So the summer blockbusters are here, and along with them the rushed out, stamped on, phoned in movie games that we have become accustomed to expecting. Sometimes we blame deadlines, hasty ports or lack of resources for condemning movie games to a bargain bin fate, but with new characters, the addition of multiplayer and new combat features it would appear that Activision and Beenox are trying to rise above the junk pile with Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen.
Revenge of the Fallen loosely follows the plot of this summer’s new movie. I say loosely because the game allows you to choose which missions you will progress in by unlocking new areas and new missions as you progress through the game. For instance, you start the game in Singapore, but added missions in each area of Singapore will not become available until you finish missions in the game’s later locales. Nice idea to try and buck the linear feel of a game, but the story itself gets lost in translation as you can progress through the game and still miss major story elements by not completing those missions associated with them. Personally, I think a movie game is the one exception where being linear is not only accepted, it becomes expected. Other games have tried to buck that trend and failed, unfortunately this is an area where Transformers does not succeed.
Although, are we really playing ROTF for the story? I wouldn’t think so, it’s all about giant robots blowing each other to bits, without all of the drama of the onscreen actors and actresses. In this area ROTF delivers, thankfully involvement with the movie’s main human characters comes few and far between. Usually, you must escort or save Sam or Mikaela from your Decepticon foes, or locate and kidnap them from the Autobots if you are playing the evil role. There are 23 missions on either side, Autobots and Decepticons, and you can unlock G1 episodes, concept art and paint jobs as you fulfill certain requirements, such as perform advanced melee kills or headshots. The combat has been tweaked, if you played the movie game from 2007. Instead of transforming at the push of the ‘Y’ button on a 360 controller, users must now hold the right trigger for the duration you want to drive/fly around in each robot’s alternate form. This allows you to perform an advanced melee attack as you transform back by holding ‘X’ or by performing an advanced jump by holding ‘A’ as you transform back into a robot form opening up more possibilities for movement and combat. Each character still has two weapons to switch between, that will overheat if you overuse them, and now they also have a unique special ability that you can activate by pressing ‘Y’ while in robot form–healing for Ratchet and Long Haul, a shield for Optimus Prime and a missile station for Ironhide. Melee combat is back, performed with the ‘X’ button while in robot form, also you can charge your melee attack by holding ‘X’ for a few seconds before you release it. Sound confusing yet? That’s because it is, the controls have a bit of a learning curve to them, but I must admit they work very well once you are used to them—which may be five or six missions in. But by then you will flow from driving with a turbo boost to and advanced jump that grants you a headshot at the pinnacle of your advanced jump as you switch to rockets to take out your victims cohorts before you land, fracturing the pavement below you.
Unfortunately for ROTF, all the tweaks made to the combat become tiresome in the very cramped maps that Activision has created. See the grid behind Optimus Prime in my screenshot above? Those grids appear on the four corners of every map, locking into a very claustrophobic feeling map. This really seems to hamper the immersion in what otherwise would have been great integration of driving and combat. Even on the five multiplayer maps available, many players creates a cramped and limited feel to a decent multiplayer feature that has been added since the last Transformers game. Online modes feature the typical deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture points multiplayer modes. New to the arena are two modes titled Battle for the Shards and One shall Stand. One Shall Stand sees each team attempting to protect their leader while assassinating the other teams leader with the first to take down the other leader being the winner. Battle for the Shards sees both sides compete for five shards of the AllSpark scattered throughout the map. One Shall Stand offers an interesting twist, but the Battle for the Shards mode further illustrates how small the maps feel. Once again, if you’ve already climbed the steep slope of the controls, multiplayer can be very satifying, especially if you can find some friends to mix it up with. It’s not a deep, robust experience by any stretch, but it’s unique and inventive for a movie tie-in, and tell me—who hasn’t wanted to battle it out with the Autobots and Decepticons online with no story cutscenes, checkpoints or mission goals to bog you down?
Graphics and audio are a mixed bag here. It seems Activision has stripped away the customizable features that make PC gaming what it is; the same features that were present in the last game. Instead of being able to turn on/off bloom effects, dynamic lighting, filtering levels or advanced effects ROTF adopts a simple ‘High’ and ‘Low’ feature, with Anti-aliasing disabled on high settings. I can’t explain why they would do this, the graphics seem nice on the highest setting, but not allowing the user to tweak the graphics options to try and find that balance between gorgeous visuals and a framerate that doesn’t feel like a slideshow doesn’t add up. All in all the visuals are pretty good, some building/environment textures can be muddy, night missions are tough to find a good gamma setting for, but none of this takes anything away from the game experience. Unfortunately, certain cut scenes jump your audio level up a few decibels and keep you reaching for the volume knob, so this may not be the game to try out those new surround sound headphones with—not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. All of the voice actors seem to have carried over from the movies, which is great for the Transformers, not so great for the uninspired actors and actresses of the movie’s human characters.
All things considered, Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen gets more points for effort than it does for follow-through, but there is a good game to be had and some replay value if you are a more hardcore fan of the universe. I would say it’s an accurate statement that Activision and Beenox tried to bite off more than they could chew for a game that obviously had a time constraint to coincide with the movie release, but hopefully the groundwork has been laid for future games that will only get better. It is certainly an improvement over the last iteration, and the multiplayer component works well, but the repetitive nature cost it some points. I’d give the game 3 starts overall. I would recommend renting ROTF on the 360 or PS3 first, but the lower PC price point of $29.99 makes it a decent pick up that won’t sap your wallet.