Transformers Transforming Into Not-Rubbish?

By Alec Meer on December 9th, 2009 at 7:40 pm.

Not from the game. I'm too fraidycat to post scanned screens.

As Jim brain-farted last week, something has to follow/replace the current zombie trend, as its time basking in the golden light of zeitgeist can’t last forever. Giant robots seem a pretty good bet: a nerd-loved science-fictional touchstone that’s lately found traction amongst the streamiest of mainstream. That is, of course, due in large part to Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. The problem is 1) those movies are pretty bad and 2) their associated games have been really bad. But what happens when there’s a giant, shape-changing robot game, starring Mr O. Prime and chums, that isn’t churned out in a matter of months to coincide with a beyond-mindless movie? In other words – would it be totally stupid to start hoping that the newly-announced Transformers: The War For Cybertron could do for big robots what Arkham Asylum did for superheroes? A superb* Transformers game is the right of all sentient beings, after all.

Alas, information on The War For Cybertron is limited to summaries and scans from the most recent Game Informer – which I won’t link directly to here, because it’s naughty, but a cursory browse of the strange but enthusiastic world of TF fansites will yield ‘em.

Key points, though:

- visually, it’s much more Generation One (i.e. the blocky, colourful character designs of the 1980s toys and cartoon. Oh, and of the comics that effectively taught your humble correspondent how to reed and rite) than the spiky indistinguish-o-bots of the Bay movies. Set in a continuity of its own, it features bespoke Cybertronian- rather than Earth-mode versions of the Autobots and Decepticons, but as you’ll see if you find the scans, they’re very much designed to evoke the G1 toys. The Soundwave design in particular pleases me greatly. And the fact I currently have three different Soundwave toys bluetacked to the top of my monitor has absolutely nothing to do with that. Also so far confirmed as appearing are Ironhide, Megatron, Blitzwing and Obvious Prime.
- it’s a Gears of Warian viewpoint, with the inclusion of AI-controlled fellow bot-soldiers no doubt reinforcing that comparison. Hopefully the need/ability to transform into cars and planes means Optimus Prime won’t spend his time hiding behind small walls and crying about Elita-1 being dead, however.
- Robots come in both ground and air varieties, and you can play as Autocon or Deceptibot, and there’ll be some sort of online mode.
- PC! And 360/PS3, but whatevs.

Pick up the impending new issue of Game Informer for a full feature that isn’t my summary of someone else’s summary of someone else’s write-up of someone else’s marketing, and thus will be replete with far more details and insight than that.

Given Activision’s unseemly treatment of Transformers so far, there’s every chance this’ll be a load of knob with poo on top – but the fact it’s not hung around a movie release date (let alone a movie that’s mostly about Shia Lething shouting) gives me hope. It’s a concept and – kill me, kill me now – a brand with a frightening amount of gaming potential. So long as Activision are willing to pour money and talent into it, there’s no reason it couldn’t work. Troublingly, the developer is High Noon Studios, who’ve previously been responsible for the limpid Bourne Conspiracy game and something called Darkwatch. Obviously, I don’t use Metacritic to inform my opinions, but if I did it’d probably tell me the latter seems to have been resoundingly hailed “okay.” Probably. Then again, there are plenty of devs who’ve turned things around once they’ve reached a certain point – look at Traveller’s Tales and their Lego games. Unjointed plastic fingers crossed. Or at least they would be if they hadn’t been moulded into a clenched fist shape.

* Yes, I know the PS2 one was pretty good. But PS2! And Armada!

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72 Comments »

  1. Bobsy says:

    If there aren’t any racist robots I’m not playing.

    Or robots that have sex with your leg. These things are super-important.

    • Lim-Dul says:

      I certainly want GIANT ROBOT BALLS in the game – no game movie or toy for that matter would be complete without them.

  2. SirKicksalot says:

    The Goddamn Batman’s devs made a single “okay” game before too.

    I liked the first movie, it had a certain charm. The second one was a disaster.

    • Bobsy says:

      I liken Revenge of the Fallen to having really, REALLY rough sex. It’s exhilerating in parts, but before long it starts to hurt. And it’s not suitable for kids to witness.

    • malkav11 says:

      If you could find scenes in Transformers 2 worth watching, you have a much stronger stomach than I do.

    • Bobsy says:

      Oh sure. The opening sequence was mostly inoffensive, even if it ought to have been the sort of thing the film was building to instead of from. Marysuimus Prime got to die, which is always entertaining to watch, and… er… well I’m sure more will come to me.

    • SirKicksalot says:

      Well, I liked the opening and the underwater scene. My favourite was the scene with the baby transformer, the design and the colour scheme were fascinating

      BUT THEN I SAW TURTURRO’S ARSE.

    • TCM says:

      Things I remember about Transformers 2:

      There was a boring plot, some human characters doing things.

      There were giant robots I could not tell apart, but god they fought awesomely.

      EXPLOSIONS FRIG YEAH

    • Nick says:

      EXPLOSIONS FRIG YEAH is, I believe, the original screenplay of Transformers 2.

    • malkav11 says:

      I thought any and all potential the action sequences in Transformers 2 had was squandered by a) quick cuts and similar poor editing reducing everything to an indistinguishable mishmash of things caught out of the corner of one’s eye, and b) mostly ignoring the actually interesting things in favor of focusing on Shia TheBeef. Well, okay, and Megan Fox, who I will admit is worth focusing on. But you can see her in better movies.

  3. Larington says:

    Hate to say it, but I suspect but of the reason why transformers games don’t do so well is that the concept doesn’t adapt especially easily to computer game format. Its not undoable, but getting it right isn’t exactly straightforward.

    In anycase, its a new mechwarrior I want to see the most, hopefully that reboot attempt has a publisher, etc. etc. and is on the way.

    • Optimaximal says:

      I’d say its one of the easiest formats to adapt… The problem is people seem to focus more on the gimmicks than the good vs bad fight and the character development.

      Seriously, go read Infiltration, Escalation or Devastation (but avoid Revelation & All Hail Megatron if you can help it).

    • Dominic White says:

      The one good Transformers game so far (aformentioned Armada-based one on the PS2, although the developers took a hatchet to the setting and turned it into G1 without any humans, which was great) was almost completely free of gimmickry. It was just a weighty shooter with big open levels where you could turn into a car and run decepticons over.

      And that simplicity WORKED. They built a funky powerup system around it, but the core gameplay was simply running around big open sandbox levels, blowing up badguys and then turning into a car/truck and crushing some more badguys.

      Why oh why couldn’t they give those guys the lisence again? They’re the only people who seem to have a clue!

  4. malkav11 says:

    I was very disappointed with how terrible the Transformers games were, given that Traveller’s Tales has produced such brilliant Lego games. So pedigree in this instance may not be everything.

  5. Bowl of Snakes says:

    While talking about the Transformers 2 movie, make sure you’ve read the io9 review: “Michael Bay used a squillion dollars and a hundred supercomputers’ worth of CG for a brilliant art movie about the illusory nature of plot.”:
    http://io9.com/5301898/michael-bay-finally-made-an-art-movie

    • Tunips says:

      I read that before I got around to seeing the film. With that context, I was thoroughly entertained.

  6. Vinraith says:

    The only positive thing I can foresee about a big robots trend is that it might resuscitate Battletech, one of the few sources of properly lumbering, stompy giant robots out there.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      This, please. Fifteen minutes ago, preferably.

      Failing that, I’ll settle for the immediate release of Living Legends and surprise port to an engine that doesn’t suck.

    • TCM says:

      Man, robots do not have to be stompy to be cool.

      I’m a huge fan of battletech/mechwarrior, and other ‘realistic’ stuff, but I’m just as much a fan of more fantastic Real Robots seen in many animes (Gundam, etc.), and the pure cheesy goodness of Super Robots (Mazinger, etc.).

    • Dominic White says:

      While I really dig the original Battletech tabletop game (little-known fact – there’s several pseudo-MMO persistent online spinoffs that nobody ever hears about), I never really understood the appeal of the PC games. They’re basically tank sims dressed up as giant robots, but there’s none of the advantages of piloting something bipedal with limbs. You just walk in circles slowly around a guy, firing now and then.

      In the boardgame, there’s rules for melee, picking up stuff to use as clubs, kicking, a whole combat phase dedicated to brawling that you can do WHILE shooting. There’s jumping and climbing and generally acting like you’re driving a giant robot, rather than a particularly ugly and blocky tank with superfluous limbs.

    • Vinraith says:

      @TCM

      Speedy weightless giant robots do nothing for me, as they have no sense of scale. We’ll have to agree to disagree, I think.

      @Dominic

      Which is why, while hoping for a Btech revival, I’ll also hope for a game that properly implements all the board game rules.

    • Dominic White says:

      Speedy and weightless? You’ve clearly never seen any (original-universe) Gundam or Mazinger. That stuff is as heavyweight as anything Battletech has put out.

      Hell, my favourite Super Robot is Big O, which is an awesome 1950s style art-deco titan with all the mobility and grace of a battleship.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Dominic

      Then those aren’t what I’m talking about. TCM stated that big robots didn’t have to be stompy to be cool in his opinion, I respectfully disagreed.

    • Dominic White says:

      Where do you draw the line at ’stompy’ though? I’d class the Heavy Gear games as being much more lightweight and agile than anything in Mechwarrior, but they’re still pretty close in spirit.

      It’s a rather daft line to draw in the sand, really. I mean, we think of Transformers as fairly agile, and yet the movement and combat were heavier and more chunky in the PS2 Armada game than in the Mechassault series.

      Can’t we just agree that giant robots in general are awesome?

    • Vinraith says:

      @Dominic

      It seems to me your disagreement is with TCM, who posited that said robots were not “stompy.” I can’t watch more than 5 minutes of anime without being compulsively forced to change the channel or leave the room, so I really wouldn’t know. I would say any giant robot that has a sense of mass and scale appropriate to being giant is awesome, and any supposedly giant robot that doesn’t have those things doesn’t seem giant to me. I suppose that means I can agree that yes, any properly giant robot is indeed awesome. :)

    • TCM says:

      Gundam can be stompy, yeah, but they also fly and zip about, especially in more modern incarnations. Zone of the Enders is probably the least stompy thing I like (landing in general is superfluous to Orbital Frames)

      Supers can go either way. Some, like Big O, are amazingly huge and weighty, not to mention slightly improbable. Others, like the newer Gaiking series (LoDM) are basically flying about and exploding things, with some highpowered crashes to the ground.

    • TCM says:

      There’s also the fact that Gundam tends to take place mostly in outer space, where only battleships and people exist for scale. The Earth and Space Colony stuff is much more ‘stompy’.

      I do think you’d enjoy the original Gundam, Vin, if you’d give it a few episode’s chance. Animation is dated quite a bit, but storyline’s pretty strong.

  7. Junch says:

    The Michael Bay movies weren’t that bad. They achieved their goal of being spectacles to be watched without the need for a brain. All that metal on metal porn was just epic.

    • mejobloggs says:

      Smash Bang Crunch Whack Kablooie!

    • malkav11 says:

      The first one wasn’t that bad. The second one took a look at what worked in the first one and carefully avoided repeating any of it.

    • Spacewalk says:

      The last ten-or-so minutes of the first film should have been the entire film, then we wouldn’t have to have robots whizzing on cops.

    • NegativeZero says:

      The problem is that they weren’t transformers films. They were overproduced hollywood blockbuster giant CG monster films where the aforementioned monsters being robots that transform into vehicles. They then stretched a very week transformers veneer over the top in order to try and gain some extra marketability by attaching the film to a well-known brand.

  8. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    80% of my attraction to Transformers is purely childhood sentiment. The rest is.. robots! From my childhood! Um. Make that 100%. This, however, doesn’t include the warped visions of Michael Bay.

  9. Bobsy says:

    One of the things Transformers has done to me is give me unreasonably high standards when it comes to robots. I’ve seen various other robot-y franchises, your battletechs, your gundams and so on, and they all seem tame and dull in comparison. Oh sure, your giant stompy mecha has a sword and a cape and uses skyscrapers as toothpicks and shoots fire out of its arse, but can it turn into a fucking jet? No? Then why should I even bother?

    I guess this is why, as a child, the only toy I could move on to from Transformers was Lego, because that could effectively turn into anything. When’s the Lego MMO out again?

    • TCM says:

      Macross.

      They can turn into jets and robots seemlessly, in the middle of dogfights, and back again.

      Perhaps better known by the butchered form Robotech outside Japan, which, guess what? Inspired Battletech.

  10. Jason Moyer says:

    A generation one Transformers game would be great if done right. Bringing back Voltron or the Go-Bots wouldn’t make me sad, either.

  11. Railick says:

    Robotech! Those turn into jets and sometimes helicopter like things, does that meet your high standards Bobsy ?:P
    Transformers and Legos were my favorite toys as well. My mother also got me HALF of Voltron but not the other half, WTF I only had two legs and two arms but not the body and head, what is the deal with that? ( I know the body and head was only 1 lion but I consider it half because it is so large compared to the others :P )
    The toys that kids get now a days are rubbish! The new transforms are made of cheep plastic and they transform very easily. When I was little they were made of heavy dangerous metals and it took an older person than me to transform them (But not to old because my parents couldn’t figure it out either, only my older brother could do it!)
    I like toys that can be throw as effective deadly weapons, that way when you’re playing out on the side walk and some crazy dude walks up you can throw your toys at his crotch and run. You can’t do that with a piece of plastic that is totally hollow as well! I’ve had to much coffee to drink me thinks.

    Shadowcat “It hammers at my retinas like an evil woodpecker of pure energy”

    • David says:

      That reminds me of Robotech: Battlecry, a pretty decent action/Flight/thingy game for last-gen consoles. Basically Rogue Squadron with transforming robots.

      Something in that vein but a little more ground-focused would make for a good Transformers game. Or an open-world game where you can use your vehicle mode to blend in.

    • TCM says:

      Little of Column A, little of Column B, I’d say.

    • TCM says:

      Then again, I’m the guy who thinks mechs best exist in SRPG form (Front Mission and Super Robot Wars being prime examples.)

  12. Funky Badger says:

    Transformers games are nothing compared to Zoids. Nothing.

  13. Railick says:

    As far as giant robots and anime go I think Big 0 has the scale correct. Every time those robots steps buildings fall down, just awesome! :)

  14. tom@nullpointer.co.uk says:

    please don’t say ‘brain farted’, i feel a bit ill now

  15. Premium User Badge

    Sagan says:

    Actually the Transformer movies are almost universally considered to be awesome. Outside of the internet, I don’t know a single person who hasn’t liked the first one. Everyone I talked to about this praised it as if it was brilliant. When I mention that I actually didn’t enjoy it, they usually recommend that I watch the second one, as that one is “even better.” From what little I know about it I suspect that I would consider it even worse, but I am very clearly in the minority. I am talking about tens of people I know who liked it, against lonely me who didn’t like it. And considering that the second movie is according to Wikipedia the ninth most successful movie of all time, I guess the kind of crowd who visits RPS is very much in the minority when it comes to assessing movie quality.

    • malkav11 says:

      Well, yeah, a whole ton of people have no particular distinguishment or taste. That doesn’t make them right.

      And, since I’m so relentlessly negative about Transformers (mostly the second movie), let me just say that I am not adverse to a high spectacle, low brain movie or three. I loved 2012 just recently, for example. (Well, loved the bits where various things die, blow up, slide into the ocean, etc.) I’m a big fan of the Crank movies. That new Death Race movie was pretty fun.

      Transformers, and especially Transformers 2, is an example of high spectacle, low brain done incredibly badly.

  16. Miles of the Machination says:

    Transformers aside, I think we should be taking more consideration for GIANT ROBOTS in general. It’s incredibly surprising that more games don’t make use of some kind of lore surround giant robots, and hey, what isn’t cool about firing nuclear warheads from your fingertips? So instead, they capitalise on an opportunity and have the Transformers badge leering at us from the front cover, something that seems like it will immediately drain any remaining credibility from the title regardless of whether it was good or not in light of the general consensus on Revenge of the Fallen.

  17. Kieron Gillen says:

    Someone should bring back Death’s Head.

    KG

    • Adam Whitehead says:

      This would be awesome.

      “He’s out of ammo! Get him!”
      “Skilled warrior out of ammo only when room empty, yes?” (impales enemy with chair leg)

    • Bobsy says:

      But who? Who can be relied on to take on this heavy burden?

    • Simon Jones says:

      Maybe a co-op game in which you play Hook, Line and Sinker?

    • phil says:

      Yes, if only for more exchanges like,

      “I admire your guts Deathshead”
      “You haven’t seen them yet.”

  18. Pappy13 says:

    There were robots in the movie? I just went to see the chick waxing her motorcyle.

  19. Pappy13 says:

    Sagan said:
    When I mention that I actually didn’t enjoy it, they usually recommend that I watch the second one, as that one is “even better.” From what little I know about it I suspect that I would consider it even worse…

    You will. Don’t bother. You’re not alone.
    If you haven’t seen Iron Man though go rent it tonight….like right now….like what are you waiting for?

    I don’t need to “get a life”, I’m a gamer I have lots of lives.

  20. Spacewalk says:

    After the last one I don’t have any hopes for an enjoyable Transformers game PC or console. What we need here in PC land is Armored Core and/or Remote Control Dandy.

  21. Urthman says:

    I can’t imagine how hard it must be to make a boring Transformers game. So many easy possibilities:

    Brawling with other giant robots in a destructible open-world-style city. Shooting with weapons. Throwing regular cars at each other. Combat-racing. Protecting civilians. Killing civilians Carmageddon style when you’re playing the Decepticons. Combining into a super-giant robot to fight the super-giant boss.

    Making an a passably fun game out of any of that kind of stuff is basically a solved problem by now. Hire a few people with real talent and you should be able to make something awesomely fun.

    Give the license to Volition and have them do it with the Red Faction engine.

  22. Nick says:

    What people seem to not understand is that the reason Zombies are so over used in games is because the AI required is “Find target, Move towards target, Do damage”

  23. Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

    So.. I am the only person in the universe that hasn’t forgotten there’s a new Mechwarrior coming out soon?

    Welcome… to the twilight zone.

  24. bill says:

    The first movie was so bad that i haven’t bothered with the second. But i’m amazed how many people loved them both.

    That said, I LOVED the transformers cartoons when i was a kid. I remembered the epic battles on top of dams between optimus and megatron. So i bought the old series on DVD.

    Boy it’s terrible. It’s one huge advert. Optimus is still cool (he is john wayne after all), but everything is centered around that annoying kid and annoying bumblebee. So i guess the movies did manage to totally capture the feel of the cartoons. They just didn’t capture any of the awesome things I remembered about the cartoons.

    I think the problem with giant robot games is that it’s hard to convey the feeling. Transformers wouldn’t work in first person, but as a 3rd person game it effectively becomes like any other 3rd person game. They aren’t robots, they’re people who look like robots. The only way to make them feel like giant robots seems to be to make the controls clunky.

    What is needed is a trick like SHOGO. Where you switch between being the giant robot, and being a tiny footsoldiere whith these huge robots towering over you. Though shogo didn’t really have the tech to pull that off properly.

    PS/ I know I’m probably weird, but the games I dreamed of when I was younger:
    Follow ups to Tie Fighter called Snowspeeder, and AT-AT.

  25. phil says:

    Transformers on the PS2 seemed to get it, though probably my favourite off licence Transformers game was Battle Engine Aquila, it was sort of like Dynasty Warriors but with motorised divisions.

  26. Calabi says:

    Glad to see the devs recognise the trash design of the movies. They looked like someone had sneezed and put the resultant mess together. How anyone can say they look good is beyond me, perhaps this new generation sees them something like a kaliedoscope, it looks perfect to their already chaotic minds.

    Anyway we can hope for this new game.

  27. seras says:

    the reason zombie games can be made in such numbers is that no one owns the right to zombies, they’re universal IP anyone can play around with.

    Transformers are copyrighted which means any game based on them would waste most of it’s budget upfront on getting the license.

    same for mechs in general…a zombie is just a disfigured human..anyone can do any amount of them, a giant robot has a style/design which gets copyrighted by whoever makes it first.

  28. Martyn says:

    I believe Paul Cornell brought back Death’s Head in the last issue of Captain Britain and MI-13.

    Well, Death’s Head 2.0, but whatevs.

    Yeah, I would have preferred Target 2006 Death’s Head too.

  29. Urthman says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    I think the problem with giant robot games is that it’s hard to convey the feeling. Transformers wouldn’t work in first person, but as a 3rd person game it effectively becomes like any other 3rd person game. They aren’t robots, they’re people who look like robots. The only way to make them feel like giant robots seems to be to make the controls clunky.

    What is needed is a trick like SHOGO. Where you switch between being the giant robot, and being a tiny footsoldiere whith these huge robots towering over you. Though shogo didn’t really have the tech to pull that off properly.

    I think there are probably ways to do it.

    1. Set it in cities and other places with lots of human-scale stuff for comparison.
    2. Have humans running around that must be protected/killed depending on the side you play.
    3. Begin levels with cutscenes from a human POV and have the camera dramatically move so you’re now controlling that giant robot that you saw striding over head.
    4. Have the vehicle form use a camera that feels like a normal driving game.
    5. Destructible environments. Ability to pick up and throw cars at other robots.

  30. Urthman says:

    Sorry, that was the forum auto-attributer calling you a coward, bill, not me.

  31. Railick says:

    I think the best way for them to convey the feeling of giant robots would be to make the main character a human (such as the main character from the movies or one of the children from the origonal cartoon) They had plenty to do in the cartoon and even more of a effect in the movie :P I think I’d be kind of fun to be a solider from the first movie with the task of defeating giant robots it’d be kind of like SotC with guns ;)

    There is nothing to indicate that autobots should be clunky in any way, they are used to their form since they are living beings they should be able to move as agile as a human being or more so with their increased reflexs and brain power, making them clunky to convey their size would be a bad move IMO and it would be better to convey size with their surroundings like Urthman indicated. Show human sized buildings and humans running about, have their buildings shake and tubmle if you’re to violent and have the ground crack, the street break, ect.

  32. Straximus says:

    While we’re reminiscing on classic TF comic characters we’d like revived, I’d like to throw in with Circuit Breaker. Awesome powers, very deadly, slightly crazy, and even a little hot.

  33. pepper says:

    Not really fair, this could also apply to a RTS, or basicly any enemy game in which they need to kill you. I mean, you just totally disregarded pathfinding, target selection, and a whole lot of other routines that exist.

    I recommend reading Artificial Intelligence: A modern Approach, it should give you a good view on what is needed.

  34. Adventurous Putty says:

    About Revenge of the Fallen: the one great scene in that movie was “GIVE ME YOUR FACE”. That was probably worth the ticket in itself…assuming you didn’t fall asleep in the three hours it took to get there.

  35. Lanster says:

    There’s a teaser out on their website now. It looks rather like an rts game.