Just days after a new G.I. Joe game, another iconic brand from the 1980s returns with Transformers: Battlegrounds. Developed by Coatsink and published by Outright Games, it’s out now for all major consoles and PCs – we tested the PlayStation 4 version.
It’s been quiet around the franchise since the more recent films bombed at the box office, but we really enjoyed Activision’s videogames that were released at that time. They weren’t direct movie tie-ins, and provided pretty good action adventure gameplay starring all of our favorite Autobots and Decepticons without relying on actors or human characters from their big screen cousins.
Transformers: Battlegrounds takes a very different direction from those games, but pulls it off. The switch to Outright Games as a publisher doesn’t make it a big surprise that the game is geared more towards a younger audience, but the fact that we’re seeing Transformers in a turn-based strategy setting with an isometric point of view certainly did surprise us – perhaps even more so because we knew Outright was going to target that younger audience, which isn’t as familiar with the gameplay genre.
There’s still a story to play through though, and it once again revolves around the Decepticons. They’ve returned to earth yet again to try and seize the AllSpark, but you’re in charge of the Autobots that are there to try and push them back. The story is divided up into chapters and even though it’s very typical Transformers fodder, it’s entertaining and complements the gameplay well. That’s where the focus is, and despite the kid-friendly focus there’s a decent strategy game here.
Sending a squad into battle means choosing three Autobots from a growing roster before every mission, and getting to know the level layouts and enemies means you might make different choices each time. Units are divided into scouting, brawling and supporting types, who complement each other in ways you’d expect them to. Turn-based strategy means that your movement/action points are limited to three each turn, and although this was a challenging concept to grasp for younger players at first they eased into it over time. Combat’s relatively fast-paced on account of the smaller teams that are on the battlefield, which helps keep the attention span alive as well.
Completing a regular mission or objective often turns the scene into a boss fight where one of the more iconic Decepticons bursts into the action and challenges you, which is where the gameplay and narrative blend together. How you divide your action points matters in these scenarios, because some attacks become more powerful when you allot more action points to them – but it will come at the expense of your ability to move during that turn, possibly leaving you exposed. You can also choose to bank action points and use them later for special attacks, which can turn the tide in a battle or get you out of a tricky situation.
A lot of that sounds like gameplay that’s typical of your average XCOM-inspired game, but the experience here is more streamlined and lean for children to enjoy. There’s no deep upgrade system in place (although you can unlock abilities to replace your current ones) and you’re always limited to three characters per mission. The gameplay dynamics also don’t change over time, so once you’re comfortable with the basic rules, you’re good.
That makes Transformers: Battleground a great introduction to the turn-based strategy genre, with a franchise that’s beloved by kids and adults (who grew up with them) alike. After Transformers: Devastation this game certainly doesn’t look or sound great, but it’s a smaller budget production that still does justice to the franchise and has some polished gameplay in place.