Monday, September 3, 2007

Transformers: The Game

I have finally finished getting all the achievements for the Xbox 360 version of Transformers: The Game, and boy am I glad it's over. Pretty much everything, good and bad, that has been said about this game is true. If you want to like it, there are things to like about it. If you don't like the movie, you won't like the game. If you're a fan of G1 Transformers, then there are parts of the game that you'll enjoy.

I do not care for the movie character designs, but they are pretty cool in this game

The main problem I have with the game is its stability. I wasn't trying to find any bugs, but I found them. The first was a savegame-corrupting crash that forced me to start all over again. Fortunately, I was only at 20% completion (I had just gotten all the energon cubes in the first mission), but it was at least an hour or two lost.

I also found two 100% reproducible progression-breaking crash bugs. The first was during the Decepticon missions, playing as Barricade, my fight with Bumblebee would always crash midway through, 4/4 times. I finally got around it by going to a previous level and saving there, then returning.

The second crash bug was during the fight against Ironhide, which is the toughest fight in the game. I played at least five times only to have the game crash about 4/5 into the fight. The only way I could find around it was to always start the fight from a fresh boot- if I got killed, I would quit to the dashboard and relaunch the game. This fight is so frustrating that I would often take a break and play Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix to cool off. But oh the feeling of victory once Ironhide was finally overcome!

Blackout is a badass, but this fight is still stupid hard

My next complaint is the enemies. I understand that to fill out the game, the designers needed to put in Autobot and Decepticon drones as cannon fodder, and am fine with that. Most drones are killed in a couple hits (or one, from the more powerful playable characters), and explode into a satisfying array of chunks. But others (most notably, the towtrucks) are completely invincible until you throw something at them, which offers you a brief window during which you can wail upon them. Not only that, they will perform an attack- either spin around their tow cable or bull-rush you- that will knock you flying back. Your guns are also completely worthless against these drones (and all non-human enemies), because they will simply engage their shield right before the bullet hits.

The difficulty in this game varies greatly. Generally, drones and even bosses are pretty easy to kill one-on-one, so you always end up fighting a group, or fighting and then racing then fighting some more. Usually, too, all the action must take place inside the “action zone.” This is an understandable concept, since you don’t want the player initiating a fight and then going off to collect energon cubes. The problem is that this zone is pretty arbitrary, and even if it’s just you vs a decepticon, the zone stays fixed. So, the decepticon can leave the zone, but you can’t (mostly, though, they stay inside). Some of the fights, though, are stupid hard. Like when you have to defend the Allspark while spiders spawn from nowhere and Megatron shoots you so that you get knocked back, and by the time you get up, you’re knocked back again, out of the “action zone”, and you can’t get back in before time runs out. And the enemies who are invincible until you throw something at them. And the two-on-one fight where you have to defeat Blackout and Starscream one at a time, then both together. And the fight against Ironhide, where if you fly, you will immediately get shot out of the sky and lose over half your health.

Don’t get knocked out, or you’re not coming back

The last main complaint I have is that the physics system is completely out of tune. What I suspect happened was that during most of development, everything had a realistic mass and number of hit points. Then, an Activision bigwig came along and said, "This game isn't next-gen enough. I want to hit robots and have them go flying, and I want debris all over the place during a fight." The developers were forced to make this change, and the end result is that if you get too close to something it will either send it flying or cause it to explode. The other cars that drive along feel like they're made of cardboard when you run into them, sending them flying through the air. Large structures like highway signs and obelisks will break into dozens of pieces if you brush against them, giving the feeling they're kept together by a delicate balancing act.

If you're willing to look past these faults, there is stuff to like. Optimus Prime and Megatron are voiced by Peter Cullin and Frank Welker, the voices from the original cartoon. The vehicle designs look just like the movie. I'm not really a fan of the new designs, but this game presents them so well that I checked amazon to see if the toys are as good (they're not, and boy are they expensive).

Optimus Prime is about to lay some serious hurt down

The most important part- just being a Transformer- is done right. When running in robot form, the camera does a combat-run shake (a la Gears of War), which is pretty cool, but I wish there was an option to turn it off. Running and hitting Y to transform into a vehicle is awesome. The environments look pretty nice. Some complain they're too small, but I have no problems with their size. The animations are really well done, especially Blackout (the helicopter), who uses his blades alternately as a cape, saw, nunchucks, and a sword (his melee attack includes an awesome Blade-like turn-around-and-stab-behind-you move).

The developers were able to add in some cool G1 content that adds some value to the purchase. One of the missions has you playing as Optimus Prime and fighting Laserwave reborn as a purple tank-like vehicle. Once you play through the game and find all the Autobot and Decepticon symbols, you can play as G1 Optimus or Megatron (Megatron doesn't transform into a gun, he just flies, which is still pretty good). There's also some repaints of Jazz and Starscream, but I can't say I care much about that.

Flying around as Starscream is one of the highlights of the game

The highlight of the game, definitely, are the two flying levels where you play as Blackout and Starscream. After playing through the Autobot campaign, which was entirely ho-hum driving and fighting, being able to fly around was awesome. Blackout is arguably the most bad-ass character in the game. He fires the same blue-exploding projectiles as he does in the movie, and practically all you do is cause havoc. I also ended up with a better appreciation of Starscream, whose character design I particularly didn't like from the movie (it's the same design, but being able to fly around as him made up for it). His level is beautiful, too, and probably the most fun set of missions in the game.

If you're looking for achievements, then if you're patient you can get 1000 fairly easily. Well, simply, if not easily. The bulk of them you'll get just going through the missions. There are some challenge/interesting things-to-do achievements. For all of them, however, you'll have to collect 100 energon cubes from each level. Finding the first 90-95 won't take more than 10 or so minutes, but you'll spend another hour or more wondering around looking for those last cubes.

If only the Blackout toy were as awesome as this

If I had paid $60 for the game, I'd probably be pissed. For the $15, I'd say it's mediocre at best. I plan on keeping it around to show anyone who's interested. They can then play the fun parts of being Bumblebee, Prime, et al, and can play the awesome flying levels.

This game is what it is: a movie tie-in. They did some important things right, and it is playable, though the difficulty varies wildly. If you want to like it, you can, though if you're trying to get all the achievements, you will probably hate it by the end. It's not a terrible game, but it makes me sad that such an excellent license could be so callously cashed-in upon.

(One last thing I’d like to mention that is bizarre, is that in the combination load screen/controller layout screen, Y is labeled “Convert”. Convert? This is the Transformers video game, where you play as a Transformer who transforms from robot to vehicle and then transforms back again. Why would the button be labeled Convert?!)

Transformers: The Game: 2/5

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