Transformers: The Movie is a seriously kick-arse film about a hyperactive kid helping out some colossal Japanese robots to cause one billion dollars worth of damage to the city, and in doing so, he also manages to score a goddess of a hot chick. Transformers: Autobots, one half of the official DS games of the movie, does away with all of that nonsense, and instead leaves us stuck in a Grand Theft Auto inspired sandbox… for better or for worse? We’ll soon find out.
Sam Witwicky inherited a pair of spectacles from his late grandfather, and it is this Macguffin of an item that leads the Transformers to hunt him down. But, Sam is missing in action in this game, instead replaced by a new hero-of-the-day: a randomly-inserted Autobot – you.
Yeah, you’re not some weak, pathetic human. You’re a rip-roaring, lean-mean robotic hunk that can transform into virtually any vehicle you set your scanners upon: sportsters, helicopters, SUVs, and even school buses.
The city of Tranquility certainly does not live up to its name. Something is amiss, and with the Decepticon ranks causing a ruckus all over town, you and the gang of Autobot good-guys must find out what they’re after and stop them at all costs. To achieve this, you cruise about the city in your disguised vehicular form, hitting glowing markers at specified locations to initiate the missions that will move the story along. It’s a typical sandbox structure, just like we’ve all seen in Grand Theft Auto, its sequels and its clones.
The missions themselves are a mixed bag of hot-pursuit driving, VIP escorting, satellite-dish wrecking, fetch-the-cars questing, rounded off with a healthy dollop of robot-on-robot bashing. Standard sandbox fare really, but admittedly it is pretty cool driving at full speed, and instead of going “holy ****” when the side of a building looms into view, you transform into robot-dude and vault over it, resuming your casual joyride once again on the other side.
Initially, the variety is picked upon equally, but during the later half, when the story begins to really flesh out, it’s more often than not all about the robot battles. This should be a good thing, right? Unfortunately, all of these battles control worse than a Resident Evil ‘tank’. You lock-on to targets automatically, but as you strafe around or perform evasive jump manoeuvres, the lock will break off all too easily. In the middle of a chaotic firefight, nothing’s worse than losing sight of who you’re shooting at and walking off the top of the building to kiss the concrete down below.
Up-close melee combat avoids this problem, but then the battles boil down to mindless exchanges of robot kung-fu. The combos not only look awfully awkward, but they are broken since you can’t defend against them in any way, and by the fact that the CPU always manages to hit you faster than you can hit back. So it’s back to shooting from afar again, and running the risk of turning your back to an opponent that is relentlessly gunning at you.
When things become too much to handle, it’s nice to know that there are a selection of optional missions to tide you over. These are simple races or destruction quotas to fulfil. Nothing grand, but good for whenever you have a few spare minutes to kill. And they net you some experience points too. A Transformers RPG?! Not quite. Trashing Decepticons will make your Transformer more powerful, unlocking special skills like wall-climbing and the ability to shoot rockets as a vehicle. However, there’s virtually no depth to it. Grinding for levels barely makes a dent in the unfair difficulty (since when did mere bullets faze a titanic coke can?), and you’ll unlock all the powers on a normal run-through regardless of whether or not you partake in any side missions.
Transformers does take advantage of DS WiFi for those that care, but it’s considerably less than meets the eye. On a daily basis, the warring factions (owners of the Autobots or Decepticons versions) will battle for the coveted Allspark. But you don’t actually fight for it in real-time. You are given a challenge mission to complete as many times as you want, and then you upload the results once you’re done. The side that collectively nets the most points on the day is declared the victor, and the participants each receive a bunch of WiFi tokens used to unlock some not-so-special cheats and/or bonus vehicles. Wireless modes, on the other hand, are proper battles for up to four Transformers, but they still suffer from the same battling woes found in solo play. Super Robot Wars this is not.
But at least the sound effects are pretty top-notch with full voice-overs for all the cutscenes. Wow! And you’ve even got the real Optimus Prime speaking for himself too!
If you’re a huge Transformers fan and an even bigger Grand Theft Auto one, take your pick: Autobots or Decepticons, you’ll love them both. It’s definitely a big achievement to pull off a fully 3D sandbox-style game on the DS, but that doesn’t automatically make it a win in everyone’s books. Compared to other home console sandboxes, the lacklustre missions, that become a tad too combat-heavy as you dive further in, are quite laughable. The massive battles that rocked the movie screens look pathetic here with a lock-on system that doesn’t lock-on and some goofy looking robot fisticuffs. And last but not least, the lovely Megan Fox is nowhere to be found. Not bad, but not prime enough.