Review by Vamphaery
"This love letter to Transformers fans is more than meets the eye."
If you aren't a fan of The Transformers and their ever-changing mythos over the years since their inception in the 1980s (including the recent live action feature films,) you may not know what to expect from this game. So I will address this introduction to gamers in general, including non-fans who know nothing about The Transformers or its characters.
Transformers: War for Cybertron is a third person shooter consisting of ten chapters which exist as lengthy, individual levels spanning various settings on a machine world known as the planet Cybertron. In each chapter, you can choose to play as one of three characters, each having slightly (but substantively) different abilities. These usually include an up close powerhouse/melee character, a defensive character capable of erecting shields or deploying automated turrets, and a balanced character of some kind.
You shoot and kill enemies, tackle enormous boss battles, collect weapons and powerups, and proceed through a campaign level by level in a third person perspective. It is a solid third person shooter with excellent graphics and unique but - after a brief learning curve - accessible controls. That is the general basis of the game, and is playable and enjoyable even if you know nothing about The Transformers universe.
But what if you are familiar with the Transformers license? Well, that depends on which incarnation(s) you have the greatest familiarity with. If all you are familiar with is the recent live action films, the game will make sense to you in a general sense. It takes place before the movies, at the genesis of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, and depicts the rise to power of both Megatron and Optimus Prime. With that said, this game is packed with references to various incarnations of the Transformers, most notably the original 1980s cartoon (known as Generation One or "G1" to fans,) the animated film from 1986, and several comic book adaptations, most notably (though not directly or exactingly) "The War Within."
If you're a hardcore Transfan and the thought of seeing Soundwave eject Rumble, Frenzy, and Laserbeak, enormous battles with Omega Supreme and Trypticon, or traveling to the core of Cybertron - which is depicted as an ancient and living machine being - make you squeal with delight (or trigger manly and controlled head nodding... whichever the case may be,) then you will find a lot to love here, even if it isn't in precisely the form or aesthetic presentation you are most familiar with. Although much of it, such as the aforementioned Omega Supreme and Trypticon, will be.
This is a well made third person shooter with some unique genre additions that make it stand out from the pack, and some very minor negatives which may take some getting used to.
You play the game as various giant robots weighing several tons, which can transform into a variety of Cybertronian vehicles on command. Transforming is rarely (though it is in some instances) necessary or critical to success, but being able to do it at any time (while running, jumping, shooting, falling, etc.) makes it incredibly satisfying and at times a life saver.
The controls take some initial getting used to. There is a slight learning curve. The usual move-and-aim-using-the-analogue-sticks scheme is present, and you still fire with a trigger. But transformation is mapped to L3 (clicking in the left thumb-stick,) special abilities are mapped to R1 and L2, melee is mapped to R3 (clicking in the right thumb-stick,) X reloads, Y changes weapons, and B tosses grenades. The opposite trigger from the one used to fire allows you to zoom your aim in (to varying degrees depending on which weapon you have equipped,) but when in vehicle mode it instead causes you to accelerate. It's a layout that initially feels unintuitive because of how often you have to transform, and because the buttons do different things (or nothing at all) in your two different modes. I got used to it after a chapter or two, though, and as with all games, it ultimately became second nature.
Your health, or life force, is separated into segments. If you find cover before a segment is depleted, it will recharged. Once a segment is depleted however, your maximum health will be limited to the remaining segments until you find a healing energon cube. As you explore the game's world, you will find containers of various types which contain ammunition, healing cubes, different weapons, and overshields. Your special abilities have cool downs, which can be easily and quickly replenished by collecting energon (the life source for Transformers) from fallen enemies.
There is no in-game radar (somewhat strange for giant robots capable of tracking and sensing energy patterns, as is often alluded to during in-game dialogue... but what can you do?) so you will have to rely on your visual senses to tell you where enemies are (although an occasional prompt to press down on the D-pad to automatically look in the direction of massive influxes of enemy reinforcements or story characters and events will sometimes make this easier for you.) This is initially quite difficult, as the world of Cybertron is exactly what it sounds like - a machine world with mechanical walls, floors, buildings, conduits, and roads, into which its equally mechanical inhabitants (including your enemies) often easily blend. Once you become used to the aesthetic and your eyes learn to be more discerning during missions however, you can easily figure out where to aim your guns.
And that's fairly important (read: absolutely essential) in this game, because you will be doing a lot of shooting. Wave after wave of enemies will assault you, from cannon fodder on foot, to aerial seekers blasting you from above (and carrying out damaging bombing runs and strafes if you're careless,) to hulking brutes carrying defensive shields which can only be defeated by destroying their backpacks from the rear. Not to mention the colossal boss battles. You probably rightly expect a game starring giant robots - especially a Transformers game - to feature enormous boss battles featuring some of its mythology's most gargantuan characters, and you will not be disappointed. Some of the battles in this game, and the sense of scale inherent in them, will have you sweating bullets and fighting sensations of vertigo as you try to avoid hails of rockets and lasers from immense foes hundreds of feet taller than you.
This is an impressive looking game. First and foremost, the level of detail the main characters are instilled with is phenomenal. From rust and intricate lines detailing mechanical facial features, to moving pistons and gears continually in motion, these are some detailed and satisfying character models. The cast of characters includes familiar favorites (to fans anyhow,) such as Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, Ratchet, Jetfire, Warpath, Silverbolt, Megatron, Starscream, Skywarp, Soundwave, Trypticon, Omega Supreme, and others. (Though the omission of some characters, such as Shockwave and Ultra Magnus, is a bit disappointing personally.) I would describe their visual design as being somewhere between IDW's War Within comics, G1, and the Transformers: Classics toy line, leaning more toward War Within than anything else.
Cybertron is an incredibly mechanized and electronic world, and High Moon has created a remarkably detailed graphical depiction of it. This is Cybertron as you always imagined it looking as a child after catching glimpses of it on the old cartoon series in the 80s. You will see everything from enormous skyscrapers reaching like sharp icicles into the starry sky, to glass and neon adorned roads suspended in the air, to the living, mechanical inner workings of the planet's interior and core, to energon-river-filled sewers. And all of it is rendered in immaculate detail. Vents, cables, wires, and panels adorn walls and floors everywhere. Lighting and shadows are equally detailed, with rotating fan blades casting realistic shadows on floors, and enemies in front of brightly lit doorways casting elongated shadows of their own as they snipe at you from above.
The only downside to the visual aesthetic of the game, is that its nature requires that it all have a similar and somewhat repetitive color palette, which as previously mentioned, causes enemies to sometimes blend in to their surroundings, making it difficult to pick them out
This game sounds amazing from top to bottom.
Special credit goes to the voice acting. The characterization and depiction of the cast in terms of voice acting and personality are distinctly G1 in my opinion, save perhaps for Megatron and Starscream, although they still posses their familiar rivalry and mutual mistrust. Peter Cullen steals the show as Optimus of course, and unlike in the recent films and their videogame adaptations, his voice is not artificially enhanced with bass. This is pure Prime, as you remember him from the 80s cartoon. Clear, heroic, and authoritative. The absence of Frank Welker as Megatron is a great loss in my opinion, as the nostalgia would have been even more pronounced by his inclusion, and his voice acting chops are legendary. His replacement creates a believably megalomaniacal and power-obsessed villain though, and sounds great. The rest of the cast also does an excellent job at conveying the attitudes and personalities of their given characters. Some fan service comes at you in the form of Warpath shouting "BLAM! KABOOM!" and Soundwave's iconic vocal effects are here as well. Starscream is somewhere between the G1 and "Transformers: Animated" vocal style and his snide remarks to Megatron as they banter back and forth are well delivered and nostalgic.
Sound effects in the game are also top notch in my opinion. The game's audio gives everything, from the thudding laser fire to the smash of melee attacks, an incredible sense of bass and mass, as you would expect from giant, multi-ton robots whacking one another with swords and maces or falling for hundreds of feet and landing on metallic surfaces. The game's score may disappoint some G1 fans, but it is succeeds in giving the game a gravitas and seriousness that it might otherwise lack. It engenders the sense that this is a real war - a tragic conflict that has no end in sight, and will result in the epic struggle we know ensues in the future. This is not a cheesy cartoon. It is a realistic and dark depiction of the genesis of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, and the reasons for their departure from the world they call home.
First, for my fellow Transfans: yes, there are continuity issues if you seek to squeeze this game's plot into any one of the given incarnations of the Transformers, including any of the TV series and the recent feature films.
These are issues of timing and method however, not spirit or general exposition. As in some of the comics, Optimus Prime still becomes leader after a previous Prime falls, and receives the Matrix of Leadership. Cybertron's source of energon is exhausted, forcing the Transformers to leave Cybertron as in many other continuities. Megatron still has an (undisclosed, but alluded to) history with Prime. Omega Supreme is the last guardian. Iacon is the Autobot capital city. Ironhide and Optimus are old friends. Cybertron in some respect is a living entity. Soundwave is Megatron's most loyal follower, while Starscream still lusts for Megatron's position and seeks to usurp him at every turn. Jetfire and Starscream are friends before Starscream joins the Decepticons.
So as you can see, there is a lot here for fans of G1 and several comic book continuities, particularly Furman's work. There are differences, however. The spirit of the game feels very in line with G1 and the comics though in my opinion.
For non-fans: this is the story of the beginning of the epic and eternal war between the Decepticons and the Autobots, and the rise to power on their respective sides of that war by who would become their greatest and most feared and revered leaders, Megatron and Optimus Prime. Cybertron is the home world of the Transformers, and its core provides them with an energy source, sustaining all life and functions on the planet, known as energon. That is all you need to know, and I will not spoil the game for you. I will say however that the story unfolds chapter by chapter and is of a level of quality I would liken to the story of Halo 3 or Ghostbusters the Video Game. It is a fairly typical videogame plot, but one which will be greatly enhanced by some knowledge and love of the Transformers mythos.
The campaign is fairly impressive for a third person shooter, never begins to feel too repetitive, and is actually surprisingly challenging. Even on Easy, some missions will have you dying and reloading from your last checkpoint several times before you devise an effective strategy or get lucky. On Normal and Hard, the challenge is almost brutal at times. Co-op makes the challenge a bit easier, and is an extremely welcome and satisfying addition to what is already a solid campaign mode.
This is one of the most unique multiplayer experiences available today, and one of the most fun, if not the most feature-filled or robust.
You can choose between several classes, within each are several different chassis and color options for customizing the appearance of your character. You can then select weapons, and basic abilities. As you gain XP (for kills, surviving, killing the player who last killed you, and other accomplishments,) you unlock additional weapons and abilities, as well as buffs for your existing abilities, which can be combined to create a highly customized character. It isn't as deep or lengthy a level-up system as something like MW2, but it's still a welcome addition to what would otherwise be a somewhat threadbare multiplayer game.
Being able to transform gives this game a dimension that other multiplayer modes just don't have. You aren't traveling across a level trying to get to a plane or a tank. You can simply BECOME the plane or the tank, and even take to the skies, firing on unaware players below. You can become invisible, but some classes can deploy turrets which can automatically detect and fire on you even while you're cloaked. This kind of give and take, combined with the ability to transform into a vehicle truly renders the game unique as a multiplayer experience.
It has all of the modes you'd expect: deathmatch free for all, team deathmatch, variations of capture the flag and point capture modes, etc. None of them are particularly spectacular or massive, but they're undeniably fun and addicting. Trying to level up so that you can further enhance your character is definitely an engrossing pastime. The multiplayer feels a lot more fun and laid back than some of the more intense shooters on the market, which also adds to its unique vibe.
It's a great addition to the campaign and will last you a long while.
CONCLUSION/OVERALL SCORE: 8/10
This is the first truly fun, substantive Transformers game that succeeds in also being a love letter to fans of the Transformers universe. It isn't a quick cash-in or a movie tie-in game. This game was made from the ground up to stand on its own, as its own experience, made by and for Transformers fans. And it really shows in my opinion.
It isn't the greatest game I've played lately by a long shot, but if you're a fan of Transformers, this is a fun, engaging, challenging game that is well worth your time. It takes some getting used to, but if you give it a chance, it will surprise you with great gameplay, familiar and likable characters, a solid prequel to most Transformers continuities (if perhaps reimagined very slightly,) and an engrossing multiplayer experience.
Transform, roll out, and get your hands on this game.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/25/10
Game Release: Transformers: War for Cybertron (US, 06/22/10)
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