It’s the middle of winter and the school holidays are upon us. If you haven’t been struck down by swine ‘flu and aren’t fazed by the prospect of catching it in a crowded cinema, chances are, you will have been to see one of the kid-friendly blockbusters now screening - and if the movie was a hit with the troops they’ll probably be clamouring for some of the merchandise, such as books, posters, action figures… and of course the tie-in video game.
The first of our school holiday movie tie-ins is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for Nintendo DS. Like the previous Transformers title, the game is available in two versions: Autobots or Decepticons, and depending on which one you buy your overall objective will be to save the Earth or trash it, big time. We scored the Decepticons version, and decided to stick it to those traitorous Autobots.
The story picks up where the last live action movie left off. In having taken up the mantle of leadership, Starscream has finally achieved his heart’s desire, and the Decepticons seek a shard of the Allspark. With it they plan to revive Megatron, who last time we saw him, was sleeping with the fishes down in the Laurentian Abyss.
Those who have played the previous Transformers titles will feel right at home with the controls, but for the benefit of everyone else there is an onboard tutorial to walk you through the basics. Your Decepticon protoform learns to fight and navigate through a series of simple missions, and once you’ve chosen your vehicle form you’ll also be able to transform at the push of a button, and speed through the city’s curiously empty streets.
The last Transformers title had more of an ‘open world’ style of play; this time around the maps are still generous but the game is more linear, which works well for the types of missions you are given, such as destroying X amount of enemies or defending a position for Y duration. Boss battles and challenge stages offer a bit of variety and there are cameo appearances of A-list Transformers, which will please fans of the movie. Hidden bits of collectible gear are scattered throughout the game; these can be scanned and added to your Decepticon’s arsenal. Many of the missions are timed as well as being challenging, which can mean major frustration for some folks. Our junior reviewer (aged 12) threw in the towel after several failed attempts at one particular mission which was devoid of checkpoints. Having to start from scratch if you fail an objective or your Decepticon snuffs it can be quite demoralising for younger players; something to consider if you’re thinking of buying it for the kids.
Being a Transformers title, combat plays a major role in gameplay, with both the controls and mechanics largely unchanged from the previous title. Defeated enemies drop precious Energon, which can be collected and used to upgrade your skills. The D pad controls movement whilst in humanoid, vehicle and jet mode; the touch screen allows you to switch between weapons and to scan new ones; the shoulder buttons are for locking on and switching between targets; while the other buttons are assigned to jumping, transforming, attacking and interacting with objects. In the heat of battle it can be tricky fiddling with the touch screen whilst trying to dodge incoming fire - a minor nuisance but one worth mentioning. The camera angle shifts automatically to match your movement, and for the most part this works well. However there were times – usually during combat – when the camera was both unpredictable and unreliable.
Like its predecessor the game features a wireless multiplayer deathmatch option, which pits your Transformer against up to three others across both versions (Autobots or Decepticons). This is where all the weapons you found in the main game and the upgrades you’ve purchased come into play. Head into battle without a tricked out Transformer, and you may as well fall on your own laser sword.
Visually the game looks a lot like the first one, so there's nothing new to report on that front. Environments are devoid of human life and indestructible, which lends a sterile feel to the game. It would have been nice to see some terrified bystanders running for cover while the Transformers' conflict brought buildings crumbling down around their ears (but then, handheld games do have their limitations). The overall look and feel of the characters has been captured quite satisfactorily. In-game dialogue and music is of a decent standard if you’re wearing earphones; a bit scratchy if you’re not.
In summary, if the thought of adding another more Transformers-related merchandise to your collection makes you salivate, you will probably go out and buy both versions of the game… and leave them in mint condition in their wrappers.
If you think Transformers are ‘pretty cool’, loved the movie and enjoy the odd action game or two, you will get your money’s worth from either version.
If your idea of a Transformer is: “uh… something to do with electricity?”, then Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not the game for you. Stick with Solitaire.