May 25, 2004 > Transformers
Platform: Playstation 2
Imagine hearing the sound of turning gears and of working hydraulics as you step heavily through an enormous Amazonian forest. The patches of light that pass through the densely-grown trees slide across your metallic body as you progress deeper into the jungle. As you stop for a moment to regain your bearings, you have enough time to relax and squint up into the shining sun and the passing clouds. Your moment of reflection is interrupted by a distant thud- the sound of something very heavy and very near.
The ground and the trees around you shake for a moment, and a flock of birds flutter from a tree just above your head and into the distance...and safety. Your trigger finger twitches as the light of the sun is suddenly blocked, and you find yourself covered by shadow. You look up through the trees in time to see a large flying shuttlecraft, hatches opening on either side, hovering above you.
Before your internal computer registers what your optic sensors are transmitting, a squad of enemy robotic combat units falls through the leaves above your head and land, surrounding you. You are left with the two basic choices of any soldier; run or fight. You choose to fight. In a hail of lasers and rockets, and a showering of metallic debris from the resulting explosions, you stand damaged - damaged, but victorious.
This is an often-recreated scene in Atari's recent Transformers title on the Playstation 2. For those who are unfamiliar with the premise of the franchise, the Transformers are giant robotic sentient beings from an artificial planet called "Cybertron." The original cartoon series aired regularly throughout the late 80s as a Hasbro sales vehicle and eventually spawned countless comic books and cartoon spin offs, many of which still air on television today.
The Transformers crash landed on Earth in two opposing teams, the "Autobots" and the "Decepticons." In order to remain undetected on earth, Transformers could manipulate their robotic bodies to take various vehicle forms. The Autobots became a group of do-good heroes composed of ground-based vehicles ranging from a semi truck to a Volkswagen "bug." The Decepticons took the forms of war craft and weapons. At any moment, transformers can change from vehicle mode to robot mode, or vice versa. Atari's new game is based on the most current series, called Transformers: Armada, so it will not be entirely familiar to fans of the original series. However, it has enough of the old elements to make fans of the original feel at home.
Atari's game goes to great lengths to capture the appropriate feel of a true Transformers adventure. Throughout the game, players can assume control of one of three different Autobots: Hot Shot, a Lamborghini-ish race car, Red Alert, an SUV/Ambulance, and their leader, Optimus Prime, a semi truck. Players are then allowed to choose their weapons load from a limited supply of upgrades that increases as the game progresses.
After choosing their settings, players are released into the game using waypoints that connect the Autobots at any given time from their headquarters to one of the game's massive environments, ranging from an Amazonian rainforest to an Alaskan mountain, and even Cybertron itself. It is up to the player to complete mission objectives and free "minicons," - small transformers that are capable of linking to the larger ones to give them added abilities. The minicon function allows players to customize their gameplay by forcing them to choose between upgrades. Since each Autobot only has four minicon slots, players must decide the best weapon set for their style of play, creating an experience that is unique to every individual player.
As the game moves on, the story is told through in-game communications with other Autobot teammates and between levels with cut scenes that rival the animation of the current show. Throughout the game, players will confront a number of famous Decepticons from the show, many of which have been around since the show first aired in the 80s.
The game employs a number of gameplay mechanics that are quickly becoming standard in the videogame world. The first is the gameplay customizability mentioned above. The second is freeform gameplay, which sets players loose in a giant, beautifully rendered landscape where they can walk or drive as far as they can see. Finally, the game's physics engine uses a system called "rag doll physics," which accurately animates the effects of gravity on a freefalling character. Whenever an Autobot either delivers or receives a powerful hit, the unfortunate target is flung through the air to cascade into surrounding obstacles and eventually explode, showering the area in fire and debris. This function allows for huge battle sequences and impressive fights that capture the feeling of a battle right out of the show.
Atari's Transformers is a dead-on representation of the action and feel of the Transformers franchise, and is on its way to quickly becoming a Transformers staple of its own. A+