From the very announcement of the title, Transformers: War for Cybertron had a lot of pressure on it. For the first time in easily over a decade, fans of the original series have been given a chance to experience a new canonical tale of the true Transformers universe. And this story isn’t one that real fans would want taken lightly.
Transformers: War for Cybertron covers what happens before Optimus and his Autobots come to Earth and continue their war against the Decepticons. This game is almost like what the Phantom Menace is to Star Wars… Scratch that since I actually like Transformers: War for Cybertron.
Transformers: War for Cybertron plays out as a third person shooter with the addition of transforming robots. The gameplay comes across as almost brutally simple at times. There is no character advancement throughout levels and most of the characters play very similarly with only a few changes in weapons and special abilities.
With a push of the left analog stick, characters transform into their vehicle form which are basic variations of cars and tanks, except for the two levels of the campaign where players play as the jet fighter Transformers. These play very similarly to all other vehicles except for the ability to stop and hover in mid-air.
There isn’t a dramatic difference between how the Autobots and Decepticons control in their robot or vehicle form. As robots, players can double jump and have two different weapons to switch between. In vehicle form, characters move faster but only have one often more powerful weapon. In the two jet levels, in vehicle form, players have unlimited ammo.
The basic controls and gameplay come across as easily accessible but often lack dramatic depth. There is no true cover system, but players can position themselves around corners to avoid taking fire while still zooming in to take pot shots at opponents. During the campaign, boss fights somewhat resemble a more classic third person platformer methodology where players must figure out specific patterns or weak spots to make their way past the given foe.
Multiplayer unfortunately feels like a last minute addition to the game. While given different names, all the multiplayer modes are games that have been played before whether it is Transformers themed variations of territories, domination, capture the flag or bombing run.
The single or multiplayer mode of Escalation feels the same as it is just a new version of Firefight from Halo 3: ODST or Horde Mode from Gears of War 2. It is disappointing that with the diverse set of characters available to the Transformers universe, new multiplayer modes were not created for this game.
Transformers: War for Cybertron does an amazing job of feeling like the real Transformers because that’s what it is. This isn’t an alternate take on the Transformers or a “newer, hipper” version of the Transformers. This is the real deal. What happened that made Optimus the leader of the Autobots? What did Megatron do to destroy Cybertron? It all gets told here.
The game starts with a series of levels where players take on the Decepticon leader’s story. Finding the location of Dark Energon, Megatron uses it to corrupt the robotic planet of Cybertron. In the process he recruits Starscream in to the fold. Though they played off the unique relationship between the two robots, Starscream is all too quick to begin declaring himself leader of the Decepticons.
One would think that upon hearing this, the robotic despot would have just had Starscream killed. After facing off with one of the Autobots biggest and best, players then swap teams and spend the rest of the game as the young leader Optimus as he has the mantle of leadership thrust upon him in an effort to save the planet. Sadly, the conflict between Optimus and Megatron never comes to a head as (spoiler) the two never can be found in the game at the same place at the same time.
There is a certain level of nostalgia needed to really appreciate this game’s story. If someone hasn’t enjoyed the classic cartoon, they may not appreciate the situation and dialogue presented to them. While some may doubt the story has aged well, this game proves to the old fans that the story they loved so many years ago still holds true.
Art design in Transformers: War for Cybertron does a great job of helping explain the look of the characters in their pre-Earth days. If Optimus and the rest looked exactly how they did in the cartoon when never having been to this planet, that would have been a tremendous leap of faith on the consumer’s part. Instead, each character has a look similar to what they are destined to become while still maintaining the basic color schemes and themes of the characters.
The design of Cybertron is somewhat disappointing but almost expected. One can’t expect a diverse environment and lush forest on a planet inhabited only by machines. As a result, there are lots of grays, silvers and purples dominating the landscape. The look of the level is well down though as everything is clearly distinct on screen. Characters never blend in to the background and depth perception is never impaired because of everything looking the same (as Michael Bay made everything in his Transformers movies do).
The game animates characters fantastically and runs at a steady and smooth framerate. During the fast paced vehicle portions, it feels like a racing game as there is no slowdown or clipping through the large environments. Little added features like motor oil splattering the screen during a melee attack add to the robotic esthetic.
The sound design of Transformers: War for Cybertron is also well done as it is so reminiscent of the original series. It doesn’t feel as though it is playing homage to it. It feels like it is a part of it. The voice acting is top notch and feels like it could have been ripped out of one of the series’ original episodes.
This has been the first time in recent memory that hearing, “Autobots, roll out,” did not bring a cringe and nosebleed to this reviewer. After what Michael Bay did to the heart of the franchise, it was hard to believe it could ever be fixed but somehow the team at High Moon Studios was able to look back and return the player to what was most loved about the original series.
By no means is Transformers: War for Cybertron a perfect game. It has a very basic design and paint by numbers multiplayer. But the visual feel and story offset these flaws. Transformers: War for Cybertron gives the true Transformers experience that fanboys have been waiting for.
With any luck, this team could bring more canon stories of the Transformers world once they hit Earth to consoles in the future. Until then, we will take this opportunity to relive the great moments of our childhood as they were meant to be.
XBox 360 (Also available on PlayStation 3 and PC)
Developer: High Moon Studios