After all is said and done: it’s got the moves to entertain some Transformers fans, but put to the test, it’s not quite enough.
Licensed games can certainly be hit-or-miss, but the Transformers property has had a pretty good run on consoles over the past few years with the duo of Transformers: War for Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, as well as the classic cartoon-themed Transformers: Devastation. The latest game that bears the Transformers license is–by basic definition, at least–a fighting game: Transformers: Forged to Fight. The twist: it’s also a free-to-play mobile game for Android and iOS.
Forged to Fight is from Kabam, known for the (very similar) mobile fighter Marvel: Contest of Champions. If you’ve played that, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. As a longtime Transformers fan, I decided to check the game out to see if it holds up as a fighting game worthy of the source material.
Forged for fans
Overall, the game does a pretty good job with the Transformers setting and characters. It’s presented as cross between the Michael Bay movie-verse and “Generation 1” design, merging modern and classic. The sound effects and music draw heavily on the Bay movies–no Stan Bush here, sorry–but it works well, while the character personality and dialogue pulls most heavily from the original animated Transformers: The Movie. The result is a fun blend of the newer elements with classic nods for the diehard fans–surely exactly as intended.
What little story is present is told through comic book-style cutscenes, or RPG-ish text blocks–the first scuff on the game’s chrome finish, as it’s the voice actors that really make these ‘bots come to life. But the dialogue as written is still very true to the character’s personalities, so that helps make up for it. The story itself is the usual paper-thin premise to get characters from different universes together so they can smash each other’s faces, but that’s to be expected.
Visually: the game delivers. The character models and arenas are gorgeous, and the animation is generally very smooth. Even the menu layout and art is slick and polished. This game looks good. The graphics and sound effects come together to make the one-on-one combat really pop. Lots of flying sparks and the screams of rent metal fill each battle–the arenas even have breakable elements that crumble and scatter under the violence of two giant robots pounding each other into scrap.
Note: I played the game for this review on an iPhone 6S, on iOS 10.3.1–so performance on older devices or prior operating systems is going to possibly be poorer.
One shall stand, one shall fall
The game’s core gameplay is made up of one-on-one fights against the CPU. You can find these fights by progressing through the story mode, or through a number of other modes (more on those, shortly). So here’s the big question: is it a decent fighting game? … Sort of.
For touch controls, I think the control mechanics work quite well–considering. Movement is controlled by swiping on the left side of the screen (up/down to sidestep, or right/left to dash back or forward), and holding down on the left side causes your ‘bot to block. On the right side, tapping, swiping, or holding down are your commands for light, medium, or heavy attacks respectively. At long range, your light attack becomes a projectile attack instead. The heavy attack is always your ‘bot’s alternate mode–you transform and rush the opponent with a guard-breaking attack. You also have special attacks that charge up as you dish out and take damage, activated by tapping the icon on the lower left of the screen, when ready.
I found it fairly easy to land combos, link into my “super,” and mix in a little light zoning with the ranged attacks. If you mash mindlessly, the CPU will often take you down with sheer brute force. Pretty much everything causes chip damage even if blocked, and chip damage will K.O. in this game. But the CPU falls into fairly predictable patterns, so it doesn’t take Perceptor-level intelligence to beat it consistently if you stick to rudimentary fighting game techniques. The fights are fast, single-round affairs. The controls are pretty responsive, while not perfect, and I found beating up the computer-controlled ‘bots to be quite fun–in small doses. There is a wide range of in-fight abilities that slightly alter your ‘bot’s stats or performance, and a class system that determines what type of ‘bot has an inherent advantage over another: for example, the “Tactician” version of Optimus Prime (the classic one) gets a stat bonus when facing the “Brawler” class CG-movie Optimus.
However: I found that these extra effects were minimal at best, barely noticable–the only time it really caught my attention is when I noticed nearly-spent enemies suddenly dropping dead from my Bludgeon’s energon “Bleed” ability–basically a poison effect. It also soon becomes apparent that regardless of class or character, they all fight pretty much identically, often even sharing animations, attacks, and win poses. Still, seeing these classic characters in action had its charm, and oftentimes the character’s special attack animations were a sight to behold. Grimlock’s and Bludgeon’s special moves were particularly fun to watch. Dropping in for a quick few rounds of ‘bot smashing makes for occasional light entertainment, and in this respect, the game works perfectly as a mobile fighter.
Now, I won’t mince words: I am not a fan of free-to-play mobile games, as a rule. I am generally annoyed by the design philosophy that directs them–to draw in as much of your time and attention as possible while gating your progress, to urge you to spend money on microtransactions. Forged to Fight is very much a mobile game, in these respects–in fact, in Transformers terms, it’s the Creation Matrix of mobile game elements: containing within itself every design element characteristic of mobile games from ages past. Play timers that restrict your access to game modes… randomized item drops… character collecting, timed quests and missions, building a base and tapping to collect resources accumulated over time… in-game currencies upon currencies that are used to buy bigger units of a similar currency… it’s all here.
In addition to the story mode progression, Forged to Fight focuses heavily–if not primarily–on collecting different ‘bots and fortifying your base with them for the Raid mode. You essentially build an arcade mode-style ladder for invading players to fight through, which is actually pretty clever, in concept. There’s also an Arena mode to fight other players “directly” in teams of three. And there’s also daily events, and ongoing special events, to fight for specific resources, etc. … It all amounts to the same play mechanics slightly rearranged, with the general objective of adding different Transformers characters to your collection–accomplished either by earning shots at random character drops through the Space Bridge, or occasionally directly awarded to you by completing objectives.
You then must level them up, with a wide variety of items and mods. “1v1 combat” PVP is an advertised feature of this game–but you never will actually fight another player in real time: only ‘bots from their collection, as controlled by the CPU. So to provide some challenge–and to give you motivation to keep playing–you need to constantly level up your own characters to meet the stats of the opponents you’ll face, and fend off attackers.
Managing your base, collecting ‘bots, and leveling stuff up composes most of what this game is really based on. So ultimately, what makes a fighting game interesting to me–progression through improving your own skill, against human opponents–is not relevant to Forged to Fight.
Failing to light our darkest hour
I started to run into the game’s built-in gating after a few days (difficulty curve, if you prefer)–to beat the increasingly higher-level enemies in story mode, you need to go back and grind old-school RPG-style, to try and level the playing field–the means to do so are tedious enough, but are also deliberately slowed by in-game time restrictions. And while you can level and upgrade your ‘bots, the one-to-four-star “rarity” system determines their maximum stats, so eventually you’re going to run into a wall that can only be broken through via luck, or cash. Getting weaker duplicate ‘bots in your hard-earned random drops is frustrating–and the rarity scale makes your efforts to level up lower-rarity robots feel too much like wasted effort.
Ultimately, the trappings of mobile game busy-work overwhelm Forged to Fight. It’s still fun to drop in and bash some metal faces now and then, and the desire to collect your favorite characters is a tempting lure to return to the game. There aren’t really that many playable characters in the game yet; it sports a light mixed selection of characters from the classic cartoon, some from the Bay movies, along with a single character from Beast Wars–Rhinox–and Windblade from IDW. Considering the vast array of Transformers out there, I can see myself pulled back in at some point when a new favorite becomes available–I’ll be waiting on Shockwave.
My expectations of a mobile fighting game were, admittedly, not very high to begin with–and this game doesn’t exceed them. It’s really too bad this project couldn’t have found a home on console instead, where it could have offered a more solid, in-depth battler, such as the denizens of Cybertron deserve.
- Excellent graphics, sound, overall presentation
- Free-to-play (easy to try, without putting down any cash)
- Simple fight mechanics, that are still interesting enough to be enjoyable
- No voice acting
- Free-to-play (mired in excessively complex or frustrating freemium design aspects)
- Fights are only against CPU-controlled opponents, no live PVP combat