Beast Wars is an imperfect but fun 3D over-the-shoulder shooter.
Beast Wars is an imperfect but fun 3D over-the-shoulder shooter. An official Transformers license, it features ten characters adapted from the TV series, including Megatron, Optimus Primal, and Dinobot. If you're not familiar with the Transformers and their current, more organic incarnation, 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 suddenly they're tarantulas or dinosaurs or gorillas.
Don't be fooled by the terrifying eye that adorns the box; your beast form is anything but powerful. In robot form you have both regular cannons and more powerful, but slower, missiles at your disposal. Unfortunately, you're trapped on a world encrusted with exposed radioactive material, called energon, which is deadly to your robotic self. In addition to the usual health meter, you've got an onscreen energon resistance meter that continually ticks down as long as you remain in your more powerful form. 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 you spend a lot of time running around as a monstrous yet entirely innocuous beast - that's right, even Dinobot in his mighty-looking T-rex form can't even bite enemy droids. Plan on frequently being caught with your tyrannosaurus pants down and taking a little damage during the time it takes to transform. While this process does have a certain Power-of-Greyskull charm to it, taking damage every time you want to dish it out gets old fast. With practice, and a steady eye on the radar, you can come to anticipate the enemy and be dressed appropriately when he arrives.
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 off targeting in the game options menu, but essentially that just gets rid of the sight, and you still tend to shoot in arbitrary directions. Vertical targeting is so bad, it's as though your enemies are playing in 3D, but you're not. When receiving fire from overhead, if you miss your initial opportunity to take out a pesky flyer, you're out of luck. You can move the camera to get a better look at your aerial opponent, 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. In light of these targeting problems, it's to your advantage that enemy pathing is equally poor. Most of the opposition just circle mindlessly in preset patterns prior to and after your arrival on the scene, making them fairly easy to dispatch, once you learn how to hit them.
Aside from targeting issues, control is decent. Strafing is a little slow, but certainly fast enough to dodge incoming projectiles, once you get used to it. The game also features a cool missile-locking system. Once an enemy is in your sights, if you tap the fire button, you shoot regular old cannons. If you press it and hold, your missiles begin to lock onto your target. It takes a second, but their superior gusto is worth it. If you continue to hold, they will destroy multiple consecutive targets without re-aiming - a risky maneuver, but 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 polygon dropout, though the same cannot be said for the larger enemy robots, most of which have serious clipping problems. Some of the enemy designs are nice though, especially the parallel spinning flyers that look like jacks and the grotesque mounds that spawn hideous leeches in a spurt of what looks like blood. Yuck.
Despite its shortcomings, Beast Wars is pretty fun to play. The dynamic of continually switching from safe-but-weak beasts to Achilles'-heeled robots makes certain terrain/design elements interesting, and lends itself to a few tactically compelling Catch-22s. Unfortunately, Beast Wars is just out of its league when compared with its contemporaries. Even with accelerated 3D, the game is obviously just a PlayStation port, and compared with the kind of jaw-dropping eye candy that's been coming out lately (like Unreal), the textures seem dead and the animations jerky and lifeless. Then again, 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.