It took 26 years to get right, but High Moon Studios' Transformers: War for Cybertron is the game that the fans have been waiting for. It's is also a testament to a development house who is interested in doing more than just riding the coat tails of a popular franchise or creating another bland, yet money making sequel. Talking with the members of the War for Cyberton team, one gets the sense that this was more than just another game to them. For them, this was a chance to create something new from one of the most well known pieces of pop culture from the 80's and do it justice.
Transformers: War for Cybertron follows the titular robots in disguise as they are engaged in their war. The militaristic Decepticons are led by Megatron who wants to unify their planet and species through subjugation. "Peace through tyranny" is his motto. The peace minded Autobots, understandably, have a problem with this and decide to fight back. Although their leader is Zeta Prime, we learn of an up and coming warrior named Optimus who believes that "freedom is the right of all sentient beings" and will be instrumental to the Autobots fighting spirit. This story takes place before the Transformers land on Earth as shown in the cartoons, so no pesky, annoying humans get in the way; just giant robot to robot butt-kicking excellence. So particular was High Moon Studios in keeping to and expanding the lore that parent company Hasbro accepts this story as being a part of the official back story the Transformers. No small feat indeed.
The game is split into several flavors: solo campaign, co-op campaign, co-op missions and competitive multiplayer. The campaign is split in half, 1 each for the Autobots and Decepticons. Each half tells a different story and can be played in either order without destroying the overall story. Being able to play this with the ability to have online friends join your campaign and leave without interfering with your play is very cool. *Note to developers: MAKE MORE GAMES HAVE THIS FEATURE!* Escalation mode has 4 teammates surviving wave after wave of enemies gaining credits for each vanquished robot. The straetegy that health, weapons and ammunition can be bought for teammates as well as yourself really ties the teamwork aspect together in this mode. Competitive multiplayer is where most will spend their time and it is just as worthy as the other mainstay multiplayer titles out there. Players can choose from 4 different classes with unique abilities and powers (Scouts can go invisible, while Warriors have more health and deal more damage, etc), and can earn new abilities as they gain levels for their classes to make them more formidable. They can even customise their robot, though it is limited to slight frame and color changes. While several classic multiplayer maps grace the scene, it's the transformation mechanic that makes it a whole new ball game. Thinking you have an enemy on the verge of breakdown, only to have them transform and scrap you with a surprise attack has changed *many* battles in my experience.
Which brings me to controls. I've said it before: a pretty game that has poor controls kills the game experience (I'm looking at *you*, Prototype). War for Cybertron has a higher learning curve than most might initially excpect. Not only do you have to know how to move and fight as a humanoid robot, you have to race and fight as a vehicle. And *several* vehicles at that! Not having a proper tutorial mode/level hinders the learning process. Don't get me wrong, I was able to "run and gun" easily once I started. But pressing the START Button to read about the different controls, displays and objects in the game instead of learing about them on the fly during game play was quite jarring. Controlling the tank is slightly different from the cars and trucks, which are quite different from the jets. In general, most of the controls are similar; it's the vehicle specific details that take some time to get used to. Believe me, it's worth taking the time to understand the mechanics. After a few hours of playing, the nuances started making more sense to me: how to effectively use my abilities, when and where to transform into robot and vehicle, how to efficiently use my weapons, even which character would be the best to use in each stage.
The combat has a good pace for a third person shooter no matter what form you are in. While the AI can get a bit tripped up at times, in general, they do decent enough job in helping your character without feeling like they are doing all the work. The enemies can range from cakewalk to "WHAT THE....?!?!" at certain times, but for me that helps to keep my interest and each difficulty level is appropriately balanced overall. The weapons are Cybertonian equivalents of the standard fare (machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, etc) with some new ones and they usually are placed where they will most likely be needed. I did wonder why these super robots needed to reload and run out of ammunition then came to the conclusion that if there was unlimited ammo, there would be no need to ever transform into the alternate vehicle and take advantage of each form's strengths during combat. Why ever go into car mode when you are a walking robot with an unlimited supply of doom-bringing awesome? Why ever *leave* vehicle mode if you can move faster and have unlimited yet weaker weapons? Learning this art of fluidly thinking and moving like a Transformer helps later in the game when levels require you to get comfortable with *both* forms while in full combat and is essential in the more difficult settings. It also helps to move the game from a "spray and pray" to a more focused shooter. You *can* play "shoot until you run empty" and enjoy it for a bit, but you wont get far. You certainly won't enjoy it as much as if you played the game with more focus and a little strategy.
On the presentation side, it's mind blowing to me how much passion went into making this an authentic Transformers experience. From the custom made Cybertonian fonts (yes, all that on screen "gibberish" are actual letters that can be decoded into our letters), and expansive environment to the moving parts on the robots, vehicles and weapons; the engaging and enlightening story to the top notch voice acting, every metallic corner shows a level of polish (no pun intended...ok, maybe a little), care and respect for the franchise and product that I wish more developers took the time to cultivate. It's not perfect, but High Moon Studios' level of passion shines though in the product. How many games can you really say that about these days? Along with all the polygons and death matches and online ability and hours of playtime, I'll happily add "developer passion and commitment to their project" to my list of things to consider when I want to throw my money down on a game. I mean, if a studio doesn't care about putting out their best in a game just to make a buck, why should I spend my buck on them? That's just my opinion.
If you are a fan of the big 'bots, Transformers: War for Cybertron is not only a must have, you already own it by now (and are very happy with it.) If you are not a general fan of the Transformers, are on the fence, want a good sized single player third person shooter with a solid good multiplayer and fun cooperative modes, and are willing to go with the higher learning curve for the price of admission, you will be well rewarded. Transformers: War for Cybertron is available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC and is rated "T" for Teen.
Alejandro's GameCore Review Equation: (Novice-Intermediate) (Transformers! x LOTS of them) x (respect of the property x 19.84 bazillion) x (devotion to making a great game 1st + Transformers on top of that) / One of the best Transformers games made in the last 2 decades = Must Have.
By Alejandro K Brown