In yet another blow to series canon, Megatron transforms into a shaky camera that always points in the wrong direction.
At first glance, Activision's Transformers game for Wii looks to be a surprisingly polished movie adaptation. The graphics are undeniably nice, with especially detailed character models and very cool transforming animations. Right from the start, you can play as either the Autobots or Decepticons, and each campaign has a good bit of content exclusive from the other. The levels are presented in the "open world" style, so you can run, jump, climb, drive, or fly just about anywhere. The production values are excellent, with unusually slick FMV scenes and faithful voice acting from most of the movie's robot stars, including Optimus Prime. Instead of Hugo Weaving as Megatron, the game has Frank Welker, who provided that voice on the old 80s cartoon. That's like a fanboy's wet dream, not to mention the unlockable "G1" character models for some characters.
Despite the impressive trappings, Transformers is not a very good game. It is presented as a third-person shooter and inherits many of the problems associated with that genre. Most notably, the game camera is a nightmare. As in many other Wii games, the remote's pointer function aims the camera…but in Transformers, there's no button to press when you want the camera to move. It moves constantly. The game is plagued by handheld-style camera bouncing, which is supposed to look cinematic but is incredibly distracting. There is no zoom function, so the viewpoint is locked in way too close to your character, making it difficult to see where you're going. And the camera tilts and rotates if the pointer gets anywhere near the edge of the screen, so you have to vigilantly hold the remote very steady unless you want to be looking up Bumblebee's metal ass. Some fans probably do, but it's certainly not conducive to playing the game. Since the only way to use melee attacks is by gesturing, right-handed players will be waving the remote pointer just to throw a punch…and of course, that means the camera cursor will be sent flying towards the edge of the screen. The remote's minus button acts as a camera reset, and you'll be using it almost constantly. I'm not sure I've ever played a game that required this much camera babysitting. It damn near ruins the game.
What does ruin the game is its unbelievably repetitive combat. All the Transformers have weak and strong cannons with infinite ammo, but these weapons are virtually useless because all but the weakest peon robots have shields that cannot be broken by your shots. That means your only recourse to defeat 90% of the enemies in the game, including bosses, is to get up close and frantically wave the remote or nunchuk for simple melee combos. Any of the main characters from the opposition, appearing in extended boss battles, will take several dozen of these combos before suffering defeat. Most opponents (including bosses) won't even have time to fight back if you just keep wailing away with punches, which is the only thing that works anyway. That means you can expect to spend five or ten minutes of non-stop, mindless waggling to beat a single enemy. The strategy is no different than what you'd use on a drone robot; it just takes a lot longer to execute. The combat is so boring (and exhausting!) that you're sure to be sick of it after just a few missions.
Perhaps just as bad are the "action zones" imposed during many missions. The idea is to keep you from wandering off during a major battle by creating an invisible border around your objective. Cross that border, and you'll have just a few seconds to get back in the zone before the mission is automatically failed. Not only does this cramp the sandbox style of the levels, but it makes even simple tasks incredibly frustrating. Often, the action zone seems arbitrarily defined, as it won't be large enough for hit-and-run or won't give you access to an item you may need to throw. The crazy part is that your enemies are free to roam outside the action zone, leaving you with no choice but to slowly lure them back in just so you can attack without fear of being disqualified! It's terrible, lazy game design that kills any sense of immersion and sucks the fun out of many missions that might otherwise be somewhat interesting.
Since you can freely transform into vehicle mode, and all the vehicles are much faster than lumbering around on foot, the game thoughtfully provides a lot of chase missions. These are usually set up so that you have to fight a boss for a while, then chase him to another part of the level, then fight some more, then chase again, over and over until he is finally dead. Unfortunately, the chase sequences are also quite awful and randomly frustrating. There are often extremely strict time limits to get to the next action zone, and the mini-map doesn't show enough area to plan any sort of efficient route. There are also some continuous chase missions, in which you have to stay within a certain distance of a fleeing enemy. Imagine chasing a helicopter with a semi truck across an entire city. It's stupidly difficult because the helicopter is faster, can go places the truck can't, and doesn't have to worry about complex street layouts or screwy driving controls. After numerous attempts on this particular mission, the only way I finally beat it was by memorizing the helicopter's entire route…and even knowing exactly where it would go, I finished with seconds to spare. This takes place very early in the game and illustrates how the difficulty oscillates violently for no reason. Pathetically easy and wickedly hard missions are thrown together in no particular order; there is no difficulty "curve" at work here. It's more like a difficulty scatter plot.
Transformers should at least be more fun to play between missions, when you have freedom to explore the large (but not GTA-sized) environments. The levels are pretty cool, especially the initial suburbs area, but there just isn't much to do in them. Energon cubes are placed haphazardly around the levels, often in plain sight at ground level, and collecting them isn't worth the effort. The cubes unlock some comic book covers and production stills from the movie. They also activate sub-missions that involve such tedious activities as killing a few dozen drone enemies or going on a scavenger hunt for glowing cogs. Even after completing all the missions in an area, it's a pain to keep exploring for hidden pickups because Optimus or Megatron will recite the same line every minute or two, telling you to proceed to the next mission (which you already beat). Riling up the police isn't much fun either, because there's little consequence for doing so and because you're likely to piss them off anyway in the course of normal gameplay. That's right, you build up the "wanted" level and destruction meter (good for Decepticons, bad for Autobots) just by shooting at and beating up enemy robots. The stupid humans don't seem to care that you are fighting to defend the liberties of all sentient beings.
These complaints apply to both halves of the game, but the Decepticons campaign is considerably better than the Autobots side, for a few reasons. First, the bad guys transform into much cooler vehicles (helicopters, jets, even a giant scorpion), and these forms make it easier and faster to get around the levels. Second, a lot of their missions involve blowing up structures instead of other robots, which means you get to use your blasters for once. Finally, these "destroy everything" missions mean you'll be doing less melee combat, which is the worst part of the game. When you get deeper into the campaign and have to start duking it out with the Autobots, the game's momentum halts immediately.
Transformers is not worth slogging through for the average gamer, as it has few redeeming qualities in the gameplay department. There are a few good ideas sent to die here, and the overall premise of the game is great, but it's all mired in technical problems and awful mission design. Fans of the movie will probably enjoy it for a little while, until they run into the first of several nigh-impossible missions. For them I'd recommend a rental, as the game is not very long and has surprisingly poor replay value. The only people who might want to spend hours and hours collecting cubes are the hardcore Transformers geeks, who will surely appreciate all the unlockable minutiae and alternate character skins. You, with the Rodimus Prime t-shirt… ROLL OUT!