Game Rant's Ben Kendrick reviews Transformers: War for Cybertron
It’s been a rough couple years for Transformers fans — even more so if you’re a Transformers fan who plays video games. While you may or may not love Michael Bay’s live-action upgrade of the 80s cartoon, we can all agree that the first film does have its share of jaw-dropping visuals - as well as a number of subtle nods to the animated series. The film may not have incorporated everything Transformers fans were hoping for, but it wasn’t an all out disaster. Disaster was reserved for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, as well as the two lack-luster movie tie-in games that were also churned out to capitalize on the Transformers buzz.
While the Revenge of the Fallen game did offer up some great fan-service (in the form of post-launch DLC), nothing could be done about the title’s generic gameplay and uninspired sandbox environments. Needless to say, we were a bit skeptical when we heard that High Moon Studios would be producing a new 3rd person action game under the Transformers banner.
Now imagine how surprised I was when Transformers: War for Cybertron turned out to be, not just a great Transformers game, but an exciting and immersive action title (regardless of the franchise). Simply stating that the game is a must buy for Transformers fans doesn’t do the title justice — while it may not be a “must buy” for action game fans, it certainly comes very close.
Transformers: War for Cybertron has the touch - and it has the power. It’s got a lot of things going for it but the biggest departure from previous Transformers games is the addition of a solid story campaign. The actual narrative is a bit ridiculous — but definitely fits right in with the tone (and campy storytelling) of the cartoon series.
For the most part, War for Cybertron finds a healthy balance between retro fun and real-world believability - a balance that Michael Bay never quite discovered. More than anything else, the addition of a competent campaign story gives the mission chapters actual purpose (as well as blockbuster cinematic moments) that gamers have come to expect from action titles. Players get the sense, as they fight through the various campaign missions, that they are actually involved in an epic-war between robot armies with real history.
The single player game, like previous Transformer titles, allows players to jump into both a Decepticon and Autobot campaign and, combined, lasts about 12 hours. However, instead of simply telling one story from both perspectives (regurgitating environments, battles, etc), War for Cybertron gives players the opportunity to join up with the Decepticons as they attempt to take down Zeta Prime and corrupt Cybertron with Dark Energon. Players then take control of the heroic Autobots as they fight to pick up the pieces. You can jump right in to the Autobot campaign, and then play the Decepticon portion as a prequel; that said, I’d recommend playing the campaign chronologically — as the story really does immerse you in the large-scale conflict (as it escalates along the way).
War for Cybertron definitely takes a lot from the Gears of War franchise, in both look and gameplay. The title doesn’t incorporate a “sticky” cover system - but with enemies capable of cloaking, flying, and transforming, hunkering down behind barriers wouldn’t have added anything particularly useful to the player’s strategic offerings. If you need to avoid gunfire, there are plenty of coulombs, destroyed sections of road, etc, to hide behind.
The actual gunplay is surprisingly tight — with a variety of weapons to choose from. Enemies take the right amount of damage, the deck was never stacked too high, nor does the game allow players to merely breeze through - without forcing them to think on their feet or utilize all the tools at their disposal.
The transformations are satisfying as well as extremely intuitive. By the end of the game, players will no doubt be switching mid-battle with ease - appreciating the function the transformations serve in the actual gameplay. Obviously War for Cybertron is a Transformers game — so they have to be there but, in this particular installment, High Moon has managed to turn novelty eye-candy into a truly useful mechanic, allowing multiple strategies for how to approach the battlefield.
Some players might choose to play as a speedy character like Bumblebee, zipping around the combat zone and snagging quick shots at enemies, while others might be more interested in the rough and tumble approach - ramming into bots while driving Optimus Prime in truck mode. Ultimately, these transformations don’t just inform how much damage a player can take or how quickly the character moves around the environments — they provide fun opportunities for gamers to hone their play-style.
The campaign also offers a robust three player co-op. Each character has a specific special skill that differentiates their play-style — all of which, if used in a coordinated attack, allows players to skillfully take down even the most intimidating enemies.
Should you decide to go it alone, you’ll still be accompanied by a pair of comrades - though, there’s no way to command these computer-controlled characters to use their skills or attack a particular enemy. In general, the computer does a good job of making it feel like the team has your back, though it’s clear their attacks do significantly less damage and they rarely fire up their special skills — even in a crunch. Ultimately, playing alone didn’t detract from the experience, it merely made me appreciate my time playing with other humans.
War for Cybertron also offers a great online multiplayer experience - including a number of addictive competitive modes. There are four classes to choose from each with their own sub-classifications, and subsequent transformations, including the Scout (cars), Leader (trucks), Scientist (jets), and Soldier (tanks). Leveling-up allows players to customize their Transformers with new skills, weapon modifications, and perks — creating an opportunity for a variety of team strategies as well as individual play-styles. In terms of more standard multiplayer features, online combat also offers kill streaks, XP rewards, and perks.
In addition, to the all-out combat of the competitive modes, “Escalation” (think Horde mode) offers players the opportunity to play as their favorite Transformers as they (and a group of friends) attempt to survive waves of enemies. Escalation really showcases the depth, and careful balancing, of the team-based strategy in War for Cybertron - as picking complementary characters can mean the difference between victory and the scrap yard.
However, not everything in War for Cybertron is as good as it could have been.
While the game generally looks great there were a number of times when it became clear that War for Cybertron could have used one more round of polish. At times the AI, both your teammates and the enemies, can break the sense of immersion — as they don’t often seek cover and can possess somewhat canned attack mechanics. Just wait until your first large-scale boss fight - where your teammates stand out in the open without taking damage, while you’re constantly scrambling for cover.
On a somewhat similar note, there are sections of the game where you fly through caverns or speed along a highway as it collapses - should a computer-controlled teammate get too far behind, they stand a chance of getting tangled up in the environment (behind a destroyed chunk of road or tumbling off the side of a moving platform). When it happens, they’ll respawn next to you, but the habitual resurrections get a bit comical after awhile — taking you out of the carefully crafted tone of the game.
Lastly, the environments are highly detailed - though they are mostly limited to corridors and open battle arenas. In the end, it’s difficult to fault the game on this point because anything more exotic wouldn’t have fit with the actual War for Cybertron story, and would have resulted in a calculated attempt to take players to a number of diverse locales instead of offering environments that push the game’s narrative (while still providing a number of great set-pieces). Some players might grow weary of the repetition but it’s hard to argue against the various mission settings — as the game succeeds with the choices that it makes.
Despite a few technical details that could have used a bit more polish, Transformers: War for Cybertron is a fun action shooter for both Transformers fans and video game fans alike. It may not be as polished as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves or Gears of War 2 but it’s still a great experience. The transformations separate the game from a lot of its contemporaries, providing diversity to the gameplay that players would be hard-pressed to find in cover-based shooters. Nothing is more satisfying than mastering the use of the transformations in the game — flying into a room full of enemies as a seeker (such as fan-favorite Starscream), transforming in mid-air, racking up kills while hovering around the room, before transforming back into a jet and zipping off - without ever touching the ground.
What did you think of Transformers: War for Cybertron? Let us know in the comments.
Transformers: War for Cybertron is available now for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC as well as the Nintendo Wii and DS (though gameplay in the Nintendo versions will differ).