If you’ve played either of Activision’s previous two Transformers games, both of which were tied into the Michael Bay movie continuity, they’d prefer you forget them. “Transformers: War for Cybertron” is a completely new experience that serves as an in-canon prequel for the original Transformers Generation 1 universe, telling the story of the battle for control of their homeworld, Cybertron, before they arrived on Earth and looked like the cars and jets we know and love.
The latest from developer High Moon Studios not only tells that story, but does so with the aid of new designs in a game packed to the gills with replay value. CBR News took the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions for a spin to find out if it lives up to the hype.
“War for Cybertron” is a third person action shooter that should feel familiar to gamers who have taken “Gears of War” for a spin, with one notable exception. Click the left analog stick and you’re transformed from robot to vehicle. I’m not going to lie, this is just plain cool. While there are reasons to do it in terms of gameplay and strategy, it’s fun to change back and forth just for the heck of it. Each animation is slick and seamless, and every character has a slightly different sound.
The rest of the gameplay is fairly intuitive, with buttons for different kind of weapons, special attacks and melee fighting. The driving mechanics are fairly easy to control, though I initially had a hard time with turning. When I realized that I could use the left stick to push me forward and right stick to turn (by changing the camera angle), things became infinitely easier. Flight mechanics are very smooth as well. The game does not have a cover system, but certain environments can be used to your advantage when coupled with the right choice of weapons.
While based in G1 continuity, the first thing you will notice is that the characters look different than you might remember. Each Transformer has been reimagined and redesigned; these versions of the characters have never seen a semi-truck or a military jet, so it makes perfect sense that they’d get an overhaul. They’re also better suited to the varying and often uneven terrain on Cybertron. Despite the changes, every character maintains their iconic elements and is easily recognizable, perhaps more so than some of their movie counterparts.
Not being overly familiar with the look of Cybertron prior to getting my hands on the game, it’s tough to compare it to previous glimpses in the cartoon and comic books. The world presented in the game is pure Syd Mead, but with a decidedly dystopic slant. The level design is varied and interesting, though some environmental elements lacked detail. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more interaction both in terms of combat and figure to ground relationship. There is minimal environmental damage when bullets or grenades go off and I often felt as though the cars were just hovering rather than spinning wheels on a surface. I found this odd considering certain mechanisms, gun turrets for example, are completely interactive with your Transformer literally interfacing with them. It would have been nice to find some middle ground. Overall, the look of Cybertron coupled with the newly designed Transformers feels like an evolution for the franchise and is a logical extension of where G1 began and more modern aesthetics. Both the PS3 and 360 versions looked virtually identical, so choosing which platform should be based solely on personal preference.
The Multiplayer modes are a big part of the game and not an afterthought for the developer, who told CBR News, “It is part of our culture at High Moon Studios. All of us play multiplayer from 5-6 every single day. We have killed each other thousands and thousands of times just to make sure it’s right, because multiplayer games live and die based on balance.” This is accomplished in the game via four different classes of Transformer – leaders, soldiers, scouts and scientists – each of whom have unique attributes, weapons and kill streaks. You choose based on power, speed, weapons, and special abilities, all of which can be further customized. Specific abilities and combinations of classes during multiplayer can make a huge difference, especially once you start leveling up. There is a lot of strategy at work here.
The customization is what they’re calling “Create Your Own Transformer.” This mode is fun, just not quite as in-depth as some other create-a-character modes. You have a choice of several types of chassis for each mode as well as the ability to customize the primary and secondary colors. It’s nice to have, but I’d like to see the idea expanded upon in future iterations to the point where you can take individual arms, legs, torsos and heads and customize each part. High Moon offers more options when it comes to picking weapons and powers, and you can swap out weapons while playing if you choose poorly or find something more attractive. While you can level up during gameplay and gain new weapons and abilities, you cannot upgrade individual weapons as you can in games like “Borderlands.” Luckily, there are numerous weapons and powers to choose from, so this is not a drawback by any means.
Multiplayer gameplay is a lot of fun, even for someone like me who isn’t great at deathmatch style combat. It’s easy to tell Autobots from Decepticons and avoid friendly fire, but I did have a hard time distinguishing what class I was shooting at unless they were in vehicle form. The only downside to the deathmatch is that the respawn points often put you very far away from the action. If you’re using anything but a Scout, the fastest of the classes, it can sometimes take a minute to even find anyone else to interact with.
The evenhandedness between classes comes with a price in multiplayer, as each ends to feel a bit samey until you start to level them up. The Scouts are noticeably faster, but the other three classes all feel slow and there’s not a lot of benefit to the vehicle modes unless you’re defending a node and need the firepower of a canon. Whenever I played as a Scientist, I seemed to do little more than die. After watching some of the developers in action, it appears the Scientists are actually the gamebreakers in multiplayer combat. In addition to transforming into jets, they can do things like heal teammates and camouflage themselves to appear as though they’re on the other team. The deeper you go with the game, the more rewarding it becomes.
A host of alternative modes round out multiplayer including Conquest (capture and then defend multiple “nodes”) Power Struggle (capture a moving node and earn points the longer you control it) and more. Perhaps the most challenging multiplayer mode is Escalation, a four-player teamwork-based mode in which you attempt to survive against wave after wave of enemies. Kills unlock currency that you can spend to buy new weapons, items or unlock doors that open to new areas. Some of the new areas can be easier to defend, so this isn’t just about expanding the map. The enemies get tougher and ammo runs out all too quickly if you don’t make the right kills. No one made it past Level 6 while I played, so there is some serious difficulty factor going on here as you progress from level to level.
The campaign mode is divided into two distinct tracks, depending on whether you elect to play as Autobots or Decepticons, and all feature different levels and objectives. The mode can be tackled either solo or with drop-in/drop-out three-player co-op. There’s a lot going on right as the game begins, and you really do feel as if you’re in the middle of a civil war with real goals to accomplish. The cinematics and boss fights are well-integrated into the flow of the game, and when Optimus Prime is onscreen, it’s a pleasure to hear Peter Cullen bark orders. We only had time to navigate through one level, but the prequel aspects of the story were especially fun to run through as you’ll see characters that have established relationships now meeting for the first time, often in surprising ways. I would have liked to have spent more time with the story, but I can definitely say I was intrigued by what little I experienced.
Campaign mode is also notable because it’s the only place in the game where you get to play as the classic Transformers characters. In all of the multiplayer modes, you’re limited to customizing generic bots from one of the four classes. While part of the goal of multiplayer is parity, you can really feel the difference in speed, power and other attributes as you play through as Optimus Prime, Starscream or Bumblebee, to name a few.
“Transformers: War for Cybertron” is not just a very good Transformers game, it’s just a very good game, period. There are some minor issues and a few things that could be improved upon, but they don’t significantly hinder your enjoyment. The most impressive accomplishment is that the game actually rewards the time spent with it, both in terms of leveling up characters and refining strategy. One of the producers also revealed that Activision will release DLC in the future to keep the game alive, which only makes it feel even more worth the price of admission.
“Transformers: War for Cybertron” is available June 22, 2010 for the DS, PC, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360. For more information on all versions of the game, check out the official website at .