XCom style game play set in the Transformers universe – the perfect combination, right? Well, sort of. The license for Transformers has been hit and miss over the years with games like Transformers War for Cybertron gaining a devoted audience while others have faded into licensed game hell. Battlegrounds aims to hit the highs of War for Cybertron while bringing it to a new audience. And in theory the variety of robots in terms of skills and personalities lends itself to the squad based tactical genre, but the execution is just as important as the parts that make up the game.
ds takes its cue from the modern cartoons and features a detailed and cartoony art style and character design. The game is bright and designed to appeal to the kids watching the cartoons. Now this is not that surprising because while the G1 designs from the 80s as well as the cartoon design aesthetic may have been slightly more realistic it was still a cartoon for kids. It may be older fans reminiscing and collecting the toys these days, but the property is still designed to appeal to kids. We have even seen that when a show is designed to be more adult and appeal to the older fans it doesn’t always resonate. Getting through the six episodes of the new Netflix series is proving to be a chore. Thank goodness though, the awful metal splintered designs of the Bayhem films has been ignored.
The story, such as it is, is standard stuff. Decepticons are seeking the All Spark and the Autobots are determined to protect it, the Earth, and the Earth’s inhabitants. Do not expect anything ground-breaking or new because this works and has worked for close on forty years.
Mechanically the game takes the simple route and focuses solely on the combat of XCom. This is a tack taken most recently by the excellent Gears Tactics, simplify the game play for the player and remove the base building metagame – all killer and no filler in theory. Sadly, this is where this game falls over a bit. The combat is mostly a simple affair of movement and attack with players restrained by the Action Point system. You start with three per turn allowing you to attack or move with each action using one, two or three points. The problem here is, is if you are in a position where you want to attack and then move or do two attacks on two different enemies without moving you cannot. You only get one attack and one movement per turn. Now this is not new to genre, other games have limited players in this way, but given how simple the game mechanics and tactics are you do feel a bit cheated when you do not have more flexibility in your actions.
Ending a turn with unspent points is mitigated a bit by the Ultimate attack meter represented by Energon that can build up between turns. Allowing this to build to 50% or 100% unlocks an Ultimate attack that does not use action points allowing you to do a standard attack, move and the perform and Ultimate that can devastate the enemies. Managing these two battle resources is not difficult and is not a challenge but does add some variety to the game.
Besides the Ultimate each character has a standard attack as well as character specific special attacks that can inflict major damage as well as status effects on the enemies. This adds a bit of variety to the game mechanics. Sadly, this variety does not extend to the enemies you face. With hundreds if not thousands of named Decepticons in the canon, you will sadly be met mainly by generic enemies such as Scouts and Brawlers during the stages with a mini-boss battle against one or two named Decepticons right at the end of the level. A baffling decision that ensures that the battle tactics are never challenging or fresh until you reach the boss near the end of the stage who can throw new attacks and tactics at the player.
This lack of variety extends to the level design which is invariably some generic suburban/city scape with houses and cars to provide cover. The cars add a little bit of spice as they can be targeted and if destroyed explode to do extra damage to enemies caught in the blast. Environment destructibility is also lacking, though to be fair not much in XCom can be destroyed beyond windows and some bits of cover. Generally, cover is indestructible so all you need do is ensure you do not get flanked to survive the level.
Transformers Battlegrounds is a bright, cartoony game with a simple story and simple mechanics and is based on designs that appeal to kids more than the G1 fan. And that is the clue to whom the game is targeted at or at least best suited for. This is a game that will be a near perfect introduction to strategy gaming for a young gamer. The turn-based mechanics do not rely on reaction time and the bright cartoon design aesthetic will appeal to children. If you have kids just getting into gaming and share a love of Transformers this may be the perfect game to spend some quality time together with. It is easy to pick up and understand and may just create a gaming bond to last you through the years as your child’s tastes mature.
Transformers Battlegrounds is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X and Series S.
This review is based off the PC version of the game which can be purchased here for £34.99.
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