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Rental night!

Paid another visit to Xtravision today, where I rented Transformers: War for Cybertron, Prince of Egypt, and Space Chimps. The last one was at my father’s choice. He’s got a thing for all things simian.

Just a head’s up – this entry’s gonna be looooong and largely about Transformers. Just a warning for the many folks who don’t give a damn about that little obsession.

 

We watched Space Chimps over dinner last night – mainly because I probably wouldn’t have watched it without an incentive. It’s a very bogstandard CGI kids flick that offers no real surprises. A space rover is lost in a wormhole and lands on an inhabited planet, where some jerkass alien uses it to enslave the entire civilisation, and to get the rover back, three chimps are sent into space. Attempts at morals and weak humour ensues.

While there are probably worse kids’ flicks out there, Space Chimps just lies in the very, very, very broad category of “mediocre”. The animation is decent, but the character designs felt lacking, as if they weren’t cartoony enough. Often the vocal performances (the only notable actor is Jeff Daniels as the evil alien and Joe from Family Guy as Titan, the best character in the movie) would be enthusiastic and entertaining, but the character designs just wouldn’t have the flexibility to suit it. One thing I couldn’t help but notice was how all the mouths were very small. Admittedly on a realistic human they would be about right, but on mildly stylised cartoon characters they just felt limiting.

It only cost me a pound and a little over an hour of my life, so it’s not as bad as it could’ve been, but it’s the kind of film that goes in one ear and comes out the other.

 

I sunk about three days into Transformers: War For Cybertron, finishing the single-player campaign on Easy, dropping an hour or two into the deathmatch mode, and tried a couple of chapters on online co-op.
It takes a little while to get into, mostly because the first chapter of the campaign mode just isn’t very interesting. I don’t know if you need to complete it first before you can access the chapter select, but the first Autobot mission makes for a much more appealing start to the game – it introduces you to all the basic commands in a non-obtrusive manner, the three characters are all pleasantly different, and it’s simply a more exciting mission. The later chapters include more exciting setpieces, such as scurrying through Cybertronian highways while the humongous Omega Supreme constantly intercepts your group; riding space slugs through the core of the planet; and exploring the dark, dank, yet beautiful catacombs of their homeworld… but the Decepticons’ first chapter is just slogging through room to room and blowing up waves of dudes slowly.
The controls are pretty functional; the robots are a lot less heavy than the PS2 game, so naturally you spend less time struggling under your own weight, and they’re not more manoeuvrable, gaining such luxuries as a double jump and the ability to dash. The vehicles are probably closer to the Ghost in Halo 2 than the PS2 game; regular movement is floaty and multi-directional, while holding the L Trigger makes them accelerate and become slightly closer to traditional vehicle controls. The controls are a bit sensitive with the faster vehicles, and quite often I’ve fallen off the level because it turns sharper than I expected, but in the end it works out well. I lament the loss of the realism in comparison to the PS2 game, but I welcome the fact that you’re not a sitting duck – all vehicles have mounted weapons with their own separate ammo count.
Yes, for some criminally stupid reason, all guns have ammunition. The PS2 game used a charge-based / overheat based system, which did the job just fine – you could use the weapons to your heart’s desire, but it stopped you from just spamming them endless in a hail of terror. Mind you, the PS2 game only let you change your weapon outside of the level, so if you came equipped with something totally ill-suited to the mission, you had no choice but to beat feet back to an exit teleporter. War For Cybertron just has weapons and ammo crates lying around; a more traditional method, though the fact ammo exists at all just feels unnecessary. It doesn’t help that none of the guns seem to have a high enough ammo capacity, and all too often you burn through it quickly and literally have no options but to club everyone to death. When you spend the first half of the game’s first chapter going totally ammo-less with very, very few ammo crates to refill, it doesn’t cast a promising first impression.
There’s a nice variety of guns and every character has a built-in melee weapon, though there’s no real surprises. One thing I loved about the PS2 game was the variety – yes, there were stinkers, and yes, there were some that were useless from a serious winning-the-game perspective, but being able to pick up dudes with a tractor beam and throw them off cliffs, watching them tumble down like ragdolls before exploding… it’s a mesmerizing experience.
War For Cybertron is explicitly linear, and revolves entirely around combat, which is in stark contrast to the PS2 game. Yeah, it had combat (challenging combat!), but the real heart and soul of the game lay in the humongous maps you could explore, and all the various trinkets and Mini-Cons you were rewarded with for snooping around. It helped that the environments, although a bit samey, were vast, lush and beautiful, and with the glider Mini-Con there were great incentive to just diverse from the missions and fly over the jungle surrounding you.
WFC is set entirely on Cybertron, and the artists involved really put their all into making it look varied, distinctive and captivating. Okay, a lot of it is just grey with some coloured highlights, but the architecture and general look of the city is awesome. The levels are vast with an awe-inspiring sense of scale to them, and the chapters set in the cities (the Autobots’ first chapter being a prime example) are really, really nice looking – I found myself just stopping in the middle of a highway to view the sights around me. I wish the colour palette was a bit sharper and wasn’t so dulled down, but it really does good at bringing an alien planet to life. The problem lies in how the game is just so linear. It’s not like Sonic Heroes where it’s literally a straight path to the end; the levels do have a realistic flow to them, but there’s just no chance to explore on your own initiative. Either you’re walled in to a set path with force fields blocking all extraneous paths, or you’re floating above a giant bottomless pit. It’s repressing.
Like Batman: Arkham Asylum, the real challenge lies in how you’ll take care of an increasing number of strong foes in environments that become less and less suitable for combat, so when they throw a predictable pattern-driven boss at you, it’s just a total bore. The bosses in the PS2 game were a mixed bag, but one thing I truly admired was how it gave the real sensation of fighting another transformer. They didn’t hide behind force fields or gimmicky weapons, they just faced you the way they were best fit. The battle against Cyclonus is my favourite fight in the game – a ground-based Autobot versus a missile-toting, helicopter-mode Decepticon in the dense jungle is just a fantastic fight, as you need to balance evasive action and return fire properly to beat him – too much of one over the other and he’ll either fill you full of missiles or swing you into a wall.

War For Cybertron is just gimmicky pattern-based bollocks that runs by ye olde three-chances-to-shoot-them-and-then-they’re-dead method of defeat. Arguably you fight Starscream mano-el-mano, but it’s just a boring fight because he flies outside the room for the first half of the fight, and you do face down Omega Supreme and Trypticon yourself, but given the fact they’re several stories tall, it’s not the same as getting a real challenge out of facing someone your own size. Admittedly the boss fights do make great set pieces for the levels – fighting a giant robot worm-spider piercing the core of Cybertron while it spews spiders at you is a real sight, even if it makes for a boring fight. even just shortening the fights would’ve made them a little more bearable.
If the gameplay were superb, I would forgive it. The gameplay’s not bad. As I said, it’s very combat-orientated, and levels can be summed up as strolling from room to room, occasionally getting locked in so you can fight a few waves, and repeating. The combat is fun, mind you, particularly due to how smooth it is to control the characters, and playing as Megatron gives a real sense of uncontrollable power – dudes tumble the air after being hit with his fusion cannon, and mowing down vast armies with only two allies at your side is really fun. For the first few hours, anyway. Then you just kind of wish there was more to do. There’s ten levels in the game, and only two of them allow you to use characters with flight capabilities – and they’re easily the most enjoyable characters to play as. Heck, even if you could take any character into any stage, that could give things a bit of extra replay value. Instead the only true replay value to the single player mode are the three difficulty settings, and the online co-op. I had high hopes for the co-op, as this would be the very first time you could play a Transformers game co-operatively in the main story mode. It’s pretty… meh. Nothing special. It’s online only, so you can’t have two people on the same console, and every time someone dies you’re booted back to the last checkpoint. It’s not even like Halo where the other person stays dead until the current fight is over, and then revives – anyone dies, instant game over for all. Naturally this gets very tiresome in the battle against Zeta Prime, who has instant death crushers in his arena.

Multi-player is clearly where the game’s replay value lies – the game has been out for nearly a year, but it seems to have a reasonably active userbase. Deathmatch was still host to a good few hundred players, a healthy mixture of veterans and newcomers like myself. Heck, even the connection was good – I played at the time of day when my connection is capped badly, but I could still get five full matches in without a single glimpse of lag until I lost connection. Not a bad run! It emphasises the differences between the four classes in combat, all of which have their strengths, weaknesses and style of play. I only had the time to try out the Scouts, though the difference between looked reasonably vivid when watching others in combat. Getting more open environments to utilise the transformations was a definite plus, and it really brings the combat to life so much better than the campaign. My only real beef is how crappy the colour palette was during character creation. Either it’s faded so bad it’s nearly grey, or so bright it sticks out like a cancerous thumb. A broader palette wouldn’t break a camel’s back, folks.

As I mentioned earlier, the art direction of the game, especially in the environments, is pretty great. I’m not too fussed on how all the character designs just look so beefy and bulky, though I do admire how layered they look – components fiddle and move even in the characters’ idle animations, a feature I loved in the live-action films, as it makes the Transformers really look like mechanic organisms rather than big boxes with robo-guts inside. I do just wish the palette wasn’t so “modern video game,” though. There’s enough minor colour variation so you aren’t just looking at an all-grey screen, but even just upping the contrast and making the colours pop out more would help. Then again, that’s me and my love for pastels.
I rented the game mostly because it was the first thing that caught my eye and partly for giggles – I was concerned that I would only play the game for a couple of hours, think it was crap and then only begrudgingly sink more time into it just to get my money’s worth. I’m actually unsure quite what I think – first I was quite keen on buying it, but now that I’ve finished it (and returned it), I think a rental was the best option. There was very little replay value to the single-player mode, and although the multi-player mode looked promising, I feel uneasy buying games strictly for the multi-player. If it had offline co-op, I would have had more incentive, but as it is, I’m not in a rush to pay full whack for it. But talking about the game to my brother over Yahoo! Chat just got me thinking about certain sequences and how enjoyable they were. Then again, if I were to buy it it’d probably end up just sitting on the shelf gathering dust.

Maybe I could just rent it again, that’d make a good halfway point.

 

Oh, and I didn’t even get to watch Prince of Egypt because I didn’t get the time to. Dad watched and said it was “very sing-y.” For all the good stuff I’ve heard about it, I keep forgetting it’s a musical. Shackles that the medium has yet to fully shed.