I’ll never get tired of watching 30-foot shapeshifters duke it out, metal against metal. Laser fire and propelled grenades work wonders. No matter how mediocre the plots of the live-action Transformers films were, they remain pinnacles of CGI wizardry. And while the animated series and films delivered meaningful story arcs and tight combat, their visuals held them back. For some bizarre reason, this split is just as present in the videogames that have shouldered the iconic franchise.
Movie tie-ins have seldom reached the greatness that the War for Cybertron games handily achieved. But while the latter did have a polished narrative bent to them, I enjoyed the freedom that games like Transformers: The Game and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen granted me. Let’s be real: the latter was a glorified time trial, split into a couple of dozen parts. The level design was a far cry from the stages you’d see in a Hitman game or the shooting galleries of a Call of Duty title.
But the sight of thousands of mechanical parts moving together like clockwork as Bumblebee flips into a Camaro is one I won’t forget.
The magic of CGI-powered films
Back when raytracing was something you could only witness at a theatre, the technical wizards at Industrial Light and Magic spent hours rendering each frame of the films that enchanted your eyeballs. In less than a year, they achieved the impossible. The first Transformers film was nothing if not glorious. And here’s a dive into how they did it.
60,217 vehicle parts.
12.5 million polygons.
14 lethal automatons spurred to life.
There were enough explosions and combat scenes to make even the toughest critic feel like an excited 10-year-old again. This philosophy translated well into the videogame industry, where stepping up your boom is a national pastime. More explosions and special effects = more sales. The move tie-in titles crunched metal and looked good while doing it. But for some reason, the game developers adopted the same barebones approach that had failed the films’ narratives.
Who’s to say that this problem can’t be fixed in the future? With an absurd amount of mythology to lean on, both from an animated film and comic perspective, the prospects remain promising. With narrative woes out of the way, let’s head to the real reason why the Transformers videogames were so popular back in the day. It wasn’t about saving the day or about the tussle between the Autobots and Deceptions. It was all about that sweet sun-kissed chrome shining as you tore through streets and skies.
Of shiny automatons and gritty graphics
The mere thought of a raytraced car on the streets whets my appetite. While the next Forza title would suffice for that, there’s more. Add to that the idea of thousands of lustrous joints and gears assembling into a full-blown automaton and you’ve got a recipe for some jaw-dropping visual encounters. True, even the best of today’s graphics cards aren’t going to go toe-to-toe with the visuals of the films. But exaggerated reflections and vivid explosions can really calm the soul.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a great story as much as the other guy who plays role-playing adventures and strategy games. But when you have to step up your boom, you crank it up to the high twenties if not up to 11. Scaling the skies as Starscream or Jetfire would look incredible. Long Haul’s flamethrower from the second game could really light up the scenery for some gorgeous visuals. The mesmerizing transitions between vehicle and automaton forms would serve as the icing on the cake. A visual spectacle is in order and I hope someone at Activision reads this.
As a franchise known for groundbreaking visuals and memorable special effects, Transformers is the perfect home for raytraced visuals. With the added muscle of cloud-powered game streaming, you might not need to duel with scalpers before getting your hands on some drop-dead gorgeous sights. An open-world Transformers title with destructible environments would be a stretch, even for my imagination. Leveling cities or driving from one roof to another would be pretty sweet. Before you ponder over the possibilities, here’s an image from Battlefield V to really get your brain going.