Monday, July 6, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (the Game) Review

It's the way of the world that many popular G, PG, and PG-13-rated movies will have some form of video game tie-in. It's an arrangement that works well for the movie studios, because they get money from the publisher for the license. And it works for the publisher, because the movie winds up being a two-hour ad that screams at children and parents "BUY ME!" I'm going to assume it's a wash for the developers, since they're pressured to have the game done by a certain deadline, but they're not actually pressured to turn out a good game. So the only losers in this system are gamers, who more often than not are left with a game that's only marginally more fun than getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist.

Despite the perils and pitfalls of playing a game based on a movie license, I must confess a certain weakness for all things Transformers. I grew up watching the 80's cartoon. I could, and probably still can, quote the 1986 animated film verbatim. At nearly 30 years of age, I currently have Transformers DVDs, Transformers T-shirts, Transformers books, and probably more Transformers toys than I did when I was a kid. And so, I bought the new movie game, just like I bought the last movie game.

I'm pleased to report that this game exceeds expectations. That doesn't necessarily make it a good game, but it's not as awful as it should be.

Let's start with the good. You have two campaigns to play, and each campaign has 23 missions (counting a tutorial). Each campaign has five Transformers; the Autobots have Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Bumblebee, Ratchet, and Breakaway. The Decepticons have Megatron, Starscream, Grindor, Sideways, and Longhaul. Each Transformer is beautifully rendered, and each Transformer has different weapons and special abilities. For example, Breakaway has a sniper rifle, Bumblebee can shoot mini-missiles, and Ratchet can heal. Initially, for each mission, you can only use the Transformer that's assigned to you. By completing certain goals, you can use other Transformers in other areas. In fact, there's actually a list of things you can unlock by completing the required goals, and the unlocks include concept art and episodes of the old cartoon, not just in-game things. Personally, I love a game with unlockable anything, as the urge to unlock everything serves at a replay motivator.

Some reviewers have complained of the controls. In this game, pulling the right trigger will cause your Transformer to change into their vehicle mode, and releasing the trigger will cause him to revert back to bot mode. They will insist it should be "hit a button to transform, hit it again to change back." After spending time with RotF, I'm inclined to disagree with them. In previous Transformers games with the button-tap method, you pretty much transform into a vehicle to travel from point A to point B, change into a bot for fighting, then change to a vehicle again for travel. With the trigger method, transforming becomes part of the action. There are many times when you'd fire off a few shots, transform into a vehicle and charge at the enemy, revert back while doing a special melee attack, then finish the enemy off with a quick melee combo. In fact, certain moves in the game require you to transform, hold down a face button, then release the trigger while still holding down the face button.

The levels and missions tend to be a little on the bland side. The East Coast and West Coast levels especially look alike. There is some variety to the mission goals... kill all enemies, defend allies, retrieve people from one point and take them to another, destroy a certain target, repair (or hack) some antennas, or go through a series of checkpoints to find (and usually destroy) a goal. The thing is, despite the goal, most of the time you're going to be blowing up the same four or five types of enemies.

The game is also not particularly long. According to my stats, my average mission completion time is around 6 minutes, which means you can finish all the missions for both campaigns in about five hours. The shortness of the game is actually made worse by the fact that the missions are timed. You want to explore those sandbox levels? Too bad! To advance the campaign, you need to collect campaign points. The better the medal you get on a mission, the more points you'll earn. And those medals are awarded based on one thing and one thing only... speed. Every mission you play, you'll want to complete as fast as you can. Getting gold or platinum medals can be pretty challenging, but if all you want is to finish the missions getting silver or bronze medals is pretty easy. If you're not concerned about unlocking anything, you can probably finish the game in five hours after playing every mission just once. The only thing that's going to extend your five hours of play is if you do replay missions, either to complete the list of unlocks, or to try to get platinum medals for all of the levels.

I'm tempted to criticize the game's story for being a jumbled, incoherent mess... but that's actually pretty close to the movie.

I'm told the multiplayer is pretty good for this game. I can't see that being a huge factor for anyone thinking of playing this game, though. For one thing, the multiplayer is online only... whatever happened to splitscreen, people? For another, a deathmatch third-person Transformers shooter with a bunch of pre-teens sounds more like my idea of hell than something I'd actually chose to do of my own free will.

Ultimately, given the shortness of the game, it's hard to recommend as a purchase to anyone, especially at the $60 price point that the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are sitting at. I'm kind of kicking myself for not picking up the PC version, since I do most of my gaming on my PC, I'd play with the same controller, and the PC version costs half the 360 version. It'd be nice if the game were longer, and it'd certainly be cool if more of the bots that were in the movie were playable (Sideswipe? Jetfire?), but the game is honestly pretty fun while it lasts, so for many the game might be worth a rental.

Oh, and for the record, Revenge of the Fallen is a better game than the first movie tie-in game, but not as good as the Atari PS2 game that was based on Armada.

Final Score: C+

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