Did you know that Michael Bay is making another Transformers? Number five in the series is being prepped right now. This fact can be a little confusing if you are under the misapprehension that critical feedback, from critics and public alike, are the main influencers when it comes to making more of something. I didn't see Transformers 4 - sorry, Dark Of The Moon - but I tried to watch Transformers 3 (I forget its gravel-voiced subtitle). I lasted for maybe thirty minutes before deciding to do something else, anything else, instead.
Except, it doesn't matter. My opinion of that film series - and as someone who grew up collecting the chunky Generation 1 models/comics/lunch boxes, let me tell you that I have an opinion - well, it's not relevant. At all. What matters is that the last Transformers movie made 1.1 billion dollars from box office alone, and that's before you add in the merchandising.
So, that means more Transformers, and more grumpy 38-year-olds moaning to their bored kids that the silhouettes of the reimagined Bay characters are rubbish. However, what can't be faulted here is Bay's ability to frame action, a skill he's executed with flourish over years of lucrative movie set pieces. His visual style is as distinct as that of Soderbergh or Spielberg, and even more so than his action peer Roland Emmerich (who, true story, once told me to "act less"). Remove the personally contentious subject matter, then look at the sheer amount of money these films have made, and it becomes clear that Bay is giving many of us exactly what we want: prime, unabashed, shiny, violent, feel-good escapism, unclouded by topical issues or script complications or twists that aren't telegraphed half an hour beforehand.
And once I'd removed the Metroplex-sized chip off my shoulder, I realised this is what I'd been yearning for in video games for a while.
I grew up close to the arcade on Southsea seafront, and it was there that I had my first real experience of what games could be. Living in a small Hampshire retirement town meant the escapism those machines offered, in 10p slices, was as far away from real life as I could ever have hoped to get. I soon gravitated to my favourites and planned the route as a circuit: Outrun, Chase HQ, Operation Wolf, Super Hang-On, House Of The Dead, and the final palette-cleanser of Street Fighter 2. These bites of an action-star life would get played and replayed in my head for weeks afterwards, with Chase HQ specifically turning into my dream title. For some reason, I was really good at it (trust me, that's a notable occasion, even now), and it was a combination of the tight tracks and crunching takedowns that made me tingle every time Nancy insisted I went after Ralph, the Idaho Slasher.
Games only got more complicated as the years went on, with each console's increased power used as an excuse to add further layers of involvement. The simple, straightforward action titles that used to flourish in the AA mid-bracket fell into obscurity as games suddenly became so expensive to produce that their inflated prices had to be justified with increased complexity. The part of me that grew up in the arcades misses the opportunity to happen upon an AA title for a weekend of fun, like the ultraviolent X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or the terribly underrated Project: Snowblind and Singularity. With cheap movie tie-ins dropping off the map - or worse, only appearing on mobile - many of the arcade sensibilities have shifted into the indie space. But as good as Downwell is, it still can't capture Bay's brand of exuberant sunlit escapism.
There are a few candidates that try to keep that spirit alive, though, most notably Earth Defense Force's clunky pleasures of its robot/insect mosh pit. However, the title that I keep coming back to when I think about capturing the feel of an arcade is from a franchise that has been inexplicably abandoned by Sony. A game that somehow managed to capture Chase HQ's heady speedway, but then forced time itself to slow down as you leapt from car to car, gun in hand, music swelling as you clung onto your target's bonnet with white knuckles. All backed by the most perfect 6pm sundown that the PSP could manage.
Because, if you really want Michael Bay: The Video Game, then you need look no further than Pursuit Force.
Or, really, the more forgiving sequel Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice. The first was far too harsh in its requirements, draining the fun away as your character got shot for the fifteenth time while the clock ticked away. However, Sony and developers Bigbig Studios dialed down the difficulty for Extreme Justice, suddenly creating the perfect slice of vibrant escapism in the process. There's early shades of the showboating lunacy that would come to be Just Cause's hallmark, but there were no loose and sparse open worlds here. Every element of each level was designed and directed for total pleasure: the tightly-drawn tracks that wound along seawalls and under bridges; the line of enemy cars, just waiting for you to play vehicular hopscotch at 80mph; the slowdown aiming and shooting, gloriously satisfying and chunky. And, especially, the Bay-esque set-pieces that rolled new scenarios into view just as you'd gasped breath back from the last.
There was nothing else really like it, and there still isn't now; larger games have absorbed some of its base elements, but none gives that perfect arcade feel of Pursuit Force's feedback loop. Action movies are more popular now thank ever before, with the Fast and Furious franchise continuing to prove the seductive power of fast cars and bright explosions. What better time for Sony to bring Pursuit Force back to the forefront with a glitzy home console remake that lets us tap into our inner Michael Bay at will. Maybe then, I'll develop a new appreciation of what he's done with Transformers.
Or, maybe not. Those silhouettes are rubbish.
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