Having been burned in the past by Transformers games, I was cautiously optimistic when the Transformers: War for Cybertron trailer debuted. Could this possibly be the game that makes up for the abuse we’ve taken these last few years? It certainly had all the signs of a promising Transformers title:
- Takes place on Cybertron
- No shortage of nerdy robot action
- Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime
- No Shia LaBeouf
After three weeks of alienating my girlfriend and showing up to work with bags under my eyes, it’s definitely safe to say that War for Cybertron has restored my faith in the gaming chops of the beloved series.
Veering away from previous titles, the story follows Optimus Prime’s reluctant rise to leader of the Autobots as he fights to save his world from being torn apart by Megatron. This time around, the Decepticon leader has harnessed the power of a new, dark energy source and threatens to corrupt the very core of Cybertron. Fans of the series can either fight for the planet’s survival under the Autobot flag or don the Decepticon logo and hurry its demise.
While it could be best described as a prequel, High Moon Studios has worked hard to develop this game as a stand-alone title that respects and draws inspiration from the established Transformers lore. Are you listening Michael Bay?
The main story mode is broken down into two halves — each containing five chapters. Though the chronological order begins with the Decepticon campaign, gamers have the option of starting with either faction. If you’re worried about ruining the experience by starting with the Autobots, you shouldn’t be. One campaign may lead up to the core event but the other follows its aftermath — leaving players with mysteries to unravel no matter which side they choose first.
Overall, the voice cast is solid – providing depth to a game that would otherwise be written off as just another shooter. As expected, Peter Cullen returns to voice Optimus, while Johnny Yong Bosch (Power Rangers) gives life to Bumblebee without the British accent that plagued the movie tie-ins of recent years. Only a handful of your favorite Transformers make an appearance in the game but the witty, amusing exchanges between them more than make up for the relatively short roster. Despite this, the origins aspect of the game that became a major selling point falls short at times — reducing most character introductions to little more than a “Hi. My name is___” sticker feel. I can only hope that was done to leave content for future games but either way it feels like a missed opportunity to explore character back-stories.
The brownie points lost from the lack of story depth are recovered ten fold by the addictive single and multiplayer modes. Xbox Live subscribers may have more to come back for but with each campaign running anywhere from 5-7 hours, the disconnected will have more than enough exploding metal to tide them over. Players can select a different character at the start of each chapter so if you find yourself getting turned to slag repeatedly, you can switch it up and try your luck with a different hero class…or stop sucking. All joking aside though, this game is probably one of the most challenging third-person shooters I’ve ever played and feels practically impossible when set to the hardest difficulty. If you’re used to running into the fight guns-a-blazin’, you might want to rethink your playing strategy. The amount of enemy fire headed your way borders on insanity at times, so feel no shame in hiding behind the cover provided by Cybertron’s ruins. Also, with boss battles that are so action-packed and epic, hiding like a crying child is almost encouraged.
On the bright side, you’ll have some help throughout most of the game from two AI characters (or human if playing on Xbox Live). Unfortunately, they’re dumb as scrap (yes, even the humans). They never really get in the way but their ability to reach a whole new level of insignificance will have you cursing under your breath as you’re forced to take down a small army alone. That being said, it’s still pretty awesome to run into the fire with Optimus Prime…even if he’s 20 paces behind you, watching you get murdered Robocop style.
But fear not Xbox Live users. Relatively competent allies are easy to find in the multiplayer modes, which is where War for Cybertron shines brightest. Escalation mode, similar to Gears of War‘s “Horde” mode, pits you against waves of enemies that grow increasingly difficult to defeat as time goes by. You’re allowed to play as any unlocked character from the main story but doubling up on characters is forbidden. So if you’re eager to play as Optimus or Megatron, make sure you grab them before one of your teammates does. The battles are always Autobots versus Decepticons which shatters any hopes of murdering Megatron as Starscream but it does give your team a greater sense of camaraderie.
With every kill under your belt, you’re awarded a certain amount of points that can be used towards replenishing health, ammo, obtaining new weapons/powerups and unlocking different parts of the level. In keeping with the importance of teamwork, multiple members can contribute points for unlocking items or areas so the burden doesn’t fall on just one.
If Escalation isn’t your cup of tea, Deathmatch and Capture the Flag-like variations are also available to satisfy everyone’s gameplay tastes. The heroes and villains from the main story are not playable in these modes but gamers can customize their own transformer – choosing from a variety of color schemes, weaponry, abilities and the four different character classes. With every match played, experience points are awarded towards leveling up your character, which in turn unlocks even more ability and weapon choices. To add extra replay value, only the character class chosen for a match is awarded with experience points. This means that you might have a level 6 scout while your other 3 classes remain at zero, giving you more incentive to change things up to unlock different power-ups. Some critics have said they wanted to see more customization options but I found it to be perfectly fine. This isn’t Little Big Planet; it’s War for Cybertron.
High Moon Studios went above and beyond to portray the sense of decay and desperation that overcomes a planet ravaged by war. From the debris scattered about the levels to the dying Cybetronians crawling to safety with their failing strength, the attention to detail placed by the studio sets a somber tone that gives credibility to this story of epic struggle. Don’t bother looking for a bright yellow colored Bumblebee or the usual vivid reds and blues of Optimus Prime that we’ve seen before. The color scheme of War for Cybertron is just as dismal as the outlook of a world in ruins. And to me, that’s exactly how it should be.
It’s hard not to give props to High Moon Studios for developing the type of Transformers game I’ve been wanting to play for a long time. While the depth of the story is only average, the entertainingly difficult gameplay is fluid and provides more than enough content to justify replaying. If I could make one major complaint, it’s that plans of a sequel have yet to be confirmed. But until that day…til’ all are one.