Playback: Transformers

‘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.



  1. An amazing game and one that does a grat job defining the series , couldnt agree more tuffcub

  2. It was a good game but Optimus wasn’t in his flat-nosed truck guise – his vehicle mode looked more like the big rig from the Bay films. Despite that minor heresy (and Starscream being far too competent!) I would have to agree that it’s been the best transformers game so far, that Tidal Wave fight was epic.

  3. I completely missed this one. Wasn’t even aware that it existed.
    I was much more of a He-Man fan than Transformers though. Although, I did like the toys when I was 7.
    My favourite was the purple fighter jet and that big grey one that turned into a kind of base.

  4. i’m gonna have to dig out my copy and give it another playthrough, this was definitely the best transformers game i’ve played.

    i was never a fan of the alt modes for the Armada series though, i always preferred real world vehicles like the G1 series rather than these made up supposedly futuristic looking ones.

    • The Autobots were all fairly realistic. The Decepticons less so.

      • Sod digging out the PS game, I’m going to get my old toys out of the loft ;-)

        Hmmmm, maybe I will just try the PS2 game, or face being accused of having a mid life crisis by the wife.

  5. I played this, tho from what I remeber the alt mode driving was a bit clunky. But im more a G1 fan, however I did enjoy this and agree with everything you say. To be fair on WFC the floaty alt modes make sense. However when or if they come to earth, they would have to do away with the floating feeling.

  6. I remember the battle against Tidal Wave being quite insane. He was literally 10 times the size of Optimus Prime!

  7. Top article, brings back memories, that’s for sure. I think you hit the nail right on the head about the vehicle modes being far superior to War for Cybertron, on the Atari game, the weight is immediately evident and I recall jumping into the air while running as a robot, transforming and hitting the ground just in time to bash a bunch of Decepticlones many many times! Quite a thrill, I’ll tell ya.

  8. Transformers Armada was the first Transformers I watched and was glad they made a game of it. I agree, the best Transformers game to date, had many hours of fun just changing my mini-con and seeing what it did with the others

  9. The only i’ve ever played, brilliant game and at that time Atari used there liensces faithfully (Dragonball….) The details I read of the Activisformers games sounded so disappointing and generic to me, Transformers Atari was really..really good… a very faithful game.

  10. This was surely the pinnacle of Transformers games. I sold my copy with my creaky old ps2, and in my semi-tipsy state I’m cursing you TC for tempting me to waste eBay credits on buying it all again haha. I hope Sony brings it back as a downloadable emulation.

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