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Transformers: Decepticons

Score: 73%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 Online
Genre: Action/ Free-Roaming/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Transformers: Decepticons is one of two DS versions of Transformers. With the exception of a few minor changes, both follow similar missions, the only major difference being that you play as Decepticons rather than Autobots - so it is really a matter of which side you want to take in the AllSpark Wars Multiplayer Mode.

At first glance, it is easy to be let down by Transformers, at least for eyes that have become used to seeing current and next-gen visuals. However, when you consider the system, it is staggering how much has been packed into the game.

Vicarious Visions has put together a visually impressive game, especially considering the DS's limited 3D capabilities. Characters are not visually complex, but still more than identifiable and feature transformation animations that are pretty close to the movie's (and other versions of the game). Areas are large and open, something new for the DS. While sparse, the amount of stuff present in the areas, including cars going about their daily lives, other Transformers and Earth authorities - all without any slowdown or choppiness.

Even more impressive than the visuals is the sound. All dialogue is fully-voiced and pretty clear; at least when compared to other DS games. Music is there, though during battle all you hear is random radio chatter, weapon fire and explosions.


Transformers: Decepticons takes a novel approach to its story structure. You play as a newly recruited Decepticon who has just arrived on Earth at the command of Starscream, the de facto leader of the Decepticons in the absence of Megatron. The most impressive aspect of Transformers is that it uses an open-world structure, something that really hasn't been attempted on the DS. The game is split up into five different worlds, with each version featuring a level exclusive to that version. Each world acts as a hub leading to two types of missions: Story and Challenge.

During Story Missions, your player-made Decepticon completes tasks that lead up to events in the movie. You also play as major characters and complete events from the movie. Before the confrontation between Barricade and Bumblebee, your created 'Con's mission is to locate Bumblebee and distract the other Autobots. Next, you take over as Barricade and chase Bumblebee down. It can be a little jarring from a narrative standpoint, though the approach works. You are not simply replaying the movie, but at the same time, you get to play as the characters without having to disrupt too much of the story for gameplay purposes.

Missions typically involve causing as much destruction as possible and increasing your Threat Level, which acts like a Wanted Level in GTA. The more damage you cause, the more attention you bring on yourself. At low levels, you may have the police after you while a high level will call in the Army or Autobots - leading to a few balance issues. Enemies randomly spawn, sometimes to the point where they overwhelm you. With the exception of "named" Autobots, enemies typically don't do much in the way of damage; however it adds up if you hit a massive enemy spawn. Every other shot will also cause you to topple over, giving a few lucky enemies a few cheap shots or sometimes setting up situations where you bounce around between shots.

Challenge Missions come in a variety of types. In one you need to stay alive as long as possible, while another challenges you to accumulate hang time from jumps. Though you do not have to complete these missions to progress through the game, they do help you earn extra experience points.

Though the Decepticon and Autobot versions feature roughly the same gameplay, which version you choose matters in Multiplayer. For starters, it helps to determine whether you can play Cooperatively or Competitively with another player via local WiFi. Match types include Deathmatch and a Capture the Flag variant called AllSpark Olympics. Also available is an online mode called Battle for the AllSpark. After completing missions, your stats are uploaded to a server where they are added to other player's stats. Every month or so, the scores are tallied and displayed on the game's website which will show which side is winning.


Balance, balance, balance - the ONLY thing keeping Transformers: Decepticons from being a great title. Mission difficulty will spike without reason, due in large part to balance issues and questionable design decisions. While it is not impossible to get through tougher parts, most of the time victory only comes with a little luck.

The first and most problematic is enemy spawns. Enemies will randomly appear out of nowhere and overwhelm you with firepower. Health power-ups are in good supply, but in some areas they are as useful as the goggles - "Zey do nossing!!"

Sometimes enemy spawns will even interfere with mission objections. In one of the Qatar missions, Blackout needs to scan a building in a set amount of time while fighting off enemies. Normal logic would tell you to destroy all of the enemies in the area before scanning, only enemies never stop spawning in the area, making it next to impossible to get a scan.

Boss battles also present some balance issues. Staying true to one the few consistencies among the various cartoons, weapons do very little damage against other Transformers (at least, A.I. controlled ones; they'll do normal damage to you); so while you have heavy weapons, boss fights are primarily melee affairs. Bosses do nearly double the damage you can with hits, putting you at a disadvantage in some fights. Granted, you will sometimes unlock health boosts during a fight but, again, sometimes they feel like a Band-Aid for a gunshot wound.

Game Mechanics:

Though balance is something Transformers: Decepticons struggles to find, the controls could also use refinement. The control setup itself is not too bad, though some of the button placements are a bit awkward. For instance, while driving, (B) is the gas which usually means (A) is brake - only in Transformers, you brake with the Left shoulder button. While in vehicle form, you can shoot with (Y), though I couldn't help but think that it would be better on the Right shoulder button. Though the placements are odd, they still work and keep some consistency among the various vehicle and robot forms you take over the course of the game.

The touch screen serves two functions. The most basic is the Decepticon symbol that lets you transform. Another icon is a target reticule in the upper-right corner that allows you to scan objects. Throughout the game, you can scan various vehicles and take their form. Each vehicle brings with it a new vehicle to transform into as well as new base skills for your robot. Although you can scan any vehicles you come across, you can only take the form of a select few. This isn't too much of an issue, though vehicle scans are mostly mission-dependent, taking away from what could be a cool vehicle-collecting mini-game.

At various times, I came across a few response issues with the Scan function. Sometimes it worked fine while at others, it took a few presses to register. Transforming never presented this problem, nor did other DS games that use the touch screen, leading me to believe it is some sort of technical glitch. I also had a few problems when targeting objects to Scan. Either it wouldn't take, or would target a nearby enemy. You can enter a first-person Scanning mode, though you are limited to left and right movement only.

As your created Decepticon progresses through the game, he earns experience points. As he levels up, his stats increase and he learns new abilities. Some, like the different weapon types, are useful while a few others, like climb, aren't of much use. You can also earn extra experience points by completing Challenge Missions or by destroying Autobots or other enemies.

Transformers: Decepticons has everything it needs to not only be a great movie tie-in game, but a good game in general. For the most part, it is and were it not for the inconsistent difficulty spikes and other smaller design decisions, Transformers would easily rank as a must buy for the DS. As it stands, it is probably better suited for Transformers fans since the novelty of making your own Transformer and appeal of the license can overshadow a majority of the problems.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Nintendo DS Transformers: Autobots Sony PlayStation Portable Transformers: The Game

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated