Following the G.I. Joe TV series of the early 1980s, which shrewdly and successfully paired a cheaply animated series with a new line of G.I. Joe action figures, the Transformers animated TV series (1984) built upon the same idea with equal success. The TV shows wowed little kids and served as animated advertisements for the figures. It was simultaneously sick and beautiful.
Fast-forward to 2009. The two biggest independent videogame publishers in the world, Activision and Electronic Arts, are working on Transformers and G.I. Joe games, respectively, each of which tie into summer movies and soon to be released action figures. Can we lay blame (or inversely thank) the birth of the all-encompassing franchise concept on G.I. Joe and the Transformers? (Uh, yes.)
During a session at the W Hotel in San Francisco, Ca., in which journalists played deeply into the upcoming Wolverine game, Activision offered an eyes-on demo of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, based on the eponymous Michael Bay movie (which is due to hit theaters June 24, 2009). The game is due this “summer,” according to Activision.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen builds huge set pieces around the non-stop action movie that seems, at least from the previews, like one non-stop series of angry robots bashing each other’s pistons in and destroying, far worse than any Godzilla film, the world around them with techno aplomb. Just like the movie preview, you’ll see massive robot battles in Cairo, Egypt, Shanghai, China, and in various other locations, including full-fledged action sequences in mid-sea on a fleet of air craft carriers. Oh, and the storyline? “The war is not over.” Need we really say more?
The eyes-on demo showed a marked improvement–visually and mechanically–over the first game. The top-level features focus on the ability to play as either the Decepticons or Autobots in any level, the use of a non-linear progression system and hub world, upgradeable factions, instant transformations (mid-stride or mid-air), and interestingly, arcade-style timed missions. Activision also made it clear the biggest addition to this year’s model, unlike the first game, is its multiplayer mode, which features deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and other soon-to-be-released multiplayer modes.
Similar to Sega’s Iron Man game with its many versions and developers, Activision’s approach to development is also multi-fold. Luxoflux (Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, True Crime) is developing the PS3 and Xbox version, while Beenox will port that version to the PC. Krome Studios is creating a different game (still based on the movie, however) for the Wii and PS2, while Vicarious Visions and Savage Entertainment are each creating distinct versions for the DS and PSP, respectively. This means, theoretically, you could buy the Xbox 360, Wii, DS, and PSP versions, and they would all be different. That’s what you call maximizing profits.
Starring what Activision Producer Jason Ades calls, “the biggest cast of Transformers ever to appear in a game,” Revenge of the Fallen showcases Optimus Prime, Starscream, Bumblebee and Ironhide, plus several newly created characters. Each character is built with primary and secondary weapons and can transform at any time from robot to vehicle form and back in a split second. Just as the Transformer cast is diverse, so is the game cast. Some characters drive, while others fly. Several can climb buildings, too, adding in a layer of platforming. Weapons range from the ability to drop landmines, or like Ironhide, deploy turrets. Some casts can snipe, or, since Starscream is a flying Transformer, fly and hover in mid-air.
As mentioned above, Revenge of the Fallen consists of timed-based missions. The faster you beat a level, the more points you earn. The more points you earn the more upgrades you can add to your Transformer. And each time you build up your own Transformer, your team/faction is automatically upgraded, too, so that you can switch to any other Transformer throughout the game without losing military power.
Also, expect tons of unlockables: unlockable comic book covers, concept art, player skins, and Hasbro-specific “stuff.” Ades said “stuff,” but surely he meant action figures, which apparently he was unable to officially say.
What struck me most about Revenge of the Fallen is that like any good Michael Bay film (an oxymoron, perhaps?), the game feels like one long action sequence, interrupted only by angry robots swearing revenge on one another. I don’t mean to say that I am surprised by this. We are talking about Michael Bay and the Transformers. But the action sequences were big, burly, destructive, and very, very fast moving. The game isn’t in the least bit plodding, which is perhaps the publisher’s (and fans’) reaction to the first game’s slower nature. Characters drive, fly, or run across the screen, smashing cars, buildings, and freeways as they go–and all very quickly.
The game’s new mechanics and animations are impressive. In one sequence a driving Transformer sped across town, then instantly transformed into robot form–all in one fluid, non-stop motion–jumping onto a freeway ramp. He then systematically transformed from robot to car and back again, using the transformation as a jumping mechanic to reach higher freeway ramp stages. In another, I watched a robot snipe enemies from rooftops. In yet another, I watched a massive four-legged Decepticon boss–constructed of visible tractors, dump trucks, cranes, and bulldozers– stomp across the city, wiping enemies up like a massive elephant crushing mice. This boss was 10 to 20 times bigger than Starscream, a 30-foot Transformer.
Another impressive set piece from the movie took place at sea. I watched Starscream transform from a jetfighter to hover mode to Transformer mode and battle off a squadron of Decepticons attacking on a flotilla of sea craft. The transformation animations were seamless and instant. And Starscream’s jet mode, shown in third-person mode, felt like a scene out of an early Air Combat game.
For what it’s worth, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen should be the best Transformers game yet. The visuals are hitting on all gears, the Transformers are well articulated, fleshed out (in a manner of speaking), and superbly animated. And, pound-for-pound, Revenge of the Fallen is a rock-solid action game that promises intense, compressed missions filled with unending destruction and combat. And for non-Transformer gamers who like a good action game, Revenge of the Fallen could very well be the game that gets you off that fence.