Transformers: The Game Preview

"One thing that [Hasbro] told us is that they sell about an equal amount of Optimus Prime toys as they do Megatron toys," Transformers: The Game executive producer Daniel Suarez told me. "There's a divided group of people. There's people that like the Autobots, that like the Decepticons. There's people that wear the Decepticon shirts, there's people that have the Autobot logo on their cars.

"From the beginning, we were like, you know what, we gotta give people the opportunity to play as good guys and bad guys."

Thus was the starting point of Traveller's Tales Transformers: The Game, which is one part movie tie-in and one part fan service. Instead of simply retelling the upcoming film's tale and alternating between control of the noble Autobots and the destructive Decepticons, the game--which is coming to PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii later this month--features an entirely separate campaign for each faction and multiple playable characters. All together, the game has nine playable characters: four Autobots and five Decepticons.

"When you boot up the game, you'll be given a choice, want to play Autobots or you want to play Decepticons," Suarez explained. "Good guys or bad guys. Wanna protect the Earth or destroy the Earth.

"With the Autobots side, we tell the movie story. You see the movie, when you play the game, the Autobots story is ultimately your structure of the movie," he continued.

Whereas the movie uses the perspective of the two human main characters--Sam Witwicky and his gal Mikaela--to frame the tale, Transformers: The Game relegates them to the background. "We turn [the movie] around and look at it from the robot side," the executive producer detailed. "It's all about the robots for us. The humans are secondary characters."

This focus on the Transformers themselves also allowed for Traveller's Tales to flesh out the film's mythology, explaining a little more of the Transformers themselves and their current situation. For example, an early cinematic in the game shows Autobot Bumblebee arriving on Earth and obtaining his Camaro form, something not shown in the movie.

Meanwhile, the Decepticons campaign isn't just a retelling of the movie from the bad guy's angle--it's a whole new take on the tale. "The Decepticons side kinda turns [the film] upside down and asks the question 'What if? What if the bad guys won?'" he elaborated. "[The] Decepticon side is really a whole new story, a whole new way of looking at the game. It's not, 'See the movie, play the game,' we're kinda taking that story and being like, alright, let's rewrite the movie.'"

As for the movie itself, the team at Traveller's Tales had the full support of the production crew, which allowed them access to movie's character models and even some of its sound effects. "We were really fortunate to be able to work with Michael Bay and his team, we had a great working relationship with them," Suarez described. "We were able to get the actual ILM models from them. It was one of these things where it took a lot of trust for them to say, 'Hey sure, here, just use our models, take them, no problem.'"

The attention to detail these character models brought to the game is easily apparent, especially in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. Minor details--such as tiny mechanical joints, small wires, even the interior paneling of Bumblebee's side door--are easily noticeable.

However, just because Transformers: The Game ties into the movie doesn't mean it won't reference the rich history of the Transformers. "Another key thing [for us] was to say 'What can we create in this game?' Yes, it's a movie game but this is a franchise that has 20 years of history. What can we do to pay homage to that?'

"[We have] tons of unlockables that really pay homage to that. We have unlockable toy boxes, old comic book covers from IDW, from Marvel, from Dreamwave. There's unlockable characters, a G1 Optimus, a G1 Jazz, a G1 Megatron, different skins that we've repainted on the movie characters."

Suarez later brought the unlockable G1 Optimus Prime model on-screen. It was instantly recognizable in its classic blue and red glory, and thankfully lacked all the flaming decals of the redesigned movie version.

In addition to the unlockables, Transformers: The Game also contains a number of classic Transformers references. "A lot of the store fronts are all throwbacks to the TV series," the executive producer points out, gesturing towards a store sign branded with the name of old-school Transformer Seaspray. "If you guys were fans of Seaspray or Hound or any of the different characters, it's in there. It's really subtle, something most gamers won't notice, but the fanboys will, and something we really wanted to do from the get go."

Turn the page for brief impressions of the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS and PSP versions of Transformers: The Game.

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Later on, I got the chance to try my hand at the various versions of Transformers: The Game. Picking up an Xbox 360 controller, I found myself playing as Bumblebee, protecting young Sam Witwicky from the Decepticon Barricade, resulting in a multi-stage boss fight that spans the entire town of Tranquility. After Barricade--who is invulnerable to physical attacks until I nail him with a large object such as a car or a bus and daze him--sustains too much damage, he transforms back into a car and takes off in pursuit of Sam. At these points, the player has a limited amount of time to transform back into a car and race to Sam's new location--and if they can't make it in time, they fail the mission.

Switching to a PlayStation 3 demo station, I then attempted the respective scenario from Barricade's perspective. However, this isn't just a mirror of Bumblebee's mission--now the tricky Autobot is using a blast attack to keep Barricade at bay, and no amount of cars or buses chucked in his direction has any impact. Eventually, one of the Activision representatives pointed out that I need to block the blast attack and get as close as I can while Bumblebee is charging up the next wave. Heeding the advice, I soon end up at Bumblebee's side and knock him so hard he goes flying into the side of an adjacent building--which brings a portion of the structure crumbling down. After enough pummeling, Bumblebee eventually makes his escape and Barricade reigns victorious--a decidedly different outcome than when I was playing as Bumblebee.

The representative also informed me that certain in-game objects--such as pine trees, palm tress, lamp posts, and even billboards--could be swung around like baseball bats. In addition to the hilarity of beating an Autobot senseless with a freshly-plucked palm tree, I was thrilled to learn that such an approach results in massive damage. Sadly, other notable in-game objects--for example, a giant doughnut and an oversized hot dog--can't be swung, only thrown.

After playing the Xbox 360 version, the PlaySation 3 edition looked darker, less detailed, and muddier. "Maybe it's just the TV settings," one of the reps said when asked about the difference, commenting that the two versions should look nearly identical.

I also had the opportunity to check out the Wii version of Transformers: The Game. While lacks the graphical polish and detail of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions, I was impressed with how well the team at Traveller's Tales made use of the Wii's distinctive controller, which often presents problems with multi-platform development.

Much like a first person shooter, the cursor of the Wii Remote itself controls on-screen aiming while the Nunchuck's analog stick handles motion. Moving the cursor to the edge of the screen causes the camera to rotate, with several degrees of sensitivity and speed in the options menu. Ranged attacks are handled with the A and B buttons. Swinging either the Nunchuck or the Remote left or right resulted in a melee attack, and picking up any nearby objects was a simple matter of raising the Nunchuck or the Remote upwards.

The only thing that bothered me with the Wii controls was using buttons on the d-pad to transform, jump, and block--it just didn't feel intuitive or natural. I was constantly asking which direction did what, but that will obviously become less of a problem with experience.

Instead of crafting two separate campaigns, the team at Vicarious Visions has created two entirely separate DS games based off the Transformers movie, one centered around the Autobots and another focusing on the Decepticons. An action-RPG told from the perspective of its respective faction, each game starts with the player assuming the role of a new recruit on that particular side. As players battle the opposite faction and accomplish goals, they gain experience points and earn new attacks, combos, forms, and characters.

Featuring 3D visuals and full voice acting, both DS editions of Transformers are quite technically impressive, each shipping on a 64 Mb card. Running at a solid 30 frames per second, the game maps camera control to the L and R shoulders and has players shooting with Y--a control scheme that reminded me of High Impact Game's efficient setup in Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters on PSP.

The DS versions also feature four player local wireless multiplayer and an intriguing online mode, known as AllSpark Wars, which pits owners of the Decepticon and Autobot versions against on another. Using Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection setup, players connect to a server, which designates one of the game's 34 challenge missions as that day's featured mission. Players then upload their high score for that mission to the server, and whichever side has the most points at the end of the day makes some headway in the overall war.

While I wasn't able to get much time with Savage Entertainment's PSP edition of Transformers: The Game, I did play around in the multiplayer mode and got absolutely creamed by one of the developers. Much like all the other versions of Transformers: The Game, the PSP rendition is a third-person action game where you can play as either a Decepticon or an Autobot. It includes multiple control schemes that allow players both full range of movement and full control over their aiming at the same time. I wasn't able to quite come to terms with any of the control schemes during my limited time with the game, but the advanced level of play demonstrated by the developer showed that the learning curve should only be a temporary obstacle.

Developed by Traveller's Tales, Transformers: The Game is slated to hit PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii at the end of June. Savage Entertainment's PSP edition and Vicarious Visions' Transformers: Autobots and Transformers: Decepticons will arrive at the same time, with the movie itself debuting in theaters on July 4.