‘That there Tuffcub sure does like Transformers’ tweeted our great and glorious leader not too many days ago. He is right, I do and I defy anyone to find something cooler than a cement mixer than turns into a bad-ass robot. With that said I am acutely aware that this may sound like a page of rose tinted fan-boy ramblings but trust me, Transformers is one hell of a game.
I refer not to War On Cybertron nor the quite abysmal Michael Bay movie ties ins, for the ultimate in robot battling action we have to step back to the PlayStation 2 and the Atari game. Originally billed as a tie in with the Transformers: Armada toyline the tagline was dropped in favour of a simplified name, but kept the characters and models from the then current cartoon.
In 2004, two and half years before Gears Of War, Transformers gave PlayStation 2 owners a third person shooter with hulking great characters yomping over massive detailed landscapes with a huge range of weaponry.[videoyoutube]Rewatching the intro movie it’s hard not to notice how closely it resembles the recent Transformers: War For Cybertron. We are shown Cybertron, ravaged by war and the massed ranks of Decepticons storming across the metal planet. On a ledge, Optimus Prime and Megatron battle for survival before being interrupted by a transmission from the Minicons, a race of smaller transformers who have crash landed on Earth.
The Decepticons leave for Earth and are closely followed by Optimus (in his classic flat nosed truck guise), Hot Rod (a yellow sports car) and Red Alert (an ambulance). The aim of the game is to rescue all the Minicons scattered across the Earth, from tropical jungles to icey wastelands. When a Minicon has been found he can ‘powerlink’ to your bot and give you extra weaponary, power ups or armour. Standing in your way is an army of cannon fodder ‘Decepticlones’ with the main Decepticon characters such as Starscream, Tidal Wave and Megatron serving as boss fights.
When I bought this game back in 2004 I was blown away by the graphics and they’re still pretty impressive today, the play areas are huge and high detailed, with a pretty solid frame rate with no pop-up.
The first level set in an Amazonian rain forest is truly gorgeous and at the time had the same ‘wow’ factor as Uncharted had on PS3. The sound design is equally impressive with tweeting birds and hooting monkeys in the distance; looking back at the game now it’s hard not to imagine Drake standing on one of the Inca temples in the distance.
However there is one thing that the Atari Transformers game has done that no other game has achieved. It feels like you are playing a giant robot. Your character is sufficiently heavy but still quite nimble on his feet, but its the vehicle modes where the game comes alive for the simple reason they have speed. In my opinion the biggest failure with War For Cybertron was the slow floaty vehicle modes, the PS2 game gives Burnout Paradise a run for its money when it comes to really feeling fast.
There is a simple test for Transformers games, a way to gauge if they play like you feel they should from the movies and the cartoons. Can you race over a jump in vehicle mode, transform mid air and launch a volley of shots at a Decepticon, then transform back before you hit the ground, continuing at full speed past the smouldering remains of the Decepticreep? You can in Transformers and it is one of the best things you will ever do in a game.
The game offers massive re-playability as you will locate Minicons later on in the game which you can equip and use to explore previous levels. One such Minicon gives your bot a pair of Starscream style wings to zoom about, another gives you a visor which allows you see heat emissions. Seven years before Batman was swinging his way around Arkham City the Autobots were already giving his gadgets a good test run.
You want more? A year before Kratos and Wander scampered up the sides of the colossi, Optimus Prime was battling Tidal Wave, a 500 ft high Transformer made out of a frickin’ air-craft carrier! An entire level is dedicated to the behemoth and you don’t just fight him, you get to go inside and fight from within. Finish him off and he topples to the ground with you inside, making the walls the floor and up becoming down, a trick borrowed by many games since – most recently Uncharted 3.
Transformers geeks will love the homages to the original cartoon, Starscream screams “I’ll rip out your optics” and Megatron and Prime have many classic lines. Oh, and just when you think it couldn’t get any more awesome Unicron shows up.
Atari’s Transformers has been called ‘one of the best action games on PS2’ and the ever critical Edge magazine said the game ‘will stop you in your tracks with the scale, detail and beauty of the environments.’
When I gave my PS2 away to my nephews I kept two PS2 games, one was Gradius and the other was Transformers. The game was, and still is, the best Transformer game ever.