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game: Transformers
four star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: Atari
date posted: 12:00 AM Sat Jun 12th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Sat Jun 12th, 2004

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By Eric Qualls

The key to a good licensed game is to capture the same feel of whatever the game is based off of while still producing a game that is fun to play. Atari's Transformers only got half of that right. Even though you are, as I said in my preview, a freaking robot that can turn into a freaking car, the game doesn't really feel true to the Transformers license. The game is fun and well worth checking out, but you can't shake the feeling that you could plug pretty much any character into it and it would still be just as good. On one hand, that is a good thing because it means Melbourne House succeeded in developing a fantastic third person shooter. On the other hand, however, this is supposed to be a Transformers game and it doesn't quite deliver enough goodness from the robots in disguise for my liking. It is a fun game, and there is a lot to like for Transformers fans, but it isn't as good as it could have been.

There isn't much of a story in Transformers. Basically, long ago a race if miniature Transformers called Mini-Cons fled the Transformer home world of Cybertron and their ship crash-landed on Earth. A million years later, the two warring groups of Transformers , the Autobots and Decepticons - receive the distress signal from the Mini-Cons, they race to Earth to try and find as many as they can. The reason why the little robots are so important is because the Mini-Cons can join with the larger Transformers to greatly increase their combat abilities. That is all back story, though. Once the game begins there really isn't any story to speak of and your mission objectives are simply to blast your way through as many enemies as you can on your way to finding the Mini-Cons. There are no twists or turns and the enemy never gains an advantage or does anything to further the story other than showing up ready to fight. You are given the choice of controlling Hot Shot, Red Alert, or Optimus Prime, but who you choose doesn't have any effect on the story.

Transformers plays pretty much like every other third person shooter out there. You move around with the left stick and aim with the right stick and it really doesn't get any more complicated than that. What sets Transformers apart is the 40 different Mini-Cons that you can find to enhance your abilities. You can get upgraded blasters, lock-on missiles, and there are even Mini-Cons that allow you to fly. Only four Mini-Cons can be equipped at a time, however, and there are certain rules you have to follow when you equip them, but it is easy to customize the game to suit any style and/or situation. During combat, the gameplay is fast and surprisingly smooth. You regularly face up to two-dozen enemies at once and you never have to worry about the camera freaking out or the aiming system not being up to par. The gameplay is fun and fast and smooth. Not a problem here.

There are around ten levels in Transformers that take you everywhere from frigid Antarctica to a volcanic island in the Pacific. Like I said above, you can find Mini-Cons that let you fly as well as do other things like jump extra high or get a turbo boost, and you definitely need these abilities because the levels are absolutely huge. The two most impressive levels take place in the Amazon and you can explore all the way from the top of a high mountain all the way down to the river at the bottom of the valley and there are a ton of hidden nooks and crannies to explore along the way. Each level has a path that is the easy way to get from checkpoint to checkpoint, but most of the Mini-Cons and other goodies are hidden well off the beaten path so you have to spend a lot of time exploring. Another impressive level has you blasting your way through a crashed spaceship, but the ship is attacked and falls down a cliff so the next section of the level sees you climbing up through the burning and broken ship that now sitting perpendicular to the ground. All of the levels are huge and all of them are well designed.

At the end of most of the levels is a boss fight. You get to fight Starscream, Cyclonus, Tidal Wave, Megatron, and even Unicron. The battles with Tidal Wave and Unicron are spectacular because these two enemies are absolutely massive. Tidal Wave is an aircraft carrier in his vehicle form, and when he transforms into a robot he stands hundreds of feet tall. When you fight him you have to actually lure him into deep water so his head is close enough to the ground that you can shoot him. Unicron is even bigger and you have to fight him in the skies of Cybertron before he devours the planet. Starscream, Cyclonus, and Megatron also put up amazing fights that are extremely challenging, but I can't emphasize just how impressive the other two boss battles are.

As you explore the massive levels and fight the awesome bosses, the Mini-Cons aren't the only things that you have to keep an eye out for. There are also pods called Data-Cons, and these unlock some of the most satisfying extras and special features that I have ever encountered in a video game. There are over fifty Data-Cons and each one unlocks things such as music, artwork, and movies. You can look at concept drawings for the Transformers toys as well as look at the instructions on how to make them each transform. There are several different versions of the classic Transformers theme song as well. The best unlockable items, however, are the public service announcements from the old school Transformers. The messages are pretty corny, but just seeing the old designs running around and hearing that funky sound when they transform is absolutely worth the trouble of finding the Data-Cons to unlock them. A lot of the extras are for the Armada TV series and toys, but there is enough old school goodness here that will make a lot of people that grew up in the 80's very happy.

The graphics and sound in Transformers are absolutely stunning. The characters look excellent and are extremely detailed. They also shine and reflect light like metal more realistically than any other game I have seen so far. The animation is also very well done and it is impressive to see your chosen Transformer sent flying, by an explosion or to see them crumple and bend in all the places you would expect a giant robot to when they fall down. The environments are huge and detailed and look very good. The sound is also very well done. There is a lot of voice work in the game and it sounds very clear and the voice actors did a great job. Sound effects for blasters, explosions, and the transform? effect also sound just like they should. I can't get over how good this game looks, though. Very impressive.
Here is where I take a stand, though. Even though the gameplay is excellent, the levels and bosses are huge, the graphics are gorgeous, and there is a ton of bonus content, I don't think that this game is as good as it could have been simply because it isn't true enough to the Transformers license. What made both the first series so good and the Armada series so, um, acceptable, is the human element. The Autobots are trying to stop the Decepticons, but at the same time Optimus Prime has sworn to protect the people of Earth. That leads to a lot of drama and great moments that are sorely missing from this game.

Something else that would have been appreciated is if the battles played out more like they do on the shows. Most of the time the battles are made up of a group of Autobots fighting a group of Decepticons. In the game you are just one Autobot fighting your way through a Decepticlone army and then you get to a one-on-one fight with a Decepticon. That kind of sucks. I think a squad based shooter where you got to take five or six Autobots out into battle against the Decepticons would have been a lot more satisfying. Also, the game doesn't ever really give you a reason to transform. You can play through pretty much the whole game as a robot and only have to turn into a car in order to jump across a couple of big gaps.

Part of the weakness of the game is due to the weakness of the Armada series, and I do think that a game featuring the G1 Transformers would be a lot better simply because their one and only mission wasn't to find those damn Mini-Cons. What made Transformers cool is they looked and performed like real vehicles. The Armada designs look like cartoon characters instead of realistic cars that turn into realistic robots and that is the ultimate downfall of the series in the eyes of most people that were born before 1996 or so. The game is good, don't get me wrong, but it could have been great had a few things been added to make it true to the series or if the game had just used the G1 Transformers instead.

Overall, Transformers is a fun third person shooter but there are a lot of little things that will bother hardcore Transformers fans a whole lot. The gameplay, huge levels, and great boss fights are all excellent, but this is supposed to be a Transformers game and it just doesn't quite deliver. There are just a lot of little details that would have made all the difference and change the feel of the game entirely that really should have been included. Transformers is a good game and Melbourne House has built a great foundation for future titles, but I have to admit I'm crossing my fingers that it will be based on the G1 Transformers or at least the Beast Wars. I recommend giving Transformers at least a rental, but collectors, hardcore fans, and people looking for a good third person shooter could probably go ahead and buy it.