Not only is the game's premise lousy, it's incomplete. "One million years ago the Mini-Cons, a lost race of Transformers" that's it, there's nothing else. I had to reboot the game to make sure I didn't miss a sentence. Pressing on after the omission of the story, you see a cut-scene that shows the Autobots getting whipped all up and down the planet of Cybertron by the Decepticons. Suddenly an image of the Mini-Cons crashing to Earth appears and everyone gives up and goes to get them. For some reason not explained to us the Decepticons, who are getting ready to win the war, give up to go get something that will allow them to win the war.
From here on out, you control one of three Autobots: Optimus Prime, Red Alert and Hot Shot, each with their own strengths and weakness. It's the usual fare, one is fast but weak and one is well-rounded, and one is slow but strong. After leaving Cybertron, and navigating the game's terribly clunky menus, you find yourself in the Amazon, where you must find your first Mini-Cons. It turns out that Mini-Cons can be used to upgrade your abilities, and when you have more than one, they can be mixed and matched to get even more out of your Autobot. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it is the coolest part of the game.
Since this is a mediocre third-person shooter, the assumption that it's going to have lousy controls, endless waves of enemies, too many frustrating jumps, and that it's going to be tough to aim, all fit in perfectly here. The controls are particularly poor because they don't work when you're walking around and they are equally broken when you are driving. Making matters worse is that for some reason, after a jump, your inertia carries you another few feet - it's like sliding on ice. This makes precision movements very difficult, which isn't a good thing since you'll face a lot of jumps and spend a lot of time walking on narrow ledges.
Combat consists of endless waves of Decepticlones who are weak versions of Decepticons, with the only really interesting fights coming against the game's bosses. The levels, while large are difficult to navigate despite the voice that keeps interrupting the flow of the game to tell you where to go. Perhaps instead of stopping progress every three minutes, a simple radar with the next goal highlighted on it would suffice. Also killing the flow of the game are the save points where you must go all the way back to your ship to get your life back. Why can't you just get your health refilled just by running through it? As it stands now, you have to run through it to activate it, run through it again, wait through a load screen, select your character again, select your level again, and then wait through a load screen again just to get back to where you were. It's particularly baffling because just touching the save point activates the auto save feature. When was the last time it was easier to save a game that it was to refill your health? If you can make it past the game's first few levels, it does get better, but the first level is so lousy, that many will give up.
Visually, Transformers has nothing going for it outside of some cool explosions and effects every now and then. The levels are large and the framerate is solid, but the game simply features nothing interesting to look at. The Decepticlones all look the same, the trees all look alike, the water looks like it's from a PsOne game, and the textures look like they were borrowed from an old Nintendo 64 title. There are worse looking games out there, but this one is about as vanilla looking as they come.
With all the problems with the gameplay and the visuals, no amount of magic in the game's audio could help things, which doesn't really matter because there's no magic to be found. The "transforming sound" from the old series isn't there (there is a sound, but I guess it's from the newer series), and the endless blabber of robots yelling at each other gets old pretty much instantly. The music fits the game well from the standpoint that it sounds like it would be in the cartoon, but it's not great music by any stretch of the imagination.
If you can look past the game's pitiful story and technical flaws, playing Optimus Prime and wasting lots of evil robots can be fun. Unfortunately, it's near impossible to look past getting stuck in canyons with seemingly no way out, missing a jump and having to backtrack for five minutes, and endless load times to simply refill your health. Unlockables that include old clips from the television series and the original music are nice, but aren't enough to make up for rushing the product out the door. It's a step in the right direction, but as it stands now it's just an attempt to cash in on the Transformers license.
6/29/2004 Aaron Thomas