Transformers: Battlegrounds, a new game from Outright Games in partnership with Hasbro was released to consoles and PC today. We got a chance to play the game 2 days early, and so can bring you some this early review of the gameplay. Transformers: Battlegrounds is available on all major current-gen consoles, including the Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch in digital and physical media, and is also be available for download via the Steam store for the PC. The title is classified as family-oriented and received an ESRB rating of 10+.
Transformers: Battlegrounds has two main game modes. First, it is a mission mode where the player assumes the role of a human who is flying above the battleground action and directing the actions of a partnered Autobot. Second, Transformers: Battlegrounds features an “Arcade Mode” which allows two-player co-op play gameplay. As Coatsink, the game developer puts it:
“As evil MEGATRON closes in on the Allspark, BUMBLEBEE and the Autobots need a new commander to help save Earth – you! Assemble your squad and roll out for a battle that will rage from Central City to Cybertron… and even to the local multiplayer arcade!”
While Transformers: Battlegrounds supports co-op play, it does so during the arcade mode only, and does so only on local gameplay, with the exception of via Steam, thanks to Steam’s “Remote Play Together” feature. When playing co-op in the arcade mode, the 2 players split the Autobot team between the two players, playing collaboratively, rather than as opposition. Each player gets to command some of the Autobots (those are the good guys, for those of you not as well acquainted with the series.) There are no other options for the 2 player setup and no versus battles.
In both mission and arcade modes, the player(s) assume the role of overseeing the battlefield (or, I suppose, “Battlegrounds”) to direct the Autobots where to move, who to attack, and what attacks to use. Battlegrounds mission mode is a turn-based combat game, not dissimilar in ways to other turn-based combat games like X-Com or Dragon Quest. The player has an overview of the field of battle and can select to move and end their turn, move and attack (or attack and move), or simply attack. The player gets a certain number of action points per turn, and depending on the action the player takes, action points are used up. Once the turns are absorbed, the Decepticons get their turn, and the AI controls their actions in a similar manner. Ultimately, the Decepticons are out to crush your Autobots, and your goal is likewise to defeat the Decepticons and complete whatever other objectives may be set out in each mission.
I spent a couple of hours playing through the first couple of missions and found the gameplay system to be pretty simplistic. I’ve played a fair number of turn-based combat games in the past, and the closest thing I can equate this to in how the combat system is structured is to X-Com. Though similar, the turn-based combat system is well suited to a younger gamer, without the intensity of constant combat, is kept pretty basic in the number of options for actions. The turn-based system also allows time for the player to consider their next moves carefully, a la board game style. There are tutorials to pull you along with the gameplay system in the first couple of missions as new concepts or attacks/movement options are introduced, and the controls are simple and easy to learn, appropriate to the age group.
First impressions of the game are good. Though at first glance, it lacks the depth of turn-based combat system that some other turn-based combat style games have, it still features enough options to prevent total monotony. The turn-based combat system includes options for a ranged attack, melee attacks, and move-then-strike combos. The turn-based system is an action-point based system, which allows the player to budget their action points and split between a weaker attack with a movement, a strong attack with no leading or following movement, or reserving action points by ending a turn early and use that as a boost to the action or defense on the next turn. Outside of the combat system, Transformers: Battlegrounds also features a gear upgrade system where, as the player progresses through the game, they unlock various pieces of equipment as well as additional Autobots that they can use to play the various missions. These upgrades and unlocks allow the player to customize the gameplay from mission to mission and use the unique attacks of each Autobot to gain advantages that can help in certain missions.
The simplicity of the system in Battlegrounds will certainly appeal to the younger crowd and parents, who might be interested in participating in a game that is a little more technically complicated than so many Disney Princess games. Additionally, the developers went to great lengths in designing the game to not feature any sort of death or destruction of the characters in the game. Instead of the bots being “killed” and/or “destroyed,” bots will become “deactivated” when their health meter runs out. The defeated Decepticons may arise at the end of the mission and flee like the beaten-down enemy they are, but a point seems to be made to avoid presenting harsher realities. Whether these changes in the later game is yet unknown. However, in each mission and arcade game I played, enemies were being repaired, rescued, and/or resurrected, but never “dead.”
There are several difficulty levels available for the player to test themselves against, and this provides for the flexibility to really make it simple for the youthful crowd, but turn up the difficulty for older players. (Though in my experience, it’s probably the kids that will end up doing better at the hard mode than their non-gamer parents.) There is definitely a strong element of strategy involved, and with experience, players may find a decent amount of replayability to the title by successively going back and replaying missions on ever-increasing difficulties. Unfortunately, I think that the sort of simplistic nature of the gameplay might also take away from replayability at the same time.
The graphics are well done, with high-quality, detailed renderings of each of the Autobots and Decepticons, and a good bit of detail in the maps. The world is comprised entirely of animated cartoon-type graphics. The graphics are clean and fairly simple, and that means the download is fairly small and should run well on any consoles, and most PCs are even several years old (see specs below). Some interactions occur between the players and their environment, with elements like exploding cover, as well as certain combat actions taking advantage of these exploding or movable elements (mostly parked cars that can explode of be “thrown” around.)
As to the story and presentation, I can’t say that I found what little of the storyline I have experienced so far particularly compelling, and I wouldn’t go out on a limb to declare the voiceover work to be Emmy Award-winning. However, given the cartoon nature of Battlegrounds, the storyline is on par with any of numerous other preteen-tween games (or TV shows, etc) and would feel right at home as an age-appropriate cartoon in the children’s section of any manner of streaming video services. It’s also not so cheesy as to not be at least amusing to adults/parents. Perhaps more importantly, it’s better than Caillou. (Parents, you know what I’m talking about.)
The bottom-line – If you are looking for a game for your kids, but are also looking for a game good enough to SHARE with your kids (and not want to gouge your eye and/or ears out, Transformers: Battlegrounds is a great bet. Though it lacks online co-op, a versus mode, or a co-op mission mode, it still has the potential for parents and their kids to spend some quality time together, and for those parents (especially of the non-gamer crowd) to also get some amusement after the kids go to bed. I’m skeptical that it would have a big draw for the serious gamer crowd, outside perhaps fans of the Transformers, as there really isn’t a high degree of complexity and might leave serious gamers a bit bored after a while. I’m probably in that camp as well, as I sort of started losing interest after completing a few missions, mostly because I wanted things to get more serious.
I certainly wouldn’t discount Transformers: Battlegrounds out of hand over its simplicity either. Anyone that enjoys good turn-based combat can probably get hours of enjoyment by progressively increasing the difficulty level to test their abilities. I’m still intrigued over the game and will be going back to play further – but I am a little concerned that even on a harder mode, I might lose interest over the lack of variety in the attack/move system.
Two different editions are available, in a mid-level pricing tier. The standard edition runs $39.99, and the Deluxe edition at $44.99, which will feature some exclusive skins. Pricing is the same across all console versions and pre-orders are available through each platforms’ digital stores, and available on physical media for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
You can check out both mission and arcade gameplay videos below from my own experimenting yesterday.