Transformers: War for Cybertron Review
Become Megatron and Optimus Prime, all in the same game
Transformers: War for Cybertron is a third-person shooter developed by High Moon Studios and published by Activision. Being an official entry into the series, Hasbro has a toy line releasing in 2010 based on War for Cybertron. The game is also said to be an official chapter of the Transofmers’ Universe back story, similarly to the comics. The game takes place prior to the Transformers: Prime animated series, when the Transformers still live on their home world, Cybertron. The game has two single player campaigns, one for each faction, but both are rather similar in length and context. There is also an extensive selection of multiplayer and coop modes, which add longevity. With a very accurate and true-to-source material setting and characters, this title is probably worth your while – regardless if you’re a fan of the series or not – and is likely the best game in the Transformers series.
The plot is set long before the events of the Transformers: Prime television series. The game features both a Decepticon campaign and an Autobot campaign, though they are not inter-linked so players can complete them in any order. Given the game’s story though, it’s best to play through as designed – first as Decepticons, than as Autobots. The Decepticon campaign focuses on Megatron’s quest to recover an all-powerful dark energon power, and then use it to take over the whole planet and begin his rule as the ultimate leader. Having acquired the power, Megatron and his subordinates battle Omega Supreme, a giant Autobot robot guarding that holds the key to the center of the planet, where Megatron wants to infuse the dark energy. The campaign follows this group of Decepticons on their quest, and things go rather well.
Of course, after that the Autobot campaign takes over. Now playing as Optimus Prime, the player’s task is pretty much to un-do everything they just accomplished in the Decepticon campaign and save the planet. If you are OK with having the game force you to un-do the evil things you’ve previously worked so hard for to complete, then play on and see that the ending doesn’t quite play out as nicely as some may expect. Through the campaign, the player will get to meet many popular personalities such as Zeta Prime, Bumblebee, Ratchet, Silverbolt, Air Raid and more. The Decipticons include characters such as Starscream, Thundercracker, Skywarp, Brawl, Barricade and many others. Though the campaigns are linear, enough thrills and interesting set pieces are delivered to provide a fun and worthwhile experience, though with little replay value.
At the outset of each chapter, the player can choose between three different characters to play as. The selection always includes the leader (Prime and Megatron), as well as two support characters of varying classes. The game is setup for a coop experience, hence if you’re playing single player, the other two characters will still accompany during the course of the game, controlled by the AI. Depending on which character you choose to play as, the gameplay is barely affected. Each character comes from a specific class, with at least one unique ability - but playing through the campaign means the abilities aren’t used often since the game isn’t overly challenging. As such, there is very little impact on the game regardless of who you choose to play as. The abilities range from a temporary speed burst, to a short-range melee attack burst, to temporary shields.
Abilities aside, all characters can carry two weapons at a time – which tend to drain ammo relatively quickly. As you shoot your way through the game, you’ll come into contact with a wide range of weapons, including plasma machine guns, sniper rifles, pistols, and many more. Each has their own ammo type, hence swapping weapons mid-fight is a common tactic. If you’re out of ammo, there are usually plenty of weapons lying around the battlefield, which can be picked up and swapped for your current one. If all else fails, the melee attack kills almost all enemies with very few hits, making it easy to get out of close quarters combat relatively quickly.
The general mechanics of the game don’t really alternate. There are no puzzles to solve, instead there is an on-screen indicator that almost always points to the next objective. The action doesn’t see much change – you will be mowing down the same generic transformer enemies room after room. There are a few rare enemies, such as those that are quick and can turn invisible, and the powefull shield-wielding enemies that can only be shot from the back. Even so, after you’ve completed one of the campaigns in the game, you’ve already seen all the enemy types as they simply repeat in the Autobot story. This is a somewhat disappointing and missed opportunity to at least introduce some new enemy types across the campaigns. The boss fights in the game are more focused on action and reflexes than any type of thinking. Rather than having to fight and find a weak spot, you must always dodge a set of attacks, and then the boss simply reveals their weak spot for you to shoot at. Repeated a few times, that’s pretty much how every boss fight goes. While fun, the game ultimately suffers from repetition.
While the campaign is fun, it doesn’t offer much replay value. However, the game also comes with a Co-op mode, as previously mentioned, so the whole thing can be experienced with up to 3 players. However, to really add longevity to the title, there are a number of multiplayer modes. The Escalation mode is your typical survival mode, as you and your team take on waves of increasingly difficult enemies. During this mode, players are able to earn and spend points on health, ammo and even to unlock new areas of the map to defend from. There’s also the usual deathmatch, team deathmatch and conquest modes.
Beyond the gameplay modes also lies a character customization system. Players must create their own Transformers character to take into online battles, so it cannot be an existing Transformer. There are a number of classes available, similarly to single player, which are the "Leader" class, a "Soldier" class, a "Scientist" class, and a "Scout" class. The player selection of the class determines their abilities, weapon loadouts and what vehicle they can transform into. The game also features an experience and leveling up system, which comes with various perks and upgrades as your Transformer battles online. Everything in multiplayer is done well enough to warrant many hours of play, be it competitive or team based, and should keep fans involved for a while.
As the name suggests, this Transformers game takes place on the home planet of Cybertron. The game utilizes the Unreal engine, and with its dark grays and metallic textures, it is a nearly perfect match to the setting. Everything on Cybertron looks and feels as it should in a machine world. Unfortunately, the setting begins to look extremely generic and lifeless very early on, and takes a long while to get used to. A machine-built world is not expected to have any lively scenery, so again the setting and execution are perfect in that regard, but the visuals are just not easy on the eyes at all. Looking at gray metallic textures hallway after hallway grows tiresome very quickly and unfortunately never gets any better. Later on, things are helped a bit by a few outdoor levels as well as underground tunnels that are illuminated with a different light.
The rest of the presentation in the game is good, particularly with sound and audio. The character dialogue is delivered very well, and the occasional bickering amongst rival Transformers never fails to amuse. The environment and action sounds are serviceable, but are a bit loud and often drown out the excellent techno and rock soundtrack and plays in the heat of combat. The game is fairly well optimized, though still framerate issues appeared randomly when the game was running on high end hardware. The mouse and keyboard works well for controls, but be warned that there is no way to customize the key bindings.
There is no doubt that Transformers: War for Cybertron is the best game of the series this generation. To be fair, the series hasn’t enjoyed much success in recent years, mostly because it was tied to the movie franchise. However, with a passionate developer and support from Hasbro, War for Cybertron is a great story entry in this toys universe, one that’s well worth checking out for the fans. The gameplay may be a bit repetitive, but the story is an official part of the series and serves the franchise well. Visuals are entirely appropriate but lack variety, so at least the sound and audio production are well worth the experience. Transformers fans should definitely have a go at this title, and it also comes recommended to action fans in general looking for their quick summer fix.