Transformers is one the more malleable forms of entertainment out there. A toy line of cars that turn into robots that spans multiple runs of comic books, cartoons, movies, and videogames that all holds together as its own weird yet beautiful slice of pop art. So when Transformers Battlegrounds revealed itself as a turn-based tactical game coming to consoles and PC based on the ongoing Transformers Cyberverse cartoon, I really wasn't shocked or surprised. I was excited to give the game a shot, and despite some technical problems that were out of anyone's control, I was left impressed by what Coatsink was doing with this take on Hasbro's enduring franchise.
The demo started things off rather briskly. Megatron and the Decepticons are close to getting the all-powerful Allspark, and it's up to the Autobots and Optimus Prime to stop him. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Within a few short moments however, the game's prologue and tutorial opened with a human caught in the crossfire being rescued by Bumblebee and taken away from a helpful drone, which seamlessly lead into the game's tactical top-down perspective.
It was a delightfully diagetic way to introduce the idea of the game to someone who may not be familiar with the genre, as well as tap into the inherent fantasy. You're essentially an eye in the sky telling the Autobots to look out behind them or to set up an ambush against incoming enemies. I was beaming the whole time the tutorial was playing out.
Transformers Battlegrounds borrows features heavily from the more recent XCOM games. You take turns moving characters across the map and attacking the enemy. The enemy units respond in kind, and things continue until you complete your objective or all of your units are taken out. Each character you control have special abilities to help you out like being able to heal, deploy long-range strikes, or unleashing large area-of-effect damage to any enemies nearby.
It's a familiar formula, but Coatsink makes clever decisions to make things feel closer to the spirit of Transformers. Unlike XCOM, there aren't any in-depth customizable characters, you choose between several Autobot heroes like Optimus Prime, Ratchet, or Bumblebee, and you're off to battle. Also, there is no permadeath system, because no one wants to deal with that trauma again.
It was in the demo's second mission that these changes to the formula clicked into place. After picking my team of Bumblebee, Windblade, and Grimlock, I was given the chance to choose what abilities they would have. Each of the Autobots fall into one of three classes, mobile scouts, defensive supports, and aggressive bruisers, with different abilities unlocking as you play. It helped give me a sense of agency and control over how the Autobots would go into each encounter, rather than just sticking to the same familiar tactics over and over again.
As the mission continued, things started to play out as I anticipated. Decepticons swooped in to ambush, Bumblebee laid down covering fire, Grimlock charged in to stomp like the giant robot dinosaur that he is, and Windblade stayed in the margins for back-up.
I was even getting to grips with another one of Transformers Battlegrounds novelties: the Energon meter. At any time, you can end your turn early, allowing unused actions to fill up a bar on the side of the screen. Once it is filled up, you can activate an ultimate attack for one of your units, turning the tide of a fight.
Sadly, because of how Coatsink was allowing me to play the current build of Transformers Battlegrounds, hiccups began to occur. In accordance with social distancing in our current COVID-19 global pandemic, I was accessing their current build through a cloud gaming service, and right in the middle of my clever command of the Autobots the connection began to strain and break.
It was understandably disappointing. But my immediate reaction wasn't outright anger or distrust of what the developers have made, the issue wasn't the game after all, it was of absolute excitement. I wanted to see what would happen next. I wanted to experience more of the game, how certain Transformers characters translated into this style of game. I wanted to see if Grimlock thrashed Starscream around like a chew toy. I wanted to play more of the game.
At the end of the day, if the last impression you have after playing a demo is you want more of it, it generally means the developers are on the right track. Transformers Battlegrounds takes a tried and tested format, and has taken great pains to make it accessible to more players and Transformers fans alike. We all start somewhere, and if it happens to be on the best way to wage war with robots in disguise, it's not a bad place to begin.
TechRaptor previewed Transformers Battlegrounds at an online event hosted by the publisher. The game will be available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC on October 23.