Another live-action Transformers movie has hit the big screen, and we’ve got the DS video-game counterparts that go along with it. Activision and Vicarious Visions join forces once again to bring the Autobots and Decepticons to Nintendo’s handheld. Is this twin pack of games more than meets the eye?
As with the last set of portable Transformers titles, you can opt to play from either the perspective of the good guys or bad guys, but the gameplay is pretty much the same, regardless of which flavor you choose. The story here picks up after the death of Megatron and the destruction of the Allspark. The Fallen and his new leader, Starscream, are in search of the only remaining remnant of the crystal, the Allspark shard, with the intention of reviving Megatron and once again bringing the battle to the Autobots.
Whereas the last set of games were constructed using a sort of open-city hub with missions scattered about, this latest pair goes for a more straightforward approach. You’ll choose missions from a world map, and the story progression is completely linear. Revenge of the Fallen, however, allows you to replay missions as many times as you like, and with a few character-building, RPG elements neatly tucked into the gameplay, it’s an undeniably addictive formula.
Unfortunately, the actual gameplay and missions can too often feel like a chore, and issues with the camera and controls can lead to constant frustration. The mission selection varies from destroying all enemies, to protecting your allies for a set amount of time. Many of the missions are also time-sensitive, and this, too, can really stifle the experience. There are pieces of gear hidden within most levels, and by scanning them you can add them to your arsenal. However, since at least half of the missions force you to fight against the clock, you’ll have a hard time getting at all of the collectibles within the game.
If you’ve played either of the previous two Transformers DS games, you should feel right at home here with the controls. Movement of your transformer is executed with the D-pad, jump with the B button, and attack with the Y button. You can lock onto enemies with the left shoulder button, but it’s a bit hit-and-miss. Using the lock-on button is also the only way to control the camera, which centers the view behind your character. Alternating weapons and selecting the scan feature is done by tapping icons located on the touch screen, and it doesn’t make for the most practical set-up in the heat of battle.
At the beginning of the game, you’ll be asked to choose a vehicle form, and the options are comprised of light, medium, and heavy, each with its own set of inherent attributes. This aspect of the game does promise some element of re-playability (if you get into the gameplay), as each of the three vehicle options perform with noticeable differences. You can change back and forth from your humanoid form to your vehicle form on the fly, though vehicle controls are less than stellar. In vehicle form, you steer with the D-pad, of course, but you can also accelerate either by pressing up on the D-pad or by pressing the B button. The handbrake is mapped to the A button, which feels a bit unnatural. Still, the controls work, but the handling is pretty clunky.
Revenge of the Fallen follows a very predictable formula: complete three missions, complete a challenge stage related to each mission, run through a boss stage, rinse and… well, you get the picture. Usually challenges are optional, but here they’re requisite to moving the story forward. There are the occasional flying missions, but they’re unremarkable to say the least. For the most part, however, missions consist of driving to an objective marker, scanning an object, and then defeating a few enemies. Combat can be fun, but enemies seem to have an unfair advantage in terms of how much damage they do. In missions where the clock is ticking away, it’s difficult to get through in time without dying. You can choose to either stop and fight, in which case you’ll often run out of time, or you can attempt to race through, only to get completely bombarded by enemy fire.
The game also has its share of glitches, though nothing that stops the story in its tracks. We often had issues completing missions where we were called upon to defeat all enemies, but enemies sometimes wouldn’t show up on our radar. After a bit of poking and jumping around, we discovered enemies moving in a circular pattern well outside the fray. The programming for certain missions also seemed to be suspect. For example, one of the flying missions tasked us with defending a helicopter until Megatron could be revived, but before we could even get close to the copter to defend it, the enemy birds had taken her down. However, on another stab at that same mission, the enemy planes couldn’t seem to care less about our helicopter and we breezed right through the level.
In spite of our many complaints about the game(s), we found it compelling to keep coming back for more. Finding new parts for your Transformer satisfied the collector in us, and accumulating “energon” (the game’s form of currency) in order to raise stats was also incentive to make repeat runs through levels. There are relatively low caps on stats, however, and the cost to raise a stat even a smidge comes with a hefty price tag. Additionally, only a handful of missions come complete with checkpoints, whereas most other missions force you to start from scratch when you fail. It’s a pretty unforgiving system considering the audience the games are likely aimed at.
In addition to single-player, there are a couple of multiplayer options that are actually pretty cool. For local wireless, there’s a deathmatch (and team death match) game that offers five different levels to do battle in with your friends, and it’s a neat, if not though limited, option. The main issue here is that you’ll be using your built-up character from the single-player game, and it can give certain players an unfair advantage. The online component allows you access to new missions, and by completing them you’ll earn experience and additional items. Your results are uploaded at the end of each mission, and worldwide stats can be monitored through a hub the game calls Battle for Earth. Battle for Earth is a neat feature because it allows you to contribute to the success of one side or the other depending upon which of the two SKUs you pick up and how well you do in a given mission.
On the production front, little has changed from the last set of games. The cityscapes look almost identical, as do the character models for the Transformers. It’s a decent 3D engine, and the framerate handles itself quite well; however, the game lacks polish overall. It’s still a fun novelty to be able to run through a virtual city on the tiny DS screens, but the areas are completely devoid of life aside from the small handful of enemies onscreen at any given time. Explosions are somewhat disappointing, as is the camera, which can make finding objective markers and enemies quite difficult at times.
The aural presentation is fairly impressive, though, in spite of the rather low fidelity. There’s a good bit of voice work delivered by the actors from the film, and they do a great job of adding edge to the story. The sound effects are kind of generic, but the music sits nicely alongside the gameplay. The audio output overall, however, sounds a bit distorted coming through the DS’ speakers due to constant peaking.
With Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Vicarious Visions has delivered a mostly competent set of games, though they’re not necessarily something to be proud of. The missions are repetitive and frustrating, and other nagging issues can easily fill you with a desire to give up on the adventure. On the flipside, the RPG and collection elements are addictive, and the combat can often be quite satisfying. If you’re a Transformers super fan, you could do worse. Just don’t go into the game expecting greatness.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
The 3D engine looks good and runs well, and it’s pretty neat running through virtual cityscapes on DS. On the other hand, those cities are mostly barren. The way in which environments can take damage is impressive, as are the Transformer animations. 3.3 Control
Movement (in humanoid form) and long-ranged combat can often be fun, but melee combat is clumsy. The vehicle controls feel counterintuitive, and the camera can often fight against you. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice work adds a lot to the presentation, and themes are fairly entertaining. The sound effects, however, are weak, and the game’s general output is a bit distorted. 3.2
Though the game moves in a completely linear fashion, with quite a few missions that aren’t very enjoyable to run through, there are other elements of the game that are admittedly compelling and addictive.
3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.