, from the ingenious Aussies behind Grand Prix Challenge
(upon which this game is based, technologically), is an incredibly solid, well presented action title with few flaws, however unavoidable they may be.
One million years ago, the Mini-Cons, a lost race of Transformers... And that's the entire story. Ha! The joke is apparently on us. The first tear to shed should be for this total and complete lack of plot. Whichever executive thought it appropriate to save cash by hiring an old baboon to flesh out Transformers' storyline should be flogged with a whip made of enchanted shards of glass. Because of his terrible decision, an infrequent amount of stutter, and a touch of redundancy, this is a game that will excite and mystifyingly bore. We blame Megatron.
It's impossible to tell why Megatron, evil tyrant extraordinaire, halted his genocidal war against the Autobots on Cybertron (a war he appeared to be on the brink of indisputably winning) to pursue a lost race of million-year-old Transformers forgotten in the depths of space and time. Yup, one million years ago the Mini-Cons were lost. From what we've managed to decipher from this baffling game, Mini-Cons are a sort of mentally handicapped Transformer incapable of speaking or operating machinery. They're the Transformers destined to live a sad life of servitude, expanding the capabilities of those stronger Transformers that "rescue" them (read enslave).
The Mini-Cons somehow wound up on Earth and are of some sort of importance. Perhaps they fled Cybertron's pro-slavery government? Whatever the reason behind their departure, there's exactly zero way of knowing their significance in this interstellar war. The game follows three heroic Autobots who seek to use Mini-Cons to marginally expand their own power before the Decepticons can do the same. Using Mini-Cons to establish new attacks or improve old one's is a terrific way of building the useable library of abilities a player has without arbitrarily assigning jumping attack #2 to gamers once level three is completed. But, this implementation fails to make any sort of sense when placed within the context of the game, other than granting the working-class Autobots another excuse to continue warring with the militaristic Decepticons on foreign ground. Most of this assumes you're not a devote follower of the current Armada line of fiction seen on television -- if you are and know what the hell is going on, good for you. If not, enjoy the awesome cutscenes that look cool but say nothing.
So what if there's no real point to the story? At least there are Decepticlones, an easy way of supplying endless waves of cannon fodder for politically correct PS2 players to slaughter remorselessly. Yay! Lets kill Mutant Tree Nazis because no one has a problem with killing Mutant Tree Nazis. The soulless drones of Transformers are just that, but those boss characters and the protagonists of the game also appear more robotic than needed. There's no frantic combat chatter, and all conversations come during non-interactive cutscenes or mission status updates. This makes action devoid of any real impact or urgency or flavor. Music only worsens the mood by drowning out stereotypical laser blasts with monotonous, anti-climatic mixes of rehashed Re-Boot themed cartoon-techno and the occasional rock song (some being noticeable throwbacks to the aged movie). Musical choice is confounding because tracks spread throughout the menu system and dotted across the length of the game are sometimes fantastic (the load-out score being our particular favorite).
It may be hard to swallow, but even without adrenaline pumping tunes, the screams of "Die Decepti-creeps" and "Eat this, Auto...dicks" the game still manages to actually improve upon the seemingly repetitious action it establishes in the first level. Escalating difficulty, more powerful enemies, more lethal weapons, more useful upgrades, and intricately designed latter levels couple with an assortment of amazing "wow" moments to create an undeniably fun shooter. Decepticlones are straightforward opponents, occasionally outfitted with the typically cheap "prevent you from defending yourself" maneuver. They come largely governed by rudimentary rush and flee tactics, but can call for reinforcements. Even if the smart as pigeons rule applies, action is still intense, if not because of the sheer volume of troops stamping toward you, then for the promise of what's to come.
Simply, Tranformers has some of the most memorable boss battles in gaming. Imagine infiltrating a massive Decepticon battleship only to have it transform into a skyscraping death machine named Tidal Wave. He's mad at you. He's intent on expressing his anger by killing you with barrages of missiles. Now, imagine each attack to be a gorgeous array of excessive particle effects and graphical wizardry that soak the entire screen. Tidal Wave may not be the largest boss around, but he's certainly one of the most detailed giants in gaming history. Fights like that are found throughout the entire game, too.
Despite these epic struggles and the lively, large, well-shaded, glowing, and surprisingly cluttered game world that seamlessly integrates claustrophobic corridors with sweeping terraces, the transforming of Transformers isn't all it's cracked up to be. The initial ineffectiveness of transforming into vehicular mode eventually becomes a necessity -- a centerpiece of advanced jumping, enemy evasion and "plowing." But it's not focused on or developed enough. It'd be nice to offer, from the beginning, the ability to control a more diverse array of Transfomers. Obviously the new Armada license limits things, but Autobots like Springer, the helicopter / car soldier, would have been excellent. As is, switching to a sometimes unresponsive car to rapidly race across a vast, draw-distance free landscape and then switching back at top speed to leap headlong into a collection of Decepticlones is fun, but not incredible.
It's a little difficult to find a comparable PS2 comparison, but it's easy to compare Transformers to Microsoft's MechAssault, sans the somewhat superfluous transforming. Both games have zero storyline, and both present a clunkier take on third-person action with similar collision detection issues and a similar focus on vainly circle-strafing with the mistaken belief that the enemy won't hit you. Where Transformers trumps MechAssault, and literally 90% of other action games of note, is not with its large levels or Mini-Con power-ups, but with a level of care placed into production and presentation that is virtually unheard of in this day.
It's important to appreciate how enormous these levels are. Once you do, it may seem easy to get lost and lose sight of objectives (usually killing an enemy Transformer of some sort and saving a few Mini-Cons along the way). But, geographically bound status updates keep players on target. It is still possible to venture far off the beaten path. And here's where Transformers rules.
The incentive to explore is two-fold: extra Mini-Cons and Data-Cons. Mini-Cons add abilities; Data-Cons unlock a variety of extras including comic books, renders, artwork, movies, cutscenes, behind the scenes stuff, promotional materials, and even original Transformers clips -- those "Knowing is half the battle" ones that GI Joe also ran. It's awesome. Even without any emotion to offer a reason to continue playing -- to see the end of the story and the destruction of the Decepticlones and their masters...And, even without subconsciously loving the main characters or caring about the plight of the damned Mini-Cons, we still have a dizzying array of unlockable content. It's because of this that we have a reason to continue playing what is already easy to get into and easy to look at.
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