With Michael Bay releasing yet another explosion filled summer block buster epic, it was largely a foregone conclusion to many that a mobile tie-in game would be arriving shortly around the corner. Thus it came as no surprise to pretty much anyone when Hasbro announced that — shortly before the film’s release — there would be just such a game en route, developed by the people over at DeNA. We’re here today to look at Transformers: Age of Extinction (out now, free), all in order to discover if it can properly live up to the high octane — explosion filled — legacy to which it aspires.
The game itself plays out in a manner similar to an endless runner, in that each stage stars your Autobot of choice — selected from a vast list — endlessly marching/driving down a never ending roadway. However, in contrast to endless runners, each stage will ask you to complete a specific goal — such as obtaining a certain number of melee/ranged kills, picking up so many energon cubes, or even scoring so many points — before time runs out. Successfully completing the tasked mission will both award the promised treasure — which could include energon shards, energon cubes, cybertron credits, or character upgrading artifacts — and will additionally open access to the next stage and/or challenge.
As has become a sort of sacred tradition in the mobile scene, each level in Transformers: Age of Extinction will have precisely three different star-awarding challenges that can be completed (after which the level’s icon will change over to the Autobot insignia). Although players can immediately move on to the current map’s next available stage — with branching paths sometimes existing — after completing each level’s first listed challenge, the later goals within each stage can only be completed during follow up runs. Players hoping to gain to access to every Autobot available — since certain optional branching paths can only be tackled with specific heroes — will definitely want to earn all of these stars, as they are the means to unlocking most of the game’s selectable heroes.
Furthermore — speaking of the game’s many available heroes — players will find that every Autobot is generally balanced around their weight, where the heavier ones are able to dish damage out damage far more heavily. The lighter heroes — however — will generally be faster and able to avoid attacks merely by driving under them, which — in turn — enables them to catch up with their objectives more quickly (which sometimes can be invaluable). Counter balancing this is the fact that the heavier Autobots — unlike their lighter brethren — will never need to worry about driving around progress halting roadblocks, since they can instead merely smash directly through them without the slightest bit of impedance.
Anyways — moving on to the game’s actual controls — players can pilot their currently selected Autobot back and forth via physically tipping their iOS device, which is held horizontally. On the screen’s left side are two additional mobility buttons that permit players to either leap — which is the only way that certain characters can avoid attacks at all — and a transform button, which causes the current hero to drive forward until released. Usually heroes won’t be able to jump and/or attack while driving — although the Dinobots are sometimes an exception to this rule — but they furthermore won’t be able to catch up with the villains either when they’re running on foot, and everything here is on a timer.
Meanwhile — on the screen’s other end — are the game’s melee and ranged attack buttons, providing players with the means for destroying the various Decepticons that they will encounter. While the game’s many melee weapons basically all perform exactly the same — other than their base starting power — the many guns in Transformers: Age of Extinction will have different base power levels, varying rates of fire, and differing bullet spreads. Furthermore — outside of mashing the two provided buttons for attacking — each character will additionally perform a super strong melee attack the exact moment they end their transformation, which can sometimes be difficult to successfully and/or safely execute.
While this provides for action that isn’t necessarily bad — especially for a free game — it does get stale rather fast, especially when you get to do little more than endlessly run down the same few stages near endlessly (with only slightly varying quest objectives). How much fun one can have from the game’s action — which, sans paying, will never permit you to do more than five runs in a row — largely depends on the expectations that one brings with them. Those merely wanting free Transformers’ themed action will certainly find sufficient fun to be had here, whereas those whom previously enjoyed War for Cybertron — or its sequel — will probably find everything here to be largely lacking.
Those whom are willing to overlook the game’s extremely repetitive nature will probably want to know what exactly it is that they’re grinding for, and to that I say: an eternal search for better gear. The energon cubes that each enemy drops — and furthermore are sometimes even a star challenge’s reward — can be used to transport a random equipment container to Earth from Cybertron, with rarer cubes purchasing crates with better odds. The good news is that players will be able to afford additional equipment crates roughly every one-to-two runs, whereas the bad news is that each crate’s contents are always RNG selected from a very large drop table (with no ability to aim for specific gear types).
This can be rather awkward when better gear is a large component of ability progression in Transformers: Age of Extinction, especially when many mission objectives will be picky regarding how you dispatch your foes. For example: if the RNG has been constantly handing you good melee weapons, then you’ll find yourself in quite the pickle when a stage demands that you achieve a large number of ranged kills (or vice versa). The only solution when the game stops giving you what you need is to either endlessly grind until the RNG finally favors you, keeping in mind that you’re capped at just five runs before you need to recharge, or to purchase RNG crates en masse via IAP methods.
Now while it’s true that you may use energon shards — which are earned at the end of every finished stage, and also by selling unwanted gear — to increase the power of gear that you already own, this will never make common tier gear compare with rare tier gear. What can be even more frustrating is that when you finally do find a single piece of rare gear, it will probably end up being exclusively useable by one of the Dinobots (all of whom are purchased solely via IAP currency, rather than via accomplishment stars). Although it could have just been the cruel whims of a truly honest RNG, yet it always seemed that — without fail — I could only ever find items like Grinlock’s Bazooka rather than any non pay-wall locked items such as Optimus Prime’s Transmetal Claymore.
While some of the stages’ missions — each of which can only be tackled a single time — do indeed offer Cybertron Credits, and it’s even possible to realistically save up enough to buy access to one of the Dinobots, doing so won’t necessarily make your progress easier. The problem here is that these Cybertron Credits — of which a limited free supply exists — are also used to buy the only gear crates ensured to have high tier gear (which may also potentially be Dinobot exclusive), meaning that one can’t necessarily freely pursue both. The end result of all this is that Transformers: Age of Extinction is a game that is neither purely free — nor purely IAP aggressive either — but rather one where the game will be free for those whom the RNG likes, and extremely expensive for those whom the RNG hates.
Whether or not the heavily RNG driven nature of Transformers: Age of Extinction’s progress-system sounds like something you could tolerate, there is one rather odd facet of the game’s equipment system that I feel absolutely must be called out. While I understand that only Grinlock may use his exclusive equipment, what I found to be very frustrating is that equipping generic gear to one character strips it off the last hero used. Since there’s no game play mechanic forbidding you to manually swap this gear around each and every time you change heroes, the only purpose of this byzantine — and wholly unneeded — mechanic is to serve as a form of frustration for the pure sake of harassment.
Anyways — with matters of Transformers: Age of Extinction’s game play now fully covered — it’s finally time to discuss the game’s artwork, which does seem nice enough at first glance (especially when viewed in screenshots). However, much like the game play itself, the same few stage locations — and the limited pool of available enemy types — all quickly become used to death due to the game’s massive amount of content repeating. Which is nothing to say of the fact that many of the animations in the game are quite awkward looking, giving the feeling that everything you’re watching is a stop motion animation made by someone having trouble grasping the definition of natural movement.
iFanzine Verdict:Transformers: Age of Extinction is a curious game — resting at the very precipice between greatness and mediocrity — meaning that the mileage each person receives will vary greatly, making a baseline recommendation very hard to give. With controls that work flawlessly — yet with hyper repetitive game play and artwork, coupled with RNG based progression that is only free when it wants to be — one’s personal values will largely determine exactly where upon the divide this game falls. Thankfully Transformers: Age of Extinction’s upfront free price tag does mean that the undecided are permitted to discover where they personally fall without forking over any of their cash in the process.