I am not a Transformers fan per se. I grew up watching the cartoons in a bedroom littered with plastic Autobots and Decepticons. I fawned over my friend’s figure of Soundwave and even followed Beast Wars, but I knew squat about the lore. I never read the comics, I never visited a fan-forum, and I still regret watching the animated movie last year. Now that I have thoroughly discredited myself, I can safely say that Transformers: War for Cybertron is a tremendously good game.
High Moon Studios could have taken the low road and turned out another generic piece of marketing designed to siphon what little hope the fans have left. Instead, it went for broke, expanding upon the history of the series, constructing a world worthy of admiration, and redesigning the classic characters. I see you gritting your teeth, but hold on. Unlike Michael Bay’s bastardization of the characters, High Moon Studios’ versions look fantastic, and I can’t wait to get my hands on Hasbro’s figures.
War for Cybertron takes place before the Transformers set foot on Earth, and even before Optimus becomes Prime. The campaign, which can be played individually or cooperatively, is split into two parts, beginning with the Decepticons. Megatron, in his constant bid for power, seeks out the legendary Dark Energon, which happens to be guarded by Starscream. Fans will get a kick out seeing the origins of characters like Starscream, but even newcomers will quickly feel the gravity of the situation unfolding.
War for Cybertron is not a children’s game, and had it featured humans, it would most certainly have received a Mature-rating. Injured Transformers crawl along the battlefield until their sparks flicker out, or you put a foot to the back of their heads. Deliver a killing blow with your melee weapon and you’ll be witness of splattered oil dripping down the screen. Human or not, the sight of Autobots screaming in torment and being fed to the recyclers of Kaon Prison is deeply unsettling.
The action is no less brutal, so don’t expect the puny lasers of the cartoon. These bots love guns, grenades, and explosions. The bigger the better, and every gun in War for Cybertron packs a seriously satisfying punch. Grabbing a missile-sized turret and eviscerating the opposition as chunks of armor litter the ground should surely make you feel like a badass.
I was surprised by the lack of a cover-mechanic, which nearly every third-person shooter now implements, but War for Cybertron rarely suffers from the absence. Each of the game’s 10 Chapters lets you choose from three characters, each with his own special ability. For example: Megatron can leech health, Warpath can set up barriers and unleash shockwaves, while Air Raid can go invisible.
As the name implies, no Transformers game is complete without transforming. The change is almost instantaneous, and like their humanoid forms, each Transformer’s vehicle received a makeover. It only makes sense, since they haven’t visited Earth yet, but each vehicle is instantly recognizable. There are a few sections of roadway that are obviously meant for motorized transport, but even those can often be traversed on foot.
Only the airborne sections make transforming feel like a necessity, and they are some of the highlights of the game. Flying through the sewers of Cybertron ranks as one of my favorite moments in gaming this year. Looking as if it was ripped straight from The Matrix, enemies included, but far more epic than its inspiration.
The end-chapter battles and boss-fights will not soon be forgotten, especially when facing the immensity of Omega Supreme. He’s a skyscraper of metal and pulverizing firepower, and he’s not even the largest foe to be faced. I’ll leave that one as a surprise. Unfortunately, many of the battles drag on too long or have too little variation, leaving you to focus on the repetitious patterns instead of the intensity. This is a shame, especially when tackling the heavy-hitters of the series, including Soundwave.
I sincerely hope that War for Cybertron captures a dedicated fan-base, because the multiplayer is entertaining and surprisingly robust. Players pick from the Scout, Leader, Soldier, and Scientist classes, each with customizable color-schemes and forms. In line with today’s hottest multiplayer games, War for Cybertron allows players to gain levels and combine unlockable abilities to make their own tactics. The vehicles feel secondary in the campaign, but mastering them is necessary to surviving the chaos of multiplayer. Equally fun is Escalation, which pits you against wave after wave of enemies.
Transformers: War for Cybertron is the new standard for licensed games, but it is so much more than that. Every texture, character, and word of dialogue is infused with High Moon Studios’ passion and respect for the property. If you aren’t amazed by the detail in every inch of Cybertron, you aren’t paying attention. If you don’t feel a surge of excitement with every firefight, I fear you’ve let yourself become jaded. After all, how many times have you operated a turret from the back of a space slug in the heart of Cybertron?