July 12, 2007

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Transformers: The Game (PC)
Activision, 2007
By John "jaQ" Andrews news@hippopress.com

Oh crap. I bought a franchise movie tie-in game and expected it to be halfway decent. What was I thinking?

I must have been thinking, “Awesome, I can play Optimus Prime and blow the heck out of some Decepticons!”

In actual fact, the first Autobot mission has you playing that paragon of the warrior ethic, Bumblebee. You may remember Bumblebee as a humble Volkswagen Bug, but in the new movie, he’s a Camaro. Can’t really blame the game for that; because of film licensing deals, every car is a GM model. Director Michael Bay also has to be held ultimately responsible for the general plot, which is roughly followed in the game.

Even with these handicaps, the game could have been good. The concept — robots that turn into vehicles and fight — seems tailor-made for video gaming. But it demands careful design, something that often causes long development delays and repeatedly pushed-back release dates. Being tied to the July 4 release of Transformers: The Movie denied Transformers: The Game that luxury.

The main feature, transforming, actually works pretty well. It was a curious choice to assign the action to the mouse scroll wheel, but whatever, you can change that. What doesn’t work well is everything else.

When you drive Bumblebee in Camaro mode, turning is sometimes quick and sometimes sluggish, with no apparent connection to speed. In robot mode, “locking” your weapons on a target is a misnomer, since the lock is often lost when you or the target moves. And speaking of moving, going “forwards” always takes you toward the top of your screen, regardless of the direction you’re facing before you press the button. And the overhead radar, while showing you the locations of your enemies, doesn’t tell you if they’re in robot or vehicle form, an important piece of information sometimes.

I’d like to say the game gets better in subsequent missions, but I haven’t gotten past the second part of the first chapter yet. Instead of fighting opponents, you’re fighting an awkward interface, arbitrary objectives and a rushed production schedule. D+John “jaQ” Andrews