previews\ May 5, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Transformers: War for Cybertron preview


Transformers have had a rough two decades filled with terrible games and failed reboots. I've heard good things about the recent movies, but considering my allergy to Michael Bay, I decided not to spoil my childhood memories. Walking into High Moon Studios, I had the feeling that something was different. Transformers: War for Cybertron isn't a product of movie tie-ins or endorsements. It is the offspring of true fans.

High Moon Studios was the developer behind the unfortunately ignored Darkwatch, and Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy. Reviews for the latter ran the gamut of scores, but most journalists agreed that the game rose above the cut-rate gameplay and hackneyed storytelling that plagues most licensed games. That's good news, because High Moon Studios is navigating the Transformers property into uncharted territory.

War for Cybertron takes place before the classic cartoons, on Cybertron at the tail-end of a civil war that will turn Optimus (not yet Prime) and Megatron into leaders, and eternal rivals. High Moon Studios literally went back to the drawing board and redesigned the Transformers. In vehicle-mode, classic characters have the sleek appeal of concept cars while retaining their general shapes and recognizable colors. They have Hasbro's stamp of approval, and you can expect a new toy line soon.

High Moon Studios offered two sections of third-person shooting, about 10-15 minutes each, which I played through multiple times. There are full campaigns for Autobots and Decepticons, and each mission offers a rotating cast of three playable characters. I began with Ratchet, whose sentries and repair-gun are geared for supporting his two cohorts. By contrast, Optimus and his heavy weapons are primed for charging headlong into battle. The Decepticons were largely kept under wraps, but I can assure you that major surprises will be revealed in the coming weeks.

The lack of cover-mechanics feels odd for a modern, third-person shooter, but War for Cybertron doesn't appear to be overly difficult. After coming to grips with the controls, I was able to leap into Hard-difficulty without much strain.

Multiplayer will be a major focus. There are four classes of characters. Scouts are the invisible, roguish killers that transform into cars. Scientists are weak, but have healing abilities and transform into jets for quick getaways. Soldiers are defensive powerhouses, and are not to be trifled with in tank-form. Leaders love their cannons and bombs, and have powerful ramming abilities as (surprise, surprise) trucks.

Transforming is simple, instantaneous, and essential to survival. Multiplayer arenas have been designed to offer areas that play to the strengths and weaknesses of each class. There are perches for the Scientists, straightaways for the Leaders, and ramps for the speedy Scouts. The two maps I experienced had a lot of variety in space, heights, and architecture. After two hours, I was still discovering new nooks and crannies.

As a class gains experience, new weapons and abilities are unlocked that can be added to the customizable characters. A Scientist can focus on abilities to heal teammates directly on the battlefield, or take a more defensive approach and specialize in deploying and maintaining sentry-guns. There are even customizable rewards for killstreaks.

The similarities to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Team Fortress 2 are brazenly obvious, but I am not one to complain. Transformers are long overdue for a quality video game adaptation, and Transformers: War for Cybertron has a good shot at rocketing past the abysmally low standards we have come to expect.

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