More Than Meets the Eye
Transformers have been thrust to the forefront of popular culture once again thanks to Michael Bay’s action-packed movies. Naturally, these feature films have been accompanied by video game interpretations from Activision. While most critics haven’t particularly enjoyed these titles, it is clear that a lot of effort went into their creation, making them more than just phoned-in tie-ins. In fact, a concerted effort by Activision has consistently been made to bring this intellectual property to gamers in such a way that the titles could stand on their own without the support from the marketing machine that has accompanied the movies.
Enter Transformers: War for Cybertron. This latest entry in the Transformers series is a standalone title that recounts the origin story of the devastating conflict that has torn Cybertron (the home world of the Transformer race) into two warring factions, leading to a destructive civil war, pitting brothers against each other. Perhaps the most interesting part of High Moon Studios’ game is the quality narrative on offer. Told from both the Decepticons’ and Autobots’ perspectives, players will finally understand the motivations of the mythos’s greatest characters as well as the issues at the heart of the conflict. Hasbro has given the developers a lot of support in creating this origin story. As a result, the storyline is considered canon. As such, any Transformers fan really must play this game. Similarly, anyone looking to expand their geek-cred should play it as well.
Fortunately, the plot isn’t the only compelling factor. Gameplay, played either solo, cooperatively, or competitively, is a good bit of fun. Like most third-person shooters, Transformers: War for Cybertron doesn’t emphasize precision or accuracy. Instead, players are given destructive tools made for grinding their way through the expansive campaign and convincing online multiplayer. The campaign structure, which can be played alone or with up to three people, has players fight through Cybertron on both sides of the conflict. The campaign is divided up into two halves: Decepticons followed by Autobots (you can choose to start playing as the Autobots, but the story is meant to be told by starting with the Decepticons). Subsequently, each of these sections is broken down into five chapters each, taking about an hour and change to play through. Playing as both factions is a great way to experience Cybertron, and it also lets players get to feel the power of the antagonists as well as the protagonists.
Whether playing alone or with friends, the campaign is fun. Alone, I was able to move at my own pace, marveling at the sights and sounds of Cybertron. With others in tow, players can enter into the choke-point battlegrounds with coordinated attack strategies. The friendly AI definitely does a good job of supporting you in battle, but there is no substitute for having other humans control your allies. That being said, if you are going to play this game with others, be sure to crank up the difficulty setting; the game is skewed toward the forgiving side, as enemy AI isn’t particularly challenging.
The arsenal at your disposal is nifty. Players will have all sorts of weapons to play with that are analogs to shotguns, pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, heavy weapons, missile launchers, grenades, detachable turrets, and more. Of course, each of these tools of destruction have a Transformers twist to them that suits the setting well. Additionally, each Transformer type/character is given their own unique attributes such as cloaking, hovering, energy sapping, etc. that make subsequent playthroughs fun. Because the campaign is divided into chapters, you’ll be able to go back multiple times, with or without friends, selecting different characters or difficulty settings, which in turn augments the replay value.
As much fun as I had with the solo campaign, don’t expect a revolutionary gameplay experience. As I already mentioned, the game isn’t particularly challenging, especially when tackled with friends. Moreover, the third-person action is very conventional; you’ll just bop around the mostly linear levels, blasting things as you go. There really aren’t any puzzles to work your grey cells, and there are always enough destructive resources at your fingertips to get the job done right the first time. As such, gameplay in Transformers: War for Cybertron is really just a simple romp filled straightforward action set-pieces. Consequently, the campaign may not be entirely interesting for everyone. In truth, a lot of gamers will find the gameplay repetitive after awhile; this is probably the game’s biggest drawback.
Outside of the main story, players also have a Gears of War 2, Horde mode-style feature to look forward to. This cooperative mode, called Escalation, has players survive as long as they can against ever-more-difficult waves of enemies. Additionally, a rather robust competitive multiplayer component is on hand. Somewhat disappointingly, the competitive multiplayer side, like the campaign, does very little to move the third-person shooter genre forward, however.
Still, multiple classes with sub-specialties, the ability to unlock new attributes through experience, and customizing and mixing and matching load-outs and characteristics makes for a rewarding time despite a lack of endeavor. Add to the persistent character improvement classic game modes such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, zonal control game types (control multiple power nodes or just one node), and objective-oriented modes (six ways to play in all) keep the competitive portion of the game fresh and interesting.
In terms of presentation and design, the development team at High Moon Studios did a great job of giving players lots of well designed Transformers to play as and against. The setting of Cybertron, though very linear in layout, is often breathtaking to behold; I was impressed by how clear their vision for the legendary robot planet was. Visually, this game looks great on HD consoles and PC. Sound design is also quite good. The voice acting and mix of voice sounds bring the characters to life, and the classic transformation effects, weapon sounds, and ambient noise add significantly to the feel of the title. Controls are very straightforward, though not brilliant. Regardless, transforming in and out of vehicle form is done at a touch of a button, and keeping the heat on your enemies with your varied arsenal is pretty easily done. The only real complaints I have concerning controls is that some weapons take a bit too long to fire and reload; in a game this action-packed and frantic, this becomes a frustrating issue.
Transformers: War for Cybertron is exactly what I thought it would be: a well made homage to the Transformers IP that fails to innovate but succeeds, nonetheless. True Transformers fans should really consider this title, as it tells the origin story of their favorite sentient mechas. However, if you’re not necessarily a fan and straightforward third-person shooter mechanics aren’t your bag, you may just want to pass on this one.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The game looks super-crisp, and I especially liked the interpretation of Cybertron put forward by the developers. 3.8 Control
Controls aren’t extremely precise and are a bit slow to react to inputs, but their generally very proficient at facilitating gameplay. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The ambient noises, sound effects, and voice acting combine to bring the War for Cybertron to life. 3.7 Play Value
Extensive single-player and co-op options as well as a deep online multiplayer experience means there’s a lot of bang for the buck. However, the simple third-person shooter gameplay can get repetitive. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.