The Transformers brand brings with it a lot of baggage, and because of that, Coatsink Software’ turn-based strategy game, Transformers: Battlegrounds is surprisingly hard to judge. If taken as a budget-priced kids game and something of a ‘babies first turn-based strategy’, then yeah, this really is a pretty good game. If accepted as a colourful and enjoyable introduction to the genre, then Transformers: Battlegrounds has to go down as something of a success, but if like me, you’re one of the many who grew up loving Transformers in the 80s and 90s and was essentially hoping for XCOM with Optimus Prime, well, you’re likely to come away more than a little disappointed.
Let’s be fair though – this game makes no attempt to appeal to fans such as myself. Transformers: Battlegrounds is ostensibly for kids. Some folk might have their interest piqued by what initially appears to be an aesthetic based on the much loved G1 Transformers design, but look a little closer and you’ll soon realise that the design and narrative is based on the much more recent, Cyberverse franchise – yup, a kids cartoon. So yeah, this is a game based on a kids cartoon aimed at, you guessed it, kids. And honestly, it does a largely great job.
Turn-based strategy games might not be the most obvious genre when it comes to the Transformers, but as an introduction to what is a relatively niche genre, Transformers: Battlegrounds ticks all the right boxes. It’s accessible without being overly simplistic, it’s visually appealing (even if it is a tad too basic at times) and it doesn’t allow the usual Transformers narrative nonsense to get in the way of its largely slick, fast-paced action.
There is a story there of course – Autobots good, Decepticons bad, All Spark something or another – but for the most part, the emphasis here is on the gameplay, and for the most part, it’s all the better for it. While it ostensibly plays out in a similar fashion to the likes of XCOM, the mechanics and systems here are understandably far more streamlined and less encumbered with the array of skills, abilities and endless variables that can often make the genre more than a little unwelcoming.
Making your way through the games’ decent sized campaign across a multitude of acts and missions, you gradually unlock an array or Autobots to add to your three team party. While most essentially plays out in much the same way, the class system (scout, brawler and support) does ensure that there are differences beyond character specific special moves and unique secondary attacks. The differences are still limited of course, but there is just enough here to ensure that the game remains entertaining once you’ve got to grips with the basic mechanics.
There are a few difficulty spikes later in the game, and there are different difficulty settings for those looking to challenge themselves, but for the most part, this is a relatively straightforward strategy game that puts enjoyment above difficulty. There are no random roles here – if you’re in position and fire at your enemy, you’re not going to miss a la XCOM, you’ll get the hit as expected. This is all about striping the genre down to its component parts and removing anything that younger gamers (or those not au fait with the genre) might find frustrating. Sure, those already accustomed to the finer points of the genre might find it all a tad basic, but again, as an introduction, it works a treat. Heck, even for someone like me, with something of a passing interest in the genre, I actually quite enjoyed the fast-paced combat and emphasis on speed and progression.
You still need to wait your turn after you have used up your action points, but you never wait for more than a few seconds. It’s not a genre known for its speed, but battles here tick along at a reliably enjoyable pace – you can even fast forward certain sections if you think the enemy is being too slow. Sure, the battle’s against bosses invariably take longer, but these are relatively few and far between with most battles against enemy grunts over in a matter of minutes. And besides, the battles against the bosses (Starscream and Megatron et al), are actually the best bits of the game, and the moments that Battlegrounds’ underlying depth really does come to the fore.
While it is still short on ultimate mechanical depth, the Energon and action point systems ensure that the game isn’t without its own sense of tactical nous. It might not be apparent on the lower difficulty settings, or against the game’s bog standard enemies, but as you progress further into the game, and particularly when you run into the game’s latter stage boss battles, the nuances of the systems really start to come into play. While you can use one attack move and two character movements as part of each character’s turn, you can risk your position on the field against committing two, or even all three of your moves to that single attack for extra power. It’s a simple enough risk vs reward system, but one that allows you to go all in on an attack at the risk of leaving yourself exposed on the next turn.
Equally, the Energon powered character-specific special attacks are drawn from an Energon gauge (rather than from your standard three turn limit), thus adding an extra twist to the core mechanics by allowing you to unleash said special attack at any given moment. Again, it’s hardly revolutionary, but in the tougher battles, wise use of this ability really can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
There is a host or arcade-inspired modes outside of the main campaign that can be played against the AI or a friend, but sadly, while there is fun to be had amidst its relatively eclectic mix (capture the flag / horde etc.), the lack of online play really does feel like a disappointing omission. Saying that, the co-op challenges are fun, and honestly, it’s actually quite nice to see a greater emphasis put on local multiplayer – even if it does come at the cost of any and all online options.
It might be relatively basic from a mechanical perspective, the visuals and voice work are far from exceptional, and yes, it’s based on the Cyberverse franchise rather than the G1 Transformers that old folk like me keep banging on about, but as an introduction to the genre and a kid-friendly title that puts spectacle and speed ahead of depth and tactical nuance, Transformers: Battlegrounds is an unequivocal success. Sure, you have to go in with the right attitude to truly enjoy it, but the combat system, despite its lack of depth, is carefully crafted and huge amount of fun. The visuals too, while somewhat rudimentary, capture the style of the show while providing a pleasing aesthetic change for a genre that can often be a bit visually drab. It’s hardly reinventing the wheel, but by stripping the genre back to its basics, Coatsink Software has managed to deliver a game that feels surprisingly fresh and fun.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Transformers: Battlegrounds - Digital Deluxe Edition Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
As an introduction to the genre and a kid-friendly title that puts spectacle and speed ahead of depth and tactical nuance, Transformers: Battlegrounds is an unequivocal success.