For a while, Transformers games were a pretty common sight. Looking back around 13 years ago, we saw the creation of a series of titles to support the Michael Bay movie franchise, then afterward came War for Cybertron, Fall of Cybertron, and Rise of the Dark Spark, all of which were based on the animated series and lore. Then, out of nowhere, nothing. Transformers games simply disappeared from large-scale development, and fans were left with little but a mobile game. At least that was the case until today, when Transformers: Battlegrounds came crawling out of the woodworks, bringing a new style of gameplay for fans to scrap some alien metal in.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this review, I need to mention how this is not a typical Transformers game. This is a title designed for younger audiences, or parents playing with younger individuals, and whilst it does have some features to promote a slightly harder challenge, there is no serious devastation or any mature themes found throughout. Transformers: Battlegrounds is developed by Coatsink and published by Outright Games, meaning it is tailored to younger players and if you expect something different, you are looking in the wrong place.
With that note aside, how does it play you ask? Transformers: Battlegrounds is an strategy that asks you, a human, to guide a team of Autobots through a map, defeating Decepticons along the way. In this game, Megatron and his lackeys have closed in on the All Spark's location, leaving the responsibility of defending the powerful artifact up to you and the Autobots. As the storyline progresses, you will move throughout locations, meeting up with new Autobots along the way, whilst simultaneously taking on dangerous Decepticon leaders in turn-based combat scenarios.
The gameplay mechanics are simple to learn. Unlike a regular strategy title where you are given tons of options to make a move or decision, Transformers: Battlegrounds keeps it basic. You have three charges within a move per character, with those charges being split between attacking and movement. For movement, you can travel a certain distance per charge, meaning there is only so far you can go per turn. Attacking on the other hand can cost different amounts of charges depending on the scale of attack. A basic move can cost only one, whereas a more destructive, powerful ability (usually with status or extra effects such as stunning) could consume all three - whichever you choose, you can only attack once per turn per character.
The playable Autobots are split between three main classes; Scout, Brawler, and Support. Scouts alike Bumblebee have higher mobility and can travel further within a turn, however are generally more susceptible to damage. Brawlers such as Optimus Prime are effectively the tanks, who can handle more punishment and dish out high damage attacks but are slow movers. Supports, for example, Arcee, is the only class capable of healing other Autobots, and whilst they can be effective combatants, they should really be protected above the other team members.
Using the team at your disposal, Transformers: Battlegrounds will often ask you to move through a level packed with enemies, to meet a sort of boss-type encounter where you are required to defeat a variety of Decepticons and the leader, someone like Starscream. To assist you along the way, and to help avoid as much damage as possible, you can manipulate the environment to a degree to create more cover and protect yourself.
Doing this could be anything from moving a car with a knockback ability to a more desirable place, or destroying a pile of sand to create a dust cloud that stops any Cybertronian - both Autobots and Decepticons, from being able to use weapons. Obviously engaging in these styles of gameplay will consume your attack for the round and often put you in danger, so picking the right decision is critical to success.
To expand the gameplay a little further, completing missions (story levels) will reward Energon - a currency that can be spent on upgrades. This mission reward is distributed based on the difficulty of the completed mission, with hard rewarding the most. You can use this acquired Energon to unlock upgrades at Wheeljack's Lab, which is essentially a post-mission sub-menu. Upgrades revolve around unlocking new abilities for specific Autobots or classes in general and can be equipped in the selection screen before you jump into a new mission. Considering how equipped the Autobots usually are, upgrading is pretty irrelevant, however, it does provide an opportunity to try a new style of attack gameplay.
It is worth being aware, Transformers: Battlegrounds is not a push-over. The title can be played over three difficulties, easy, normal, and hard. Being notoriously bad at strategy games, I choose to play on normal, and there were a few occasions where I struggled or failed, and had to reset. For the more experienced strategy fan, this will undoubtedly be a breeze, but even so, for older audiences, Transformers: Battlegrounds can put up one serious fight.
For me, one of the main areas of this title that really caught my attention was its art and sound design, as you can clearly see lots of effort has been put in place to ensure it reflects the animated series younger fans would associate the Transformers brand with. The Cybertronians are colourful, with the same bulky, block-like bodies as their toy counterparts, and the weapons feature the signature sci-fi zaps, not the machine gun noises from the Michael Bay movies.
Looking back, Transformers: Battlegrounds is a game that caught me by surprise. I knew what I was in store for with a game tailored for younger players, but I didn't expect to find a strategy with so much depth. Obviously, this title doesn't feature the same level of content as an X-COM game, but for younger players looking to try a new genre, this provides a great introduction - and it'll even keep parents on their toes too, as it's no walk in the park. It's great to see Transformers videogames back again, and after playing around with Battlegrounds, I can't wait to see what's in store next.
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