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You used to know where you were with big summer movie licenses. In a word, they were rubbish. The developers took the basic characters and plotline of the film and simply applied them to a basic genre template. You got a scrappy scrolling beat-em-up, a poor 3D platformer or a rotten 3D shooter featuring a poor facsimile of the star and everyone knew what to expect.
In this generation, however, the developers have started showing worrying signs of ambition. Occasionally, this pays off, as in Michael Ancel’s under-rated adaptation of King Kong. Most of the time, however, it’s a tale of hope followed rapidly by disappointment. Take EA’s most recent Harry Potter for example. For one minute, you think you’re going to get a brilliant free-roaming adventure set in a superbly detailed, authentic virtual Hogwarts. Then it slowly dawns on you that the tasks you’re being asked to complete are more tedious and unimaginative than you would ever have thought possible. It’s a similar story with this summer’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. First you’re drawn in by the luminous graphics and the brilliant digital facsimiles of Johnny Depp et al, then you start hoping that it might build on the Tomb Raider style platforming and not the useless objective-based adventure stuff. Sadly, before long reality dawns and you realise that this isn’t going to happen.
Well, prepare for more of the same with Transformers.
Here’s the good stuff. The modelling and animation of the various ‘robots in disguise’ is exceptional. The way the camera barrels up and down as it follows behind them, a bit like the great shakey-cam in Gears of War, gives them a real sense of weight and power. Watching Bumblebee turn into a yellow sports car or Optimus Prime transform into a truck may be enough for the most nostalgic lovers of the old cartoon to justify the buying price. At times, the action is spectacular. Watching giant robots pick up and throw buses at each other or shove each other through buildings never gets old. The scale of the destruction is, at times, impressive, and when you add the surging score and the incredibly noisy crash-and-bang sound effects, it’s a pretty good recipe for audio-visual overload.