Allspark Exclusive Preview of Transformers Games!

Thanks to Activision, The Allspark was able to participate in a preview and Q&A for the upcoming astf tie-in video games. Click "Read More" for an almost excruciatingly thorough review, with all the juicy details! Some highlights:

-Unlockable G1 skins in the console version
-Customizable, RPG-type character building in the DS games
-Online multiplayer details
-Essentially three completely different gaming experiences
-Much more!

“This world will not be ready for our war.” – Optimus Prime, Transformers: The Game

Today in New York City, the Allspark had the opportunity to check out an extended preview of the Transformers: The Movie tie-in video games. First the bad news: we had to sit on our hands and watch someone else play, we don’t have new screenshots or videos to show you, and there were some things we really wanted to know about that they just couldn’t share yet. The good news: we almost didn’t care, because we got to see and learn some amazing stuff that we can’t wait to share.

The meeting was with an Activision publicist, an Activision marketing specialist, and the producer of the DS game from Vicarious Visions. One other member of the mainstream press was present, but this was essentially a one-on-one demo situation, not a press conference. Activision demonstrated the Xbox 360 version of the console game, and Vicarious Visions showed off both the Transformers: Autobots and Transformers: Decepticons DS games. We also asked a LOT of questions, so let’s get down to what we saw, and what we learned.

XBOX 360

Intro: A beautiful cut-scene, which they confirmed uses the exact ILM models from the movie, and narrated by—who else? Optimus Prime, unmistakably Peter Cullen. First, Cybertron. Smooth and metallic from afar, up close it looks like the burned-out aftermath of the robot war in T2, but without the dirt. We see Frenzy rooting around in a pile of robot corpses. Megatron’s foot comes into frame, the camera pans up, he transforms and flies off. Cut to the Allspark cube flying toward Earth, at which point Prime makes the statement at the top of this review. The rest of the intro is an extended fight sequence on city streets, with Brawl, Barricade, Ironhide, Starscream, Prime, and the rest of the movie ‘bots trading beatdowns, via fisticuffs, missiles, and one well-tossed wrecking ball. Megatron flies in in his Cybertronian jet-mode, Prime scales a building and leaps on his back, they scuffle, transform, and jump towards each other in slow-motion… and the intro ends with that freeze-frame. Oh, and at that point, Prime says something about one of them standing, and one of them falling. Our memory is a little fuzzy about the exact line, but you get the idea.

On to the gameplay! The marketing dude selects “Story Mode,” located right above that “Bonus Features” selection that we really want to see. More on that later. He starts by selecting the Autobot campaign. As he explains, this campaign will more-or-less follow the story of the movie, at least moreso than the Decepticon campaign. First, we see Bumblebee. Or, rather, we see a car that looks like Bumblebee, which his protoform scans and then converts itself into. Then… the fun begins. You control Bumblebee, driving around town, dodging cars and pedestrians. Hmm… those ambulances look an awful lot like a certain repaint that was just revealed on eBay, just a slightly different red-and-white deco. Probably doesn’t mean anything. Transform at the touch of a button, and Bumblebee flips into robot mode smoothly and instantaneously. The animation of the transformation alone is a sight to behold. Fast as it is, you can see Bumblebee’s hands pop out to push him off the pavement and into the air for robot mode, and Bumblebee flip around and crash back down to the ground when he converts into a car. Chances are most fans will spend a few minutes just transforming back and forth. Navigate using a HUD map to the first mission point, and the fight begins.

It’s worth noting at this point that all the company representatives were adamant in impressing upon us that this is NOT Grand Theft Auto: Transformers. Strictly speaking, it’s not a “sandbox”-type game where you can choose the order of your missions, build up a character, unlock secret naughty mini-games, and play forever. It’s a game with a linear series of missions, and it has a beginning and an end. There is some free-roaming between missions, where you can choose to do a side-quest like racing a clock to unlock some bonus content. And you can choose to go against your mission as an Autobot, attacking human vehicles instead of Decepticons. But eventually, you’ll need to seek out that next mission point if you want to get somewhere interesting. The goal of the game is primarily to take the player through the movie, albeit with some detours and alternate stories along the way.

So, the first mission: “Beat The Hell From Some Decepticlones!” That may just be a working title. Or we may have just made it up. Either way, it’s definitely the goal. Evil robots are popping up left and right, and Optimus Prime orders Bumblebee to deliver a beatdown to protect the humans. Whom, it should be said, you cannot squish. Sorry. But the Decepticons are enough to deal with. In this level, they are primarily made up of Swindles (and possibly Dreadwings), but will apparently come in 13 different classes. The Clones were developed by Traveller’s Tales in conjunction with Hasbro and Dreamworks, and it’s entirely possible that we may see more toys than the two we’ve seen so far. To fight them, Bumblebee has at least four types of attacks: melee, ballistics, ground-pounds, and missiles. Plus, he can climb up buildings, and pick up almost anything in sight and either whack the baddies with it, or toss it at them. The physics engine, developed in-house by Traveller’s Tales, is still being finalized, but different objects obviously have different effects on your opponents. In just a few minutes of fighting, Bumblebee weaponized buses, cars, other Decepticons, lampposts, goal posts, fences, and giant advertising mock-ups of baseball bats, a hot dog, and a blue marlin.

During these fights, the sense of chaos is palpable. While giant robots are meleeing, the screen is shaking like a handheld cameria in a live-action cop drama, pedestrians are fleeing wildly in all directions, cars are being kicked around, asphalt is being torn up, and missiles are flying through the air and exploding on whatever they happen to hit. When Bumblebee’s knocked into a building, he dents both the wall and sidewalk, and a billboard falls onto his head. It’s an exciting, visceral experience just watching it unfold.

Next, we progress to the first boss battle: Barricade. After a cut-scene, we see Barricade standing about a block away, madly swinging his nunchuks (nunchuks? Apparently) in circles. You get a couple of chances to take shots at him with anything you can grab before he charges. The fight consists of three parts: in town, in a baseball field, and at a power plant. The goal is to damage Barricade sufficiently in each to knock him down (which is somewhat jarringly rendered in a cut-scene), then transform to car mode and race him to the next fight zone. During this race, you may be slowed by local law enforcement, who naturally won’t give Barricade a second glance in his chosen disguise. If you can’t make it to the zone in time… bummer, you lost the fight. It took the rep a few tries to make it through to the power plant, which was clearly a delightful place to spend time exploding things. Unfortunately, apparently the end of that battle gives away too much of the movie, so the rep had to exit or “Hasbro will kill me.”

Then we went back to select the Decepticon path. The first mission: Blackout, straight out of the movie trailer. There’s a quick cut-scene where he scans a downed helicopter, then he moves straight on to the army base. The goal, per orders from Starscream (though the rep said the final version may be Megatron instead): Destroy as much as possible within a time limit. Blackout takes to the task, delivering the smashy smashy to tanks, trucks, and soon enough, air support. He can use his spinning rotor blades as a very effective melee weapon. And of course, he can transform and take to the sky, strafing aircraft and hangers from above. Without robot opponents, this wasn’t as exciting as the first Bumblebee mission, but will definitely satisfy your latent urges to mash things indiscriminately. After some time in that level, the 360 demo is over.

We discussed some other aspects of the game. It’s officially been rated T for Teen, and is mostly complete, but still slightly buggy with about two months of development time to go (they don’t have a hard release date yet, but likely soon after the movie). 9 of the 13 movie characters will be playable in the various missions. Each mission is locked to a character, so you can’t, say, go back and replay the Barricade battle using Optimus Prime. But there ARE fun things to unlock, mostly by completing those small side missions and accomplishing story-level goals. They confirmed one thing many fans have been hoping for: unlockable G1 skins for the characters! It’s unknown how this will work for non-G1 characters like Blackout, but surely they’ve found a way. That feature will make future replays at least LOOK like a whole new game. Also mentioned were film stills, artwork, and “other G1 content.” We asked if the suggestions solicited from the Allspark community a few months ago were taken into account, and while they didn’t know specifically either way, they did say that Traveller’s Tales spent a lot of time on fan message boards while deciding what to include. And, sadly, no more voice actors can be confirmed at this time except Cullen and Welker, but hopefully official announcements will come soon.

Overall, the console game looks like a fun one to play, and a good use of the license. The graphics are amazing, both in-game and in the cut-scenes (though the shift between the two is very noticeable and distracting at times). There are compelling reasons to transform between modes, and especially in battles against multiple robots, the action is cinematic and exciting. We couldn’t get a lot of details about future missions, but hopefully there’ll be enough variety and a fast enough pace to deliver on the promise of that first Bumblebee mission in particular.

NINTENDO DS

The DS games are not by any means just a port of the console versions. In fact, they made it clear that Activision had approached Transformers as three distinct games: the two for the DS, one for the PSP, and one (with some variance in controls and graphics, of course) for the PS2, PS3, Wii, 360, and PC.

Transformers: Autobots and Transformers: Decepticons were demonstrated on pink DS Lites by the games’ producer. We were told the game “pushed the limits” of what the DS could achieve, and while it’s an oft-stated slice of hyperbole, he quickly provided some evidence to back that up. One of the first standout items is the voice work: there are over 1400 lines of spoken dialogue, quite impressive for a handheld game. All the cut-scenes feature full voice-over (with text on the bottom screen, so you can still enjoy it in silence on the bus). And the first “world” (there are about five worlds, with about 23 missions in each game) is a huge city that, while not as detailed as a console game, certainly had an expansive feel. They promise it’s the biggest environment created for the DS, with streaming graphics and audio to create smooth transitions and fast action while traveling around.

In regards to the gameplay, this obviously won’t have the scale or graphics of its big-boy brethren, but as mentioned before, they’ve taken steps to make sure it’s a completely different experience. Most notably… you start each game with a custom character. Not Bumblebee, not Blackout, but a Transformer you get to name, color, and assign an alt-mode. During both the Autobot and Decepticon games, you will use this character for Free-Play and Challenge missions. The character will acquire experience points to gain power-ups and special moves, and even better, new alt-modes. We learned from the press release that vehicles could be scanned, but now we know that EVERY human vehicle in the game can be scanned and stored in your character’s bank of alt-modes, any of which you can assume at will during these free-play and challenge missions. There will be some different vehicles in the two DS games, and definitely included are SUVs, “Beaters”, pickup trucks, helicopters, and many more. Your character will interact with and be “mentored” by movie characters during these missions.

In addition, there are more straightforward Story Missions, which we did not get to see first-hand. These will be more like the console versions, in that you’ll control movie characters through a story that more-or-less follows the movie plot. And like the console, in all three types of missions you’ll be battling opponents using whatever environmental tools you can find. You’ll have melee attacks, range weapons, and vehicular weapons, depending on what mission you’re playing and what you’ve unlocked.

The portions of both games shown at this demo were fairly similar, as they start with the customized characters. And, as they were on a DS held by the producer, details were a bit difficult to discern. But, it did look to have smooth animation, good 3-D motion and large character graphics. Maps and transformations and alt-modes are controlled by the touch-screen, but control is generally handled by the D-pad. And of course, there’s plenty of rock-‘em-sock-‘em robot action to be had.

The producer mentioned a few times that there were “a lot of fanboys” working on this game, and that the overall atmosphere they were going for was more like a G1 cartoon version of the movie. This shows through particularly in the dialogue, which is much lighter and more cartoonish than the movie itself or the console game, and often incorporated dialogue directly from the original cartoon. There was a “Decepticreeps” from Ironhide, for example. Additionally, some of the Decepticon’s blasts sounded exactly like G1 Starscream’s distinctive null rays, though the producer assured us that officially, at least, it was just a remarkable coincidence.

We talked briefly about multiplayer. As we know, the consoles don’t have it in any form. The DS has local multiplayer for up to four people, with deathmatches and “Allspark Sports” (sadly, no more detail could be revealed about that segment), and participants could use either the Autobot or Decepticon version to play. We also have more details on online multiplayer: well, it’s not really live online multiplayer. What will happen is that players will connect to a Wi-Fi server to receive a daily “Challenge Mission,” which will be played offline. Players can then upload their scores or achievements in these missions to the Wi-Fi server, where similar to the recently-released web game, stats will be preserved to show whether Autobots or Decepticons “control” specific zones. Doing well in these Wi-Fi challenges will unlock special content, including cheat codes and upgrades for your custom character.

Without the benefit of the big-screen TV on which the 360 game was displayed, it was difficult to get a good handle on what it feels like to play the DS games. But, the addition of the custom character building elements, along with a healthy dose of nostalgia, will likely make Transformers: Autobots and Transformers: Decepticons distinct and worthy games in their own right, rather than just the usual simple ports of the console versions. The DS games will be rated E-10+.

PSP

While there wasn’t a PSP game to show off, they did divulge a few tidbits. First, as mentioned, it will be completely different from the other two Transformers games. Most surprisingly, there will NOT be Autobot and Decepticon paths at all, but a series of sequential levels. Some will be played as Decepticons, others Autobots, but overall it will be a linear story. The PSP is also the only version with exclusive playable characters, bringing the total up to 20, drawing from the movie and G1. Finally, it will have local multiplayer, but no online content.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It was great to be able to check out these games a couple of months ahead of time, and have the opportunity to share these details with the Allspark community. We would like to thank Activision, Traveller’s Tales and Vicarious Visions for inviting the Allspark to participate in this demo session, and we hope to be able to bring you more information about these games in the future.

Plus, we want to play them. We really want to play them.

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