Beast Wars is an imperfect but fun over-the-shoulder shooter.
Beast Wars is an imperfect but fun over-the-shoulder shooter - along the lines of Alone in the Dark, MDK, or Broken Helix. The game is an official Transformers license, with eight initial characters to choose from, including Megatron, Optimus Primal, and Dinobot, and more to unlock along the way. For those not familiar with the Beast Wars version of the Transformers series, here's the fundamental concept: One minute they're robotic killing machines, then at the touch of a button their heads flip around, their arms go all crazy, and all of a sudden they're tarantulas or dinosaurs or gorillas. It's insane.
In the PlayStation adaptation, the beast form isn't so powerful. It's only in robotic form that you can shoot cannons, missiles, and... more guns. However, you're trapped on a world with all this exposed radioactive material, called energon, that's highly volatile, not to mention deadly to you as long as you remain in robot form. In addition to the usual health meter, you've got an energon resistance meter, that continually ticks down as long as you remain in your more powerful incarnation. Once it's entirely depleted, you start taking damage, fast. In beast form, however, not only are you immune to the ill effects of the stuff, your resistance meter regenerates. So plan on spending a lot of time running around as a monstrous yet surprisingly innocuous beast - that's right, even Dinobot in his mighty-looking T-Rex form can't even bite enemy droids, forcing him to run into packs of opposition forces and take a little damage during the time it takes to transform. While this process does have a certain Power-of-Greyskull charm initially, taking damage every time you want to deal it out gets old fast.
Beast Wars' targeting is terrible. Rather than just shooting straight ahead, the game has an automatic targeting system that frequently locks on the wrong enemy or falls off the right one. You can turn targeting off in the game options menu, but that just gets rid of the sight. Vertical targeting is so bad, it's as though your enemies are playing in 3D, but you're not. When you're being shot at from overhead, if you miss your initial opportunity to take out the pesky flyer, you're out of luck. Using the L1 button to move the camera, you can certainly look up, but the CPU may or may not allow you to lock onto an overhead target after its first pass. Targeting issues can sometimes be avoided by backing up whenever you're in combat - oddly, this seems to "trick" most enemies into your sights properly - but if you miss more than a couple of opportunities to take out flying opponents, plan on taking a lot of damage before you're given another chance to shoot back, as the enemy makes pass after pass at you with no chance of reciprocation.
Otherwise, control is decent. Strafing is a little slow, but certainly fast enough to dodge incoming projectiles, once you get used to it. The R1 button is employed for near-instant 90-degree turns, which is especially useful for getting a second chance at flying enemies. The game also features a cool missile-locking system. If you tap the fire button, you shoot regular old cannons. If you press it and hold, your missiles begin to lock on target. It takes a second, but their superior gusto is worth it. If you continue to hold, they will lock onto, and destroy, multiple targets - a risky maneuver, but sometimes worth it.
Graphically, Beast Wars does an adequate job of handling itself. The design is nothing special to look at, heavy on the nondescript desert terrain, light on the texture mapping, and featuring plenty of generic geometric "urban" landscapes, but it certainly isn't ugly or distracting. The Transformers themselves could have been a little more detailed or stylized, but they're functional, without too much pop-up or polygon dropout. Some of the enemy designs are nice, especially the parallel spinning flyers that look like jacks and the grotesque mounds that spawn hideous eel-like leeches in a spurt of what looks like blood. Yuck.
In general, Beast Wars is a tolerable over-the-shoulder shooter. Aside from targeting issues, control is adequate. Design has some interesting elements but isn't long on detail. Of course, one can't help but think that the game would have been better if it were based on the original "cars, trucks, jets, and tape decks" Transformers series instead of all these silly animals. And hey, how long has it been since you've played a shooting game with onscreen points - that's right, points? There's even a high-score page you can check out. Go figure.