By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
The battle for which faction will occupy Earth is not likely at the core of the upcoming mobile AR game, Transformers: Heavy Metal. The media’s abuzz about bringing this Hasbro property to the videogame world again, and honestly, I’m not excited. I’m more curious in when the reboot will be brought back to the screen again (recent Netflix program notwithstanding).
Niantic Inc is involved in the development cycle, and early images suggest this product may well be another Pokemon GO clone. Seattle-based software house, Very Very Spaceship (known for Truck Stars) is leading the development. This four-year-old business doesn’t have a lot of recognition to get some fans excited.
This company is a self-described, “motley crew of space faring designers, engineers, artists and storytellers from the Pacific Northwest and beyond. For the past three years, under the leadership of BAFTA winning founder Sean Vesce (Never Alone, Tomb Raider Series, Mechwarrior Series), we have been solving the problems of the unknown for incredible partners like Google, Microsoft and others. We are a tight-knit group of makers thriving in our undiscovered future, making shared game experiences in AR, VR, Geolocation, Live Streaming and more. In addition to our client work, we develop and release original indie experiments like the recent Knife 2 Meat U, available at our itch.io page.”
Considering how huge Transformers fandom is, Hasbro’s quality control division ought to squash any bumblebees.
According to the official game description, “players will join the Guardian Network, a group of humans who have banded together with the Autobots in a war against the Decepticons. As Guardians, players will uncover hidden regions across Earth to find resources and fight Decepticons in turn–based battles, either solo or with friends.”
Based on what I’m seeing from the concept art for the game, there’s really nothing in the gameplay to be considered groundbreaking.
I predict players will discover Transformers in their deactivated form. They have to find energon or other resources to activate the Autobots. Finding parts upgrades the ‘bots statistics. That’s my hope. Special items like Dark Energon grants limited time boosts, if players accept the consequences as detailed in Transformers Prime.
I’d rather play as part of the Decepticon faction. I’d love to fly the skies as Lazerbeak, carry reconnaissance as Rumble or be a mini-con on the hunt. The options of being one of the cassette tape deck warriors from Blaster–(Steeljaw, Ramhorn, Rewind and Eject)–won’t be very appealing for players who know the lore, and want to be in the action. Honestly, if the only way to fight the opposition is through gyms, like in Pokemon GO, this game has lost a customer.
I prefer to play an augmented reality game where I can be Chip Chase hacking into the cybernetics of a Cybertronian. As an added pair of eyes to guide my favourite Autobot, I can then switch from monitor mode to navigator (in a car, plane or train) as I am side-by-side with certain ‘bots into hidey-hole sites where the energon lays.
Essentially, this news should’ve been more verbose and said it is also being tailored for longtime fans too. This game needs to incorporate the lore from The Headmasters to attract this group to play. I’ve found no mention in the reports about Niantic CEO John Hanke saying if he knows the fandom or not. So far, it seems he doesn’t comprehend how vast the universe is; the announcement is more like in the vein of yes, they’re in it for the cash being offered by Hasbro to have a new video game in the market. The last mobile game was in 2017.
Instead of rolling out an idea which will no doubt lose its fanbase (just look at Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Jurassic World Alive) over time, they should’ve considered a tie-in with the reimagined Transformers animated series coming to Nickelodeon. No date has been set for this latest take, but if I was Shockwave in the AR game, to gain control of the grid (ley lines connected by hot energon spots) around Earth akin to Ingress would catch my attention. Transformers: Heavy Metal needs a strong story concept to keep players engaged, and if there’s none, it’s a product not to be ga ga over.
All I have to say is, “These aren’t the ‘droids you’re looking for. Move along.”