Transformers: Autobots (DS) review
"Activision and developer Vicarious Visions have really pulled something spectacular with this game. Transformers: Autobots is the kind of “sandbox” game that people have been waiting for. In the most popular “sandbox” title, the Grand Theft Auto series, players are given control of a racial stereotype and have the ability to steal cars and shoot people in an urban cityscape. Yawn. In Transformers: Autobots, you have four full stages to explore and the ability to become any car or vehicle you can imagine. "
Admit it: you love the Transformers. Whether you grew up with the cartoon or just saw the movie, there is something inherently cool about these giant “robots in disguise.” Speaking of the movie, much like every other summer blockbuster, “Transformers” has inspired a ton of movie tie-in products, ranging from breakfast cereal to bed sheets to Optimus Prime’s home pregnancy test (yikes). To no one’s surprise, a series of Transformers games were released on nearly every game system a week or two before the film’s premiere. The “big three” consoles all got basically the same game (with minor graphical and/or control changes) while the Nintendo DS got not only one, but two completely different, completely original games starring the exiles of Cybertron. Much like what happened with last month’s Spider-Man 3 titles, the DS has received the very best build of the multi-platform Transformers game. So, does the game break the almost always-true stereotype that movie games aren’t any good?
As previously stated, the Nintendo DS is home to two separate Transformers games; the Autobots (good guys) version and the Decpticons (bad guys) version. For the purposes of this review, I’ll be sticking with the Autobots version of the game, which has you saving the world, rather than smashing it with a giant steel fist. The game loosely follows the movie’s plot and thankfully leaves out all of the film’s human actors in favor of an all-robot cast. Without giving away any major plot points, here is what you’re getting yourself into when you take control of your favorite Autobot. It seems that the Autobots and Decepticons, two warring factions of robots from outer space, are both seeking a powerful object simply called the Allspark. Somewhere along the line, the Allspark found its way to Earth, which has made our small planet the location of the transforming robots final showdown. No, it isn’t Shakespeare, but it does provide enough of a backdrop to give fans exactly what they’ve waited for – a chance to take control of Optimus Prime and help in the fight against the evil Megatron and his band of Decepticons.
Being that the DS is the least powerful of all the major systems on the market, Activision and developer Vicarious Visions have really pulled something spectacular with this game. Transformers: Autobots is the kind of “sandbox” game that people have been waiting for. In the most popular “sandbox” title, the Grand Theft Auto series, players are given control of a racial stereotype and have the ability to steal cars and shoot people in an urban cityscape. Yawn. In Transformers: Autobots, you have four full stages to explore and the ability to become any car or vehicle you can imagine. On top of that, your Autobot can climb any building it comes across, leap from rooftop to rooftop, and square off with enemy robots with either long range weapons, acquired weapons (think trees, cars, telephone poles etc.) or simple fisticuffs. If you can imagine it, it is entirely within the realm of possibility. Whether you choose to follow the game’s story, which is told through a series of missions, or elect to simply spend the afternoon driving the police nuts by raising and lowering your “wanted” level (a gauge measuring how vigorously the authorities pursue you; smash stuff to raise the level, behave and the cops will leave you alone), there is a lot of fun to be had with the game.
Not only is the game a blast to play, but it looks and sounds great, too. The cities you’ll be trying to save are more or less populated; you won’t see a single human on foot but there are plenty of cars on the roads and everything except major buildings looks realistically destructible. Even when you jump and land, your Autobot will leave a circle of shattered concrete in his wake. There are a few issues with pop up and the sometime odd ability to fall through buildings or disappear completely from the screen, but it is easy to see the amount of care that went into making the game look great and these instances are few and far between. The Transformers are all very detailed as well and their shape-shifting abilities are a blast to see in action. Leap off a tall building, transform into a sports car in mid-air and take off down the highway – it is all very smooth and looks great. Graphically, you’ll be reminded more of late Playstation 1 games than a portable system.
Portable games aren’t usually commended for the soundtrack, being that no portable game machine available now has great speakers. If you’re like me, you can probably play through an entire DS, GBA or PSP title without ever turning the sound to an audible level. In Transformers: Autobots, you’ll actually want to break out your earphones. All the Autobots have full, spoken text in the game, as do the Decepticons you’ll be fighting. Most amusingly, though, is the dialogue you’ll hear from the various police dispatchers. 911 operators asking what the police code is for a giant robot is among about ten great quotes you’ll be treated to. They can get tiresome after a few hours of play, but they are sure to make you smile the first few times. My only complaint with the sound is that, like in the movie, the powers that be have chosen to tweak the “transforming” sound we can all hear in the “remember the 80’s” portion of our brains. It isn’t a terrible misstep, but it will annoy Transformers purists.
So, a great looking, great sounding 3D action game has shown up on a portable console without an analog stick. The DS, like the PSP, isn’t very well suited to adventures in full 3D, but Transformers: Autobots works with the hand it is dealt control-wise. The d-pad moves your Autobot around while the right and left triggers handle the circular movement of the camera. It isn’t perfect, but after a few minutes of practice, you’ll be an old pro. There are separate buttons for jump, shoot, punch, etc. but what most people want to know is how the DS touch screen is utilized. Unlike a lot of DS games out now, the touch screen is a big help rather than a hindrance and rarely feels forced. The touch screen displays the radar, which you’ll be using to find your way to your next objectives. It also is home to the buttons that allow transformation on the fly and bring up your scan vision. A simple tap of either will accomplish your chosen action easily. The only issue with the controls is that sometimes your auto-lock feature will end up glued to a lamppost while a Decepticon is wailing on you from a 45-degree angle. There is no button assigned for switching your targets, so you’ll be swinging the camera wildly and hoping the game picks up on the fact that you are most likely more interested in fighting off a Decepticon rather than a harmless yellow taxicab.
The missions and overall gameplay in Transformers: Autobots is pretty close to what you’d imagine with this type of adventure. The game will force you to play as generic Autobot #1 (which you can name…I called mine Jason. How original) for most of the adventure, but you’ll also have the opportunity to play as five other, more famous Autobots, ranging from the annoying voiced Bumblebee to the man himself, Optimus Prime. Once you’ve completed the game once, you’ll be able to revisit missions with your Autobot of choice, and once you’ve played with Jazz or Ratchet a time or two, you’ll be itching to get back in control of them as soon as possible. When you start the game, you’ll be forced to run through a few tutorial missions before being given free reign, but they are ridiculously easy and will only take 5-10 minutes to burn through. Subsequent missions will have you chasing enemies, protecting allies, fetching stuff for Optimus Prime and, of course, it all culminates with your battle with the fearsome Megatron. You’ve done all this before in other games, but for some reason, Transformers: Autobots never feels stale. The game isn’t particularly long or difficult, but it is great fun that will last an afternoon or two.
But why spend 30 bucks on a game that won’t take you very long to complete? Luckily, Transformers: Autobots has a king’s ransom of replay value and a lot to unlock. As mentioned before, the game utilizes a scan visor, a la the Metroid Prime series. If you see a car on the street you like, simply scan it and you’ll be able to transform into it. Not all the cars in the game can be scanned, but through this method, you’ll quickly build a checklist of vehicle options. There are over 15 to choose from, so filling up your scan logbook will take a while. Other transformations are awarded for the completion of other tasks, but for the most part, the act of scanning can be one of the most entertaining features of the game. Also, each environment has its share of mini games to complete. Not everyone will take the time to finish them all, but it is nice to have the option. These mini games also serve as the backbone of Transformers: Autobots online play.
Transformers: Autobots also boasts the ability to play in an online leaderboard known as the Allspark Wars. Every 24 hours, the game will present you with one of the mini games found in the main game. Once you have the assigned game for the day, you have until midnight the next to play it as much as you like before uploading your scores. What makes the online portion interesting is that players with either version of the game can compete. Once the scores for a day are tallied, the game chooses a winner based on which side, the Autobots or the Decepticons, have tallied the most points for the day. It doesn’t really make a difference whether your side wins or loses, what really makes a difference is the number of WiFi tokens you receive for your contribution. You’ll net 30 -50 for a days effort and these token accumulate to unlock various cheats, transformations and a few other surprises. Getting your hands on these tokens can be very addictive and you’ll most likely stay up past your bedtime a few times just to see how many tokens you’ve been given. It isn’t as cool as an online free for all, but it is a clever idea and adds to the game’s replay value. For some reason, the Decepticons are nearly always the winners, so what are you waiting for? Jump in and help the cause!
Transformers: Autobots is a very entertaining mid-summer treat for DS fans everywhere. The game has a couple of problems and a few frustrating moments, but overall, the game defies the 11th commandment, “All movie games must be terrible.” If you listen really hard in the still of the night, you can hear Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver and Batman Begins crying over their inability to be anywhere near as great as the Transformers’ first outing on the Nintendo DS.
Freelance review by Jason Nimer (July 22, 2007)
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