There are some licensed properties that cry out for a decent video game adaption, and one of those is Transformers. When the basic premise is “giant robots beating the crap out of each other” you really have to try hard to mess that up. So far this generation, we’ve had two less than stellar attempts to cash in on the giant-bot franchise, and both of those fell flat (though that may have something to do with them being movie tie-ins). Now, High Moon Studios, the company responsible for the moderately-successful Bourne game, has gotten behind the wheel and is trying to steer Transformers in a better direction. Does the game deliver the goods, or does it perish in a Michael Bay-style explosion?
Right off the bat, you realize that this game is doing everything it can to distance itself from the recent “Bayformer” movies, taking place on the Transformer’s home planet of Cybertron with nary a Shia LeBeouf in sight. The iconic characters of the series are all designed along the lines of their original cartoon inceptions and even the planet itself is crafted with a loving hand. The entire planet shifts and alters shape just as often as the Transformers themselves and you get the sense that the art department at High Moon really dug deep into the lore of Transformers to get everything feeling just right. Even the way the characters interact with each other seems like it was pulled right out of the original cartoon; Optimus Prime is the same stoic leader he’s always been, and Megatron and Starscream bicker back and forth the entire time, with the latter trying to take command of the Decepticons at every opportunity. This game is obviously made for fans of the series but you may be wondering how the gameplay holds up in comparison to the design.
War for Cybertron is modeled around a very average third person shooter and only the neat addition of being able to transform between robot and vehicle mode at will keeps the game from becoming too stodgy. While most of the campaign can be boiled down into a linear series of corridor shoot-outs, the ability to take to the skies or blast apart enemies as a tank is a welcome change. A simple click of the thumbstick is all that’s necessary, and all of the levels are thankfully built to accommodate either play style. Sure, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to turn into a car when you should be using your robot form, but you can do it if you want to, and that alone scores the game some much-needed points.
Speaking of the campaign, it bears mentioning that War for Cybertron sort of sets itself up as a re-boot of sorts, taking the bots back to the midst of the civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, even before Optimus became a Prime. While the game can be played in any order, the Decepticon portion is presented first and the story makes a heck of a lot more sense that way. Playing as Megatron’s evil army, you go about ruining Cybertron and twisting it to your will, while as Optimus’s beleaguered Autobots, you engage in a guerrilla-style fight against the Decepticons to try and reverse the damage done to your home. The story missions are cool for the most part, but they borrow set peices from each other, complete with the giant end boss and the one aerial mission per side. By the end of the Autobot missions, you’ll start to get the feeling of “same old, same old”, and the sameness of the level and enemy design will wear on you. While the game is still fun to play, especially in co-op, these little issues will start to wear on your impression of the title, gratuitous fan service or not. One thing I should mention is that the final boss for the Autobot campaign is almost game-breakingly hard, like the designers had a tough time tuning his difficulty. His attacks are merciless, do a high amount of damage, and there’s very little ammo or health items scattered about. Considering that taking this guy out relies on dumping a lot of rounds into very specific parts of his body, the lack of available munitions quickly becomes a frustration.
Besides a pretty decent single player game, War for Cybertron also features a “Call of Duty” style multiplayer offering where you take on opposing teams in several different game types in order to gain experience points and unlock different abilities for each class. It sounds neat, but the design for each class is kind of generic, and I’m not really tempted to continue playing in order to level up my characters. If you’re more into the co-op scene, War for Cybertron does offer three-player co-op throughout the gampaign and also features a “Nazi Zombies”-esque Escalation Mode where you hold your own against progressively harder waves of robots. Defeating your antagonists nets you Energon chips, which you can spend on unlocking new weapons and areas. While this mode owes a lot to the other games that have come before it, playing as the Robots in Disguise adds a certain flair to it.
Overall, War for Cybertron is a decent game, one that is heads and shoulders above its current generation predecessors. By not tying themselves into the movie franchise, High Moon was given free reign to make their own interpretation of the Transformers saga and they succeed for the most part. While the game gets appropriate kudos for giving nods to the classic series, it does loose points for not doing anything too fresh or original with the gameplay. While I did mention that the transform-at-will part is pretty nifty, without that War for Cybertron is a pretty generic third person shooter that takes a lot of cues from other, better games. If you’re a fan of the old-school cartoon, I definitely recommend giving this a try. If you’ve never been a fan of Transformers, you’re not going to find a lot here to grab your interest.
At the end of the day War for Cybertron is a healthy dose of nostalgia delivered in a repetitive gameplay package. While it’s by no means bad, it just doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
That’s what I thought about the new Transformers game, but what do you guys think? Who’s played this game, and what are your thoughts?
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