First, we should get this out of the way: The movie version of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is bad. Awful. Legendarily terrible. Even those who purport to appreciate the popcorn quality of the movie, what with its whizbang effects and its so-dumb-it’s-inconsequential plot, acknowledge that part of its appeal actually lies in how unabashedly lousy it is.
Given the reputation of the movie then, expectations and hopes for the video game could go in one or two directions. On the one hand, you could hope for the game to ignore the plot of the movie and completely surpass it in terms of quality; on the other hand, you could hope for an experience that’s just as hilariously bad as the movie, something so awful that you’ll be talking about it for days.
Of course, what you get is something in the middle.
What Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen actually is, is the ultimate Michael Bay game. There is a plot here, more or less, but you’ll hardly notice the plot as you take the shape of one of a set group of Autobots or Decepticons and wreak about as much havoc on your enemies as you’ve ever seen any over-the-shoulder third-person-shooter wreak. You want to use stealth? Stealth is for pansies, apparently. Every mission is scored based on the amount of time it takes the player to beat it, and if you stop to hide for a second — a second! — your chances of scoring the elusive platinum medal are pretty much nil. So what do you do? Plow ahead, racing your way to various goals, blowing away any of the enemies in your way.
In a way, it’s almost refreshing. This is gaming distilled down to the basics of what makes playing such a thrill. There are few distractions, almost no indication that this game had anything to do with a movie, no plot, and you can choose your missions almost at random as they are unlocked by your play to any given point. This is gaming that puts you at the controls of a giant robot and tells you to blow stuff up. What’s not to like about that?
Well, for one, also like a Michael Bay movie, the video game version of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen tries to do too much. There’s a multiplayer aspect to the game that actually adds capture the flag and deathmatch (with a couple of variations) modes to the game, which is something of a surprise for a licensed product like this — typically, licensed games don’t garner enough devotion to inspire a community of players who would be interested in playing multiplayer. One of the problems here is that Transformers is no exception. If you even get into a multiplayer match, it’s often against the same old people that you’ve already played, and there tends to be very little opportunity for variation in the multiplayer matches because of the very small playing community.
The single-player game, however, leaves a lot to be desired, but there is motivation, actually, for playing it: the unlockables. Unlockable content in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is fantastic, particularly if you’re a fan of the old cartoon, of which actual full episodes are unlockable. Other unlockables involve being able to play as any available transformer on certain levels, or you could unlock some concept art which is always exciting, but come on! Original episodes! The Dinobots for pete’s sake! This inclusion was a very, very smart move on the part of Luxoflux.
The other, less exciting thing that Luxoflux tried to incorporate here in the single-player is a sort of AI for the allies in the game that can either help the player during a mission or offer feedback for how the player is doing on any given mission. Did you escape a mission by the skin of your teeth? Optimus Prime and Ironhide will tell you just how awful you did. And no, they really don’t help all that much during the missions, unless of course part of your mission is to rescue one of them in the first place.
But again, to expect anything approaching true A.I. in a Michael Bay-style game is asking an awful lot, given how absent the “I” half of that equation is in a typical Bay movie. The truth is, as long as you’re not expecting “art,” as long as you’re not expecting a cohesive narrative, and as long as you’re not expecting anything beyond a rushed video game experience (and parse that statement any way you like), you may actually have fun with it. There have certainly been worse games based on movies made in this generation, and one could actually find plenty of reasons to like a game that doesn’t get bogged down in trying to force you to do anything other than blow things up and blow them up quickly.
Truly, if Bay were to play this game, he would be thrilled.