Transformers: Decepticons Review

After so many years of saving princesses, defeating evil and eating your vegetables, it is no doubt that some gamers desperately want to play the role of a villain for a change. Sure, being a hero is great, but in every hero's heart beats the soul of someone who, just once or twice, doesn't want to do the right thing and save the day. In the immortal words of Lord Helmet, "Evil always triumphs because good is dumb." Now, thanks to Activision and Vicarious Visions, you'll finally have the chance to unleash your dark side in Transformers: Decepticons for the Nintendo DS.

Unless you've been living on Jupiter in a pitch-black cave with cotton in your ears, you probably already know that Michael Bay, the go-to guy for directing big summer blockbusters, unveiled his cinematic vision of the Transformers over the July 4th holiday weekend. As with most big name films, the Transformers was translated into video game form and released on every gaming platform available. The "big three" consoles all got basically the same game (with minor graphical and/or control changes) while the Nintendo DS got not only one, but two completely different, completely original games starring the exiles of Cybertron. Much like what happened with last month's Spider-Man 3 titles, the DS has received the very best build of the multi-platform Transformers game. So, does the game break the almost always-true stereotype that movie games aren't any good?

As previously stated, the Nintendo DS is home to two separate Transformers games; the Autobots (good guys) version and the Decpticons (bad guys) version. For the purposes of this review, I'll be sticking with the Decepticons version of the game, which places you squarely in charge of wreaking havoc and crushing those pathetic "goody two shoes" Autobots and their leader, Optimus Prime. The game loosely follows the movie's plot and thankfully leaves out all of the film's human actors in favor of an all-robot cast. Without giving away any major plot points, here is what you're getting yourself into when you take control of your favorite Decepticon. It seems that the Autobots and Decepticons, two warring factions of robots from outer space, are both seeking a powerful object simply called the Allspark. Somewhere along the line, the Allspark found it's way to Earth, which has made our small planet the location of the transforming robots final showdown. In even better news for the evil Decepticons, Megatron, their long lost leader, is also on Earth, just waiting to be set free. No, it isn't Shakespeare, but the story serves its purpose and builds a framework on which to hang all the giant robot action.

Being that the DS is the least powerful of all the major systems on the market, Activision and developer Vicarious Visions have really pulled something spectacular with this game. Transformers: Decepticons is the kind of "sandbox" game that people have been waiting for. In the most popular "sandbox" title, the Grand Theft Auto series, players are given control of a racial stereotype and have the ability to steal cars and shoot people in an urban cityscape. Yawn. In Transformers: Decepticons, you have four full stages to smash your way through and the ability to become any car or vehicle you can imagine. On top of that, your Decepticon can climb any building it comes across, leap from rooftop to rooftop, and square off with against robots with either long range weapons, acquired weapons (think trees, cars, telephone poles etc.) or simple fisticuffs. If you can imagine it, it is entirely within the realm of possibility. Whether you choose to follow the game's story, which is told through a series of missions, or elect to simply spend the afternoon driving the police nuts by raising and lowering your "wanted" level (a gauge measuring how vigorously the authorities pursue you; smash stuff to raise the level, behave and the cops will leave you alone), there is a lot of sadistic fun to be had with the game. Being that you're playing as a bad guy, you'll probably want to break as much stuff as possible, if only just to live up to your name.

Not only is the game a blast to play, but it looks and sounds great, too. The environments you'll be tearing apart are somewhat populated; you won't see a single human on foot but there are plenty of cars on the roads and everything except major buildings looks realistically destructible. Even when you jump and land, your Decepticon will leave a circle of shattered concrete in his wake. There are a few issues with pop up and the sometime odd ability to fall through buildings or disappear completely from the screen, but it is easy to see the amount of care that went into making the game look great and these instances are few and far between. The Transformers are all very detailed as well and their shape shifting abilities are a blast to see in action. Leap off a tall building, transform into a helicopter in mid-air and race to the next orgy of destruction - it is all very smooth and looks great. Graphically, you'll be reminded more of late Playstation 1 games than a portable system.

Portable games aren't usually commended for the soundtrack, being that no portable game machine available now has great speakers. If you're like me, you can probably play through an entire DS, GBA or PSP title without ever turning the sound to an audible level. In Transformers: Decepticons, you'll actually want to break out your earphones. All the Decepticons have full, spoken text in the game, as do those pesky Autobots. Most amusingly, though, is the dialogue you'll hear from the various police dispatchers. 911 operators asking what the police code is for a giant robot is among about ten great quotes you'll be treated to. They can get tiresome after a few hours of play, but they are sure to make you smile the first few times. As an added bonus, even your Decepticon allies are unnecessarily nasty to you, which is both appropriate and very funny. Perhaps the best instance is when you are tasked with destroying some property early in the game. After your wanted level is raised and you've taken some damage, your evil mentor will laugh it off and claim he just wanted to see if you had what it takes. My only complaint with the sound is that, like in the movie, the powers that be have chosen to tweak the "transforming" sound we can all hear in the "remember the 80's" portion of our brains. It isn't a terrible misstep, but it will annoy Transformers purists. Also, for some reason I remember Starscream as sounding a bit more like Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe. The developers got Optimus Prime's voice down pat, why skimp on Starscream?