air. This allows the player to customize his character with different abilities, and adds to the uniqueness of the game. You can only hold four Mini-cons at a time though, so it can be hard to decide what bots you want to attach to yourself. There are bonuses to collecting and placing Mini-cons onto your character though. For instance, if you color-code the Mini-cons just right, you can receive health and other bonuses.

Mini-cons can be found throughout each level in [i]Transformers[/i]. There are a set amount of Mini-cons to be found, and if you happen to miss one, don’t worry. You can go back to the level whenever you want after completion to retrieve them. You can also find Data-cons, which really don’t help your game, but they do add special features into the game. Data-cons usually contain nostalgic things like comic book scans, pictures of [i]Transformers[/i] action figures, the instruction booklet for those toys, art, and much more. Like the Mini-cons, you find these throughout the levels, and the game also displays how many of these you’ve captured on a level.

Of course, what would a [i]Transformers[/i] game be if you couldn’t transform into vehicles, and [i]Transformers[/i] doesn’t disappoint. Each Autobot can transform into different types of vehicles. Optimus Prime transforms into a slower but powerful truck, and Hotshot goes into a fast coupe while Red Alert transforms into a police SUV. Surprisingly, the driving physics are actually quite nice, not like many games that simply throw in a rehashed, hard to maneuver driving system. Transforming doesn’t play a very huge part in [i]Transformers[/i], and most of the time, you’ll probably be in robot mode shooting enemies since you can’t fire in vehicle mode, but it is a nice feature, and it’s good to see that it is used properly.

Eventually, you will receive a Mini-con partner, who will follow you around and fire at enemies. These partners aren’t to be confused with the Mini-cons you equip to your character. While they can be linked to you, these Mini-cons have much different effects. If you press the power link button, the Mini-con partner will link to you, and cause you to go into a sort of Matrix-like slow down. In this state, you can move around and shoot enemies long before they can react, as well as deal more damage in doing so. The only problem with the power linking is that it uses up Energon, and if you’re not careful, your Energon will slowly deplete before you even realize it.

The visuals in [i]Transformers[/i] are very nice, but are also lackluster in some way. The Autobots look nice, and are fairly shiny for the most part. The levels are a little on the bland side though, although they aren’t horrible by any means. The voice acting sounds decent, but some characters are much better than others. Optimus Prime has his old, wise-sounding voice that he’s had for years, and characters like Cyclonus, Megatron, and Hotshot retain their voices from the Armada series. Red Alert’s voice seems to sound like his Armada counterpart, but it sounds real deadpan and he seems more bored than anything, and Starscream’s voice is completely different.

The storyline in [i]Transformers[/i] is a little loosely tied together, and sometimes seems a little convoluted. The game doesn’t follow the Armada series storyline, although that isn’t too big of a problem since the story in that focuses more on a band of pre-teens than it does on the [i]Transformers[/i] themselves. What is a problem is that [i]Transformers[/i] seems to take the story from Armada and alter it, and in the process, make it seem a little confusing. You will usually get a cut scene before entering a level or before and after fighting a boss. You can usually understand what is happening, but sometimes you’ll wonder why they Autobots trek all the way to Antarctica just to go back to the Amazon where they had just come from.

One big problem with [i]Transformers[/i] is that you will often receive some massive slow-downs. The frame-rate drops drastically in some areas, specifically when taking on legions of enemies at once. You can also receive it when fighting bosses and when you get into areas with a lot of water splashing around. It probably also happens in other places as well and is probably the biggest problem with [i]Transformers[/i].

The boss fights in [i]Transformers[/i] are probably one of the best parts of the game. Usually you will fight familiar character like Starscream or Megatron. Sometimes boss fights will only have you fighting a single Decepticlone, which is fairly easy to beat. The best boss fight of the game though would have to be in the Pacific Ocean. The game even takes a neat twist with the fight, by having you infiltrate a Decepticon battleship to disable it, only to have it transform into the one hundred story tall Tidal Wave. All the boss fights are fairly challenging, and add to the quality of the game.

All things considered, [i]Transformers[/i] is the game that fans have been waiting for. Fans will no doubt want to pick this game up, because of the Transforming goodness within. But [i]Transformers[/i] is such a good third-person shooter, that even a person who isn’t into the [i]Transformers[/i] television shows will like it. The Mini-con system adds a great feature into [i]Transformers[/i], and Transformer fans will love the nostalgia found in the Data-cons, but even without those two features, [i]Transformers[/i] is a title well worth recommending to any third-person shooter fan.

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.