A couple of forgettable tie-in titles aside, this is a much-awaited plundering of the Transformers universe that fans of the original 1980s' cartoon know and love. If you're among them, you'll be sorry to learn that this new PS2 title is actually based on the more recent Transformers Armada TV series. The Armada tag was reportedly dropped from the game in its final development, assuring a wider audience, but it's going to leave some Trans fans feeling cheated.
The basic plot is that millions of years ago, against a backdrop of war between the Autobots (good guys) and Decepticons (bad guys) on their home planet of Cybertron, a third transformer race called the Mini-cons secretly evacuated. They hit a space hurdle and a bunch of them crash landed on remote locations around Earth. Because tiny Mini-cons combine with larger transformers to boost the latter's attack and defensive abilities, a race to find them ensues when a distress signal comes through millions of years later.
Gameplay involves collecting a large amount of Data Discs (to unlock game extras) and Mini-cons that serve as various forms of power-ups including stealth, tractor beam and glide. You'll play as the Autobots, as leader Optimus Prime (truck), Red Alert (ambulance) or Hot Shot (sports car). Because you're collecting so much, the levels are so big and you can warp between them, the game has a slightly non-linear feel even though you progress through levels. These include the Amazon, Antarctica, Deep Amazon, Mid-Atlantic, Alaska, Star Ship, Pacific (Easter) Island and Cybertron itself.
Enemy AI for the most part is quite good. Various types of grunt robots comprise most cannon fodder but medium level bot bosses arrive at the end of some sections. You'll face Decepticon leader Megatron, Starscream (fighter jet), Cyclonus (helicopter) and the mammoth Tidalwave (warship) at the end of levels.
Controls are solid and the third person perspective is action-packed. A first person zoom view is great for attacks at distance. After a while, though, shooting, running and jumping becomes repetitive, and there's no multi-player mode for diversion. It's also not until the second or third stage that you get a true sense of being a big oversized transformer.
Australian outfit Melbourne House has developed a visually stunning game with epic draw distances rivalling Far Cry on the PC, yet everything still runs along smoothly. Yes, you can transform, and yes, when you do, you'll hear that familiar phased transform sound. The game's audio is generally strong and cinematic, and seems to intensify during battles. There's even a theme song remix extra by Regurgitator, and when you defeat Cyclonus you'll hear original score produced by the band's front man, Quan Yeomans.
Unlockable extras include production, comic, toy and CG-sequence art as well as quirky public service announcement TV spots from the original cartoon. It all rounds out a love-it or hate-it title.
Score CardVisuals: Stunning
Audio: Cinematic sci-fi
Gameplay: Slightly repetitive action/shooter
Developer: Melbourne House