When the trailer for Transformers: Battlegrounds dropped, it showed a game that was remarkably different to previous titles. Instead of an action game, the robots in disguise were instead dressed up in what looked like a turn based strategy game. It turns out that’s exactly what it is.
It’s an interesting choice and combination. The designs of the robots are lifted from the current Cyberverse cartoon which is clearly aimed at kids, but the tactical strategy genre is typically more suited a more mature audience. The developers, Coatsink, wanted to do something new with the Transformers license and took inspiration from Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, which they saw was very popular with a younger audience despite it being a more thoughtful, slower game.
You play as the last human in the deserted Central City and are recruited by the Autobots’ AI, Teletraan X, to help the six remaining heroic Autobots thrash the pants off the evil Decepticons. You begin with just Bumblebee, but pick up Arcee, Optimus and others along the way, and will be facing off against six Decepticons. They act as boss and mini boss characters, with Seeker drone clones there for cannon fodder. The battles rage across four chapters, each with a number of episodes, culminating in a return to Cybertron as Megatron closes in the All Spark, the Transformers series’ default MacGuffin.
One thing the developers Coatsink have definitely got right is the characterisation, the cast of the cartoon are voicing their respective characters and there are short cut scenes between battles which look just like cartoon. It’s a friendly and inviting art style that will definitely appeal to younger players.
The play area is split in to a square grid and each Autobot gets a number of action points per turn to spend. These can be used to move to a new position, find cover, or attack the enemy using standard blasters, or a special attack which uses a lot more points. These special abilities include Optimus targeting a Deception, jumping to his position, picking him up and throwing him back to where Optimus was previously standing, while Grimlock can breathe fire across a large area, damaging all the Decepticons at once. Tranforming occurs automatically, so if you character has a large distance to cover they will switch to vehicle mode.
Unfortunately I only had a very brief time playing the game, but could still see some of the depth within the gameplay. As well as finding cover there are crates of Energon scattered across the play area, which lend your Autobot if you stand near them. The Decepticon drones will also heal other enemies and team up, so you really do need to get rid of them first before attacking the major Decepticons.
I was playing on PC, but the simple controls should map well to consoles as there are only a few buttons to select attacks or change characters. You can also zoom around the battlefield to plan ahead, since there is no ‘fog of war’ restricting your view. There are a number of difficulty levels, the easiest of which will allow younger players see the story, but I’m told the harder levels will really test the most seasoned tactical player. The game also has local co-op so you can team up with chums and play across generations of Transformers fan.
All in all, the game is coming together quite nicely, taking the franchise to a genre that it’s never really visited before. The cartoon art style will appeal to the younger generation, while the gameplay should reach older fans who’ve rinsed everything they can out of XCOM. Through there’s a Transformers story and characters that all fans of robots in disguise should enjoy.
Transformers: Battlegrounds is coming this October, for PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC.