This is a cursed licence. First we got the Ocean-published abomination in the mid 80s, which we'd rather not try and recall. Then the Japan-only Transformers Tataki on PS2, which was made by huge Transformers enthusiasts and managed to nail the setting with 100 faithfully recreated robots. Unfortunately it forgot the whole game part. The next Transformers game was also on PS2, this time a product of Melbourne House via Atari, which ended up wonderfully enjoyable third person shooter that just didn't use the licence. No cut scenes, no recognisable locations, a fistful of robots we knew but far more that we didn't and a transforming ability that felt a little clumsy.
Now in the hands Traveller's 'Lego Star Wars' Tales via Activision, we've got another Transformers game approaching the end of its development cycle. Will this be fourth time lucky? Will it be the faithful Transformers experience fans have been dreaming about for years, a smooth coupling of nostalgia and action? Sadly, probably not. Put another way, here's a quote from one of the developers as he demoed the game to us:
"I'm gonna go beat some police cars up with this giant swordfish."
This is a game of the Transformers movie, not the animated series or comic. That means no cheesy heroics by a huge cast of characters, it means Michael Bay, and that means explosions. Lots of them.
In an attempt to recreate the multi-million dollar action scenes of the motion picture the game's focus is wide-open, highly destructible levels that a twisted gamer with a touch of dedication could choose to turn into a shattered wasteland. That's assuming their robotic avatar can survive the various levels of heat that get brought down on you as your carnage steps up from the simply accidental, starting with the police, then the military and finally Sector 7, the arm of the government that knows about the Transformers and is trained to turn them to scrap.
As for plot, the game's narrative follows that of the movie where it can but since the movie's plot is still locked down tighter than a nun's privates there's not too much we can tell you. What we've pieced together is that a few Autobots and Decepticons crash down across Earth, struggle to regroup and then meet for one climactic battle. Things diverge from the silver screen a bit if you choose to play as the Decepticons, though. Traveller's Tales isn't going to enforce any defeats so the sufficiently heartless can help Megatron finally crush Prime and succeed at spreading evil throughout the galaxy, which we're going to guess doesn't happen in the film. Call it a hunch.
Whoever you play the story will take you through seven environments that you can get an idea of by looking at the movie's extended trailer on Youtube, but what's strange is that we've been told that fans are going to be pleased by statues of various Generation 1 Transformers that appear in the game. That sounds to us like something that would only appear on Cybertron, the home planet of the Transformers, so we're guessing a level or two are set there.
It's difficult to tell much else about the game since the build we saw consisted of little other than Bumblebee ignoring his mission objectives and scaling buildings, joyriding about and using street lights, cars and of course, giant plastic fish as weapons against comparatively innocent humans. The mechanics of the build did however, look very ropey indeed. We were informed the physics we were seeing were from the PS2 version of the game, but the problems extended beyond that. Animations didn't quite match what was happening in the game world, entire buildings were set to blacken or collapse no matter where they were hit or by what, and the brief melee combat we saw against Decepticon 'drones' (small, fodder type enemies that presumably won't feature in the film) was a weightless mess.
Activision's Callum Godfrey has responded to the first wave of hesitant previews, saying "We're really disappointed you guys didn't get an accurate impression of what Transformers: The Game is all about and the direction in which we're headed. A work in progress system was shown that we finished putting together in the early hours of that morning specifically for a first-look presentation." We'll know just how much truth there is to this statement soon enough, since the game's slated to coincide with the movie's summer release.
If you want to end on a high though, take heart that this is the first movie tie-in to share technology with the film. The man showcasing the game to us glazed over the details as he picked up and threw another sedan at a shopfront, but the gist is that the same animations and visuals used to bring the CG robots to life in the film appear in the game's engine. That's quite something. Let's hope the rest of the game is, too.
Transformers: The Game will be released in July on everything, ever (PC, 360, PS3, PS2 and Wii), from Activision.