Megatron and the Combaticons attack a plant late one night to steal a piece of hardware called a hydrothermacline. Prime and the Protectobots are also there to thwart their plans. But nosy do-gooder human computer programmer Ethan Zachary butts in and suggests that rather than trash the place that they duel in a virtual world on his mega-computer. Megatron insists that there be a twist, that the losers' leader dies in real life. Thus the games begin...
Bob Budiansky
Don Perlin
Ian Akin & Brian Garvey
Nel Yomtov
Release date
Autobots featured
Optimus Prime, Wheeljack, Hotspot, Groove, Streetwise, First Aid, Blades, Defensor
Decepticons featured
Megatron, Onslaught, Vortex, Blast Off, Swindle, Brawl, Menasor
Humans featured
Ethan Zachary, Margaret
Origin of
Death of
First appearance
Ethan Zachary, Margaret
Locations featured
Oregon, USA, Multi-World
Story synopsis
It starts innocently enough with some hapless mechanoid being gunned down by other mechanoids. Surprise! It's a computer game being played by one Ethan Zachary. It seems the geek has been playing video games on the giant computer screen, Spectramax 1000. However, the Spectramax is actually a piece of equipment designed to help test the Hydrothermocline, a new generator which creates energy using the different thermal layers in the ocean.

A co-worker then interrupts the slacker and his gaming experience as she needs to run some simulation tests using the Spectramax. She derides him a bit about using equipment for goofing off when the Hydrothermocline could possibly be a limitless energy source. This is of course interesting to Vortex, who's spying outside. Ethan affirms his commitment to the project and defends his right to goof off. She leaves and goes back to work, but not before Ethan explains the 'AfterDeath' cheat code. Look kiddlins, a crappy plot point!

The scenery thankfully changes to the Ark where Wheeljack is giving Optimus a lobotomy. Sort of. The scientist is busy trying to remove the cerebro-shell implanted in his cranium. Wheeljack then has the idea of fiddling with the shell so it will pick up transmissions from inside Decepticon HQ. Once that's done, the shell picks up Megatron ranting about his plan to steal the Hydrothermocline.

That night, Megatron leads the Combaticons on a raid for the Hydrothermocline. Unfortunately for them, Optimus and the Protectobots are there waiting for them. Both groups transform and Prime tries to intimidate Megatron first through numbers, but that sinks like a lead balloon when Vortex and Blast Off transform. Optimus then basically goes: "Oh yeah, Mr Fusion Pistol? Well the Protectobots form Defensor. Nyah." Megatron is unimpressed and basically retorts: "Oh yeah, Mr Discoball Holder? Well, the Combaticons form Bruticus. Nyah!" The staring contest continues while Prime delivers some rubbish about Earth and the Hydrothermocline being destroyed in the fight. Well, the Earth part was rubbish. Then Bruticus nabs Ethan, who was starting to make a run for it. He pipes in a compromise that interests both leaders.

A little later, all are assembled inside the lab with the Spectramax. Ethan has rigged it so that the Transformers personalities will be transferred into the game. The object of the game is to destroy the other side's leader. Megatron makes the condition that whichever leader that gets killed in the game, also is killed in real life. Prime agrees and Ethan drolls on a bit more, describing the Multi-World set-up and it's inhabitants and that the Transformers will have their optics shut off, so they cannot see the events in the real world. With that, the game begins...
It starts off as just another Budiansky penned annoyance, but it gets worse next issue. Not that this one isn't crap, because it is. First of all, the whole 'video game' idea is ridiculous. What self-respecting Decepticon would allow this? Not to mention the bull Optimus spouts about, "This whole planet... would probably be destroyed in the battle." Hmph, as opposed to all the other gestalt battles. That, along with him flaunting the Protectobots, is weird.

Of course, the weirdness doesn't end there, as Optimus actually expects Megatron to honour the agreement and rules of the game. Lord. It's not enough that these age-old enemies would agree to this insipid game, Budiansky just has to keep cranking up the pain. The scene where Ethan explains the rules is so unrealistic, it hurts. Then there is the matter of the sudden appearance, without explanation, of two brand new teams.

At least Perlin's art isn't as bad as usual. That's a plus, I think.

This issue was reprinted in the Titan trade paperback "Showdown".
Character development
Prime's lobotomy seems to have knocked a few circuits loose. While he was keen enough to guess that he had been 'bugged', he later displays the Protectobots in a rather arrogant fashion. And what was with the rhetoric about Earth's destruction? It gets worse as he actually expects Megatron to abide by the rules of the game. He himself states that Autobots do not cheat, which is a clue to his downfall next issue.

Megatron seems to be his usual self, until he actually agrees to the game. He acted fine during the staring contest, though he got a bit tongue-tied. But, he actually allows himself to be placed under Ethan's thumb. At least he threatened the fleshling. He was originally happy to risk destroying the prize he came for in exchange for the chance to kill Prime: "This plant's loss is a small price to pay for the chance to destroy you!" When he tries to use his hostage to get the hydrothermocline, Prime simply appeals to his pride and gets Megatron to agree to a good old-fashioned face off. It's also Megatron who ups the stakes, suggesting the loser die in real life. He's either fearless or overconfident.

Groove voices the obvious doubts about the Decepticons' honesty. Smart boy.

Ethan Zachary is some kind of techno-whiz to have been asked to work on the Hydrothermocline. He was smart enough to come up with a plan to spare the plant even though he was scared. He's also a slacker as he has no compunctions about using the Spectramax to play video games.
The cerebro shell was placed in Prime's cranium in issue 91 by Bombshell.

The Spectramax is obviously a powerful piece of equipment to be able to house twelve Transformer personalities. It is also "the best computer video screen in the world."

Ethan works for Energy Futures industries.

The presence of the Protectobots and Combaticons suggests that they were created similarly to the Aerialbots and Stunticons - Prime uses the Creation Matrix and Megatron hijacks it via Bombshell's cerebro shell.

The cerebro shell, or 'bug' can be turned against the Decepticons, enabling the Autobots to listen in on their plans.

Transformers can switch their optical sensors off.

The Hydrothermocline is capable of generating endless energy by drawing off the ocean's thermal layers.

Vortex is used for spy work.
Good quotes
"A Decepticon needs no button to destroy a fleshling. The heel of his foot will do." Megatron.
Bad quotes
"Careful, they're slimy." Megatron describes humans.
Megatron's allegiance symbol tends to disappear and reappear throughout the issue.

Bruticus gets miscoluored first in all white, then with some blue patches.
Story rating
3 star
Art rating
4 star
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