I was sooo looking forward to the X360 version of the Transformers game and was uncertain about the Wii version. But, I've tried them both and I don't know if it is because of expectations, but my feeling for both games has been altered:
Like everyone of our generation who grew up watching the original Transformers Generation One which culminated with the Orson Welles voiced Omnicron movie, we have a certain nostalgic view of all things Autobots and Decepticons. As such, I've never really subscribed to the Armada, Beast Wars and other spin-offs that alter the past, present and future of our mechanical buddies. I grudgingly accepted the entertainment value of the Michael Bay movie franchise even if it seemed "impure" but omitted it in my mental history of the Cybertron civil war --- besides, I'm sure we all felt a sense of pride when we first heard Peter Cullen's voice in a real-life rendered Optimus Prime.
So, when I first saw the "War for Cybertron" trailer a few months ago, you can be sure I was as excited as when the live-action Transformers movies were announced --- even more so, as video games, like novels, can definitely expand upon the storyline more than feature length films that have to introduce, plot and conclude everything within a two-hour timeframe. It would be unfortunate if the trailer, like some high-budget films, was a compilation of all the best scenes, leaving you with a collection of highlights constantly interrupted by some lackadaisical filler. After playing the first Autobot Iacon mission on the Wii version of "Cybertron Adventures" followed by about a dozen checkpoints into the Xbox 360 version of the "War for Cybertron" mission of the same name, my experience was not what I had expected when I first gazed upon the trailer. What follows is the story of my experience...
There were so many screenshots and videos of the PS3/X360 version of the "War for Cybertron" game that the Wii version was constantly being referenced by the same name. However, the lack of Wii screenshots for "Cybertron Adventures" made it seem like a top secret project or, for the pessimistic, a scaled-down disappointing little brother of the "War for Cybertron". I was half-expecting the Wii graphics to be the super-deformed cartoons from the recent "Transformers Animated" television series. What surprised me most was that the Wii introduction was similar to that of the X360 trailer I had seen months earlier. I was starting to feel optimistic now. As the first mission started, and I was driving down the Iacon highway as Sideswipe, I was hooked. Luckily the Autobots were not rendered like the Animated cartoon, but a slightly less detailed version of the PS3/X360 models (I'm assuming due to the differences in graphical processing power). The backgrounds, however, were markedly less detailed as cell-shaded animation. The first mission went by rather quickly, as I tore down the highway, blasted Deceptions, moved on to melee attacks and back and forth between vehicle and robot modes. Between the robot and vehicle checkpoints, the game subtly engaged you to utilize more of the mode's weaponry.
The initial vehicle combat system required you to simply drive and blast objects on the road. This was basically handling all driving with the nunchuck controller for accelerating, braking and steering and holding down the 'A' button for firing. The following highway segment allowed for Wii remote multiple targeting and missile deployment to reinforce the Wii's greatest strength of having you utilize separate dual-hand-eye coordination techniques to achieve your goal. The robot melee mode had your basic modern-day fighting features: taking and moving to cover, zooming fine-tuned shots and multiple weapon capabilities. You are equipped with 4 possible weapons in robot mode, toggled with the nunchuck controller, each with its own unique characteristics: Blaster, Gatling Gun, Sniper Rifle and Missile Launcher. Blaster, of course, is your all purpose weapon. Gatling Gun is for taking down clusters of enemies more effectively. Sniper Rifle, obviously, allows you more zoom and precision shooting of your enemies under cover and Missile Launcher allows you to lock onto targets, especially useful for flying Decepticons. All four weapons do not use countered ammunition, but basically recharge for varying durations between firings, which actually makes perfect sense for a robot. I finished the first mission fairly quickly, but I'm not sure if that was because it was short or because it was too much fun. If the gameplay is this much fun on the Wii, the PS3/X360 game much be even more kick-ass with its superior graphics and processors (famous last words).
When I started "War of Cybertron", it took an excessively long time to load before the Introduction began --- I expected the video to be significantly better for that wait, but it wasn't. I will point out that they did seem to scale down the rendering on the Wii intro as well as cut out a few scenes (most importantly, the mega-Autobot behind Optimus prime near the end), but I don't think the excess wait time is necessary for that. What you first notice is that the missions have beautifully rendered cut-scenes to give you a sense of the devastation on the planet. The second most important difference is that you are not locked into a single character, you get to choose between Optimus, Bumblebee and Ratchet --- now this is more like it. It goes without saying that I chose Optimus for my first mission and the three of us rode down an elevator and made our way to the Iacon highway.
Now, first things first. The backgrounds are rendered beautifully in post-apocalyptic mechanical-world splendor. Whether you are standing still or moving, the flaps and wheels on Optimus' backside are constantly moving, akin to breathing, which is definitely uber-cool. Finally, you are allowed to transform between robot and vehicle mode at will, which is all a fanboy could hope for. But, when it all boils down, all of this is essentially eye-candy. How exactly does the game play? First, let's focus on the driving. Optimus is some sort of futuristic "hatchback" not unlike a truck (actually, I think it sort of resembles the failed Pontiac Aztec). Instead of driving, he sort of hovers with four wheel jets whereas it almost appears as if Bumblebee and Ratchet are actually on wheels (as is Optimus during the opening sequence, I thought). I would let that slide except that the actual driving DOES feel like I'm driving a hovercraft instead of a sports car as Optimus seems to glide sideways when I turn and does not appear to move fast at all, even when I apply the boosters. Okay, so the driving is weak, so let's check out the fighting.
Unlike on the Wii, your character is allowed to carry two weapons at a time, your trusty blaster and whatever secondary weapon you pick up. You start with a scattershot cannon, which behaves like a shotgun. Pushing the right joystick causes Optimus to swing his axe. In my opinion, this is a very ineffective method of close-range combat. I figure this was probably because they ran out of logically button mappings because of all the other cool feature --- besides, I figure I won't be the axe much because, simply put, it doesn't quite deliver that much satisfaction when it connects with another robot. Now, running around, left-trigger fine-tuned aiming and right-trigger firing is fairly standard and I start to get into the gameplay. Suddenly, a wall explodes and a slew of Decepticons appear. I rush over to the nearest junk heap and start clicking every single button on the controller to see if I can figure out the "use cover" or "dodge" button. You can feel my frustration as none of them seem to work. So, I use my last resort and click "Start" and look at the controller mappings and discover, to my chagrin, that there is not button for "cover". Go figure. So I'm basically standing and running and shooting as many targets as possible hoping they don't take me down. That was when I discovered that your blaster does not actually contain a lot of ammo.
Well, I grew up on DOOM just like anybody else, so I ran around and tried to take down everyone with my trusty energy axe. I believe I stated before how unsatisfying this actually was, especially when compared to how the ol' chainsaw used to be in DOOM --- the fact that the bad guys were not quite as easily dispatched with an axe as expected (or as shown in the intro) and you can understand the relief I felt when I finally cleared the area. Ratchet then heals you so that you can move onto the next checkpoint.
There were several places where I had no idea where I was going, until I realized I had to follow the little blue arrow, which is easily lost in the complex backdrop. At one point I was standing with a line of Autobots firing across a chasm at Decepticons and I walked up to each Autobot and watched with envy as they each stood with their backs to a barrier, occasionally firing over and behind their heads or spinning around the barrier, firing and then crouching back down behind cover. Odd that they are allowed to and I was not. Then I came upon a Decepticon "war machine" which looks like a rocket (or a drill) with three legs. Even before the red targets appeared, any seasoned gamer would realize that you had to shoot out the exoskeleton of each of the legs and then the body itself. But that turned out to be the first of such novelties. When I came upon the next "war machine" it skipped the "legs" step and instead placed a target on the main body. It turned out that the body was stronger than the last and I unloaded all my primary and secondary weapons upon it, yet it was not enough to destroy it. Even after I switched to vehicular mode and unleashed my arsenal at the target, it was still standing. This nuance was the beginning of my next torture.
I probably don't have to tell you how annoying it is to have to run around all over a maze built out of junk while breaking whatever remaining boxes are left but not finding any ammo. Finally, after unable to resolve the situation, and shortly before I was going to shut off the system, I got too upset and smash a Dark Energon crystal formation and, lo and behold, all my weapons were fully powered again. I subsequently destroyed the war machine and continued to endure several more checkpoints until I got to the turbine jumping sequence, where I died when I fell into the water. Since the first mission still had not ended, I decided not to continue, turned it off and started playing the second mission on "Cybertron Adventures" instead.
While I would not recommend "Cybertron Adventures" to everyone, I definitely cannot, in good conscience, recommend "War for Cybertron". The Wii game may not have all the eye-popping cool graphics but it definitely has better playability in both driving and combat. Perhaps I am naive that I still prefer gameplay with cartoon graphics over realistic graphics with lack of substance --- but I definitely find the "Next Level Games" Wii version much more playable than the "High Moon Studios" nextgen game. Perhaps, I am being unrealistic in expecting that "War for Cybertron" would play like a combination of "Burnout" and "Gears of War" and not a poor substituteand addictive of both. I may probably give "War for Cybertron" another chance (or occasionally pop it in to look at teh visuals), but at first glance, I was disappointed that it did not represent what we've come to expect from combat games --- I know I do not speak for all gamers, but I simply cannot play a game based on eye-candy alone. It has to be More Than Meets the Eye.