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More than meets the eye?

The Transformers are storming the big screen this summer, and launching a PS3 offensive on the side. Will it be a childhood-ruining cash-in, or a tie-in triumph? We find out...

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Smash it up

Our first mission is a tutorial. It's simple stuff - smash up waves of attacking red drone bots - but it gives us chance to get to grips with the combat. The moves themselves are basic - like, punch-and-kick basic - but their effect is devastating. Thundering strikes with giant metal arms sweep enemies aside like mechanical flies, and the heft of Bumblebee's kick - a full-on, back-tilting wallop - is so solid you can *feel* it. Each Transformer also has hi-tech projectile weapons, and we despatch a bunch of the drones using Bumblebee's shoulder missiles - launched in small, destructive clusters - and hand-cannon.

Unavoidably, all this firepower makes a mess, and the game's environments are designed to be totally destructible. Everything can be broken. Trees, fences, cars, buses, buildings, streetlights - they all come to bits under fire. Some of the obliterated scenery can then be used to cause even more damage. Trees and lamp-posts, for instance, can be swung like enormous baseball bats and cars can be picked up and thrown like Matchbox miniatures. At one point we bring down the roof of a petrol station forecourt and use the cracked slabs of concrete to flatten passing cars. Causing such carnage runs counter to the Autobot ethos of protecting the Earth, of course, and Optimus Prime comes over the radio to give you a basso bollocking if you get out of hand (no such hand-slaps if you're playing as the Decepticons, mind - more on which later).

Fun as this mash-up is, it's not going a long way to dispelling those early comparisons to Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. But the Transformers can do something Hulk can't do - er, transform - and it's during the first story mission that the game's potential begins to take shape. Bumblebee must race to the dealership where Sam is going to buy his first car, to make sure that he is that car and that the first step of the plot isn't disrupted by the also en route Decepticons.

For the first time, then, we use Bumblebee's Camaro form. The transformation itself is perfect - the Autobot folds himself quickly and gracefully into vehicle mode, maintaining his forward momentum as arms and legs compact and close together, before revving up and powering away. The physics aren't finalised in this version of the game so we find ourselves sliding around the winding town roads, but the mission still demonstrates what the game achieves, or has the potential to achieve. Transformers isn't trying to be sharp or smart, edgy or particularly different. It's a tie-in to a thumping big blockbuster and it's striving to be the game equivalent - that is, delivering ace locations, stunning characters and great action set pieces.

This is totally borne out by the decision to let players access the Decepticon characters alongside their Autobot counterparts. We play through the attack on a U.S. Army base located in a Middle Eastern desert, as briefly glimpsed in the movie trailer. The contrast with the Suburbs is striking - the desert is a hazy expanse of dusky dunes under a blue sky, littered with tents, radar towers and hangars. Playing with the Decepticon footsoldier/helicopter Blackout, these are our target. Untransformed, Blackout's main weapon is his rotor blades, which double as deadly, whirling samurai swords. We have more joy leaping into the air and taking chopper form, though, laying down tracer fire while strafing over rows of camouflaged shelters.

When the camp's a smouldering pile of torn canvas, it's time to deploy Scorponok. Redesigned for the film as a non-transforming sub-character who detaches from Blackout (think Soundwave's cassette tapes), Scorponok's almost instectoid metallic-blue-on-yellow body is further proof that the redesigned look of the Tranformers is something special. Although he can't transform he can burrow, diving under the sand to travel at greater speeds than on the surface, and we tear between army camps stinging the living daylights out of a batch of radar emplacements.

Prime mover

While this is where our hand-on experience ends, it's clear from info trickling through from behind the scenes and rumours flying around the web that The Transformers game is building into a summer spectacular all of its own. Both Optimus Prime and Megatron will be among a total of nine playable characters (see boxout for details) and - just like the film - the game is likely to culminate in a one-on-one showdown between the old foes. Also being hinted at are the number of unlockable features and alternate modes being built into the game - there's no official word, but producer Callum Godfrey is a apparently a massive fan of the '80s toys and cartoon, so old-skool character designs and locations are a possibility.

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The verdict

Transformers isn't aiming for a revolution, it's aiming to be fun. It's simple and accessible, and plays to the strengths of its subject matter by cramming in as many Autobots and Decepticons as possible. If it gets it right, it'll be exciting, explosive summer blow-out that the movie can be proud of.

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