Transformers: War for Cybertron is a nostalgic journey for anyone who grew up with the 80s TV show that’s still extremely popular with the youth of today. The characters are reminiscent of their cartoon counterparts (albeit adapted to play as good game characters) and fanboys will jump with joy at the subtle references to both the TV show and 1986 film. It’s not often that a licensed title pops-up and exceeds our expectations, but does that mean Transformers: War for Cybertron is more than meets the eye?
Transformers: War for Cybertron is presented in two campaigns, but in reality, it’s one story told by told sides. First, you play as the Decepticons in Megatron’s conquest to overthrow Zeta Prime and overtake Cybertron in the civil war set thousands of years before the original TV series. After establishing your own impending doom, you take over as Optimus and the Autobots to try and save the race of noble Transformers. War for Cybertron does a decent job of telling some of the backstory Transformers fans have been left contemplating for years (to an extent). It details Optimus’s rise to the rank of Prime, Starscream’s defection from Autobot to Decepticon, Jet Fire’s refusal to join Megatron and why the Autobots were forced to flee Cybertron and eventually find refuge on planet Earth.
Each “campaign” has five missions, which take about four-five hours to complete on the medium difficulty setting. Fortunately, the Autobots’ story continues where the Decepticons left off, leaving you with an eight-ten hour narrative, rather than the same thing re-told as so often is the case in games that let you play as both sides. If you’re not feeling megalomaniac enough to play as Megatron first up, you can skip to episode VI and the begging of the Autobots’ story Star Wars style, but then you’d be all confused now, wouldn’t you?
A grand total of ten levels doesn’t sound like much, but they’re long – too long. War for Cybertron is a fairly stock standard frantic thirdperson shooter. Run along, shoot stuff, find some cover, shoot stuff, press a button and shoot stuff. As a result, the levels tend to drag on as you’re running through the same Cybertron corridors and essentially doing the same thing over and over again with a small chunk of story here and there. Fortunately, if you’re playing at a slower pace, there are approximately 10 chapters in each level where the game can be saved and resumed.
Developer High Noon has excelled in the only category true fans care about: the transforming. It’s an issue that’s plagued Transformers and similar games for years. After all, if you’ve got the power, you want to be able to use it at your own discretion. Pressing the left control stick button (L3) transforms the Decepticon/Autobot into vehicle mode at any time. Perhaps most importantly, you can drive off a jump and transform mid-air to land guns blazing in humanoid form. On a slight downer, there aren’t really enough opportunities to use vehicle mode. Outside of the specially designed sections of levels (generally in Jets where you have no other option than to fly) the linear levels are too confined to accommodate moving vehicles. The only real reason to transform is to access another weapon. Having said that, it’s possible to transform when and how you want, which is nothing short of awesome, even if not all that useful. Best of all, you can choose from one of three Transformers at the beginning of each level, each with their own unique skills and abilities.
The general gameplay works for the most part and the core mechanics, namely jumping and frantic gun play, are more than serviceable. However, there are too many minor issues that really start to add up. First and foremost, for a third person shooter that’s completely dependent on the tactical use of cover, there’s no snap-to cover system. This gives you no option but to awkwardly move behind objects which ultimately leads to certain death. Lack of ammo is another inherently frustrating issue; finding ammo isn’t all that difficult, but you can only hold a small amount for two weapons. In the heat of battle depleting all your ammo and being forced to run past a swarm of enemies is far from ideal.
Speaking of enemies, they’re all generic clones and, most disappointingly, Decepticon and Autobot opponents are exactly the same in a different colour. There are only a handful of different enemies, bosses and main characters aside, throughout the entire game. They include annoying flying bots, brutes with giant guns, jet-pack warriors, snipers and shielded enemies that have foolishly left a weak spot on their exposed back, among standard soldiers.
While the levels are generic and repetitive, Transformers is far from a lost cause. You can play the entire campaign in online three-player co-op, which is well worth doing once you’ve finished the solo experience and alleviates any issues with friendly A.I. being too stupid to wear the Autobot insignia. Split screen would have been nice, but it’s still a fantastic addition and a reason to play Transformers: War for Cybertron if you’re sitting on the fence.
The multiplayer experience doesn’t end there and is easily War for Cybertron’s saving grace. The general online shooter game modes are all here: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, control point and others only the minority play. Published by Activision, it comes as no surprise that the online experience has a Call of Duty feel to it. You can customise your own Transformer, similar to creating classes with perks in COD. While the different classes are available in the single player, it’s multiplayer where they really make a difference. Each character class (i.e. scout, scientist, etc) feels noticeably different in the multiplayer environment – but it’s hard to avoid being Optimus. After all, he’s the last Prime!
On top of that, there’s Escalation, a horde mode that pits you against waves of enemies. Here you can play with a handful of exclusive Transformers, not available in the main game. Rather than spawning ammo and health, you’re awarded points based on kills. Between waves, these can be exchanged for weapons, ammo or health – leaving you with the age-old dilemma of big ass gun or more health? Horde modes never offer that much replay value, but the points for items system is an effective way to do it.
The online gives Transformers: War for Cybertron some legs, but it’s unlikely to stay in your console for months or even weeks, like a Modern Warfare 2 or Battlefield Bad Company 2. It’s a blast for few rounds but doesn’t have the replay value we might have hoped. Playing on XBOX Live, I had some serious issues finding games. It claimed a spot has been reserved in 3/3 games and then sent me to the home screen with an error stating “the Transformers: WFC server is currently unavailable.” I played several other online games during the week, leaving me skeptical that it’s a problem strictly on my end, but I’m unsure how widespread the problem is. While I did eventually get into a couple of matches, again this morning (or yesterday at the time of publishing) I was hit with the same error. Whatever the case, it negatively affected my Transformers: War for Cybertron experience and is an issue I hope either isn’t widespread or is amended as soon as possible, as there’s certainly potential in the online arena.
The environments leave something to be desired due to their repetitive nature, but the character models more than make up for that. They’re absolutely amazing and look fantastic. The dialogue is well produced and Peter Cullen returns as Optimus Prime. While all the voice actors haven’t reprised their roles, Cullen is by far the most important and great for series veterans.
Transformers: War for Cybertron is a nostalgic experience for anyone who loved the original Transformers TV show and even fans of the more recent films. It explains some of the backstory about the civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons on Cybertron and critically details how Optimus became Prime. The general gameplay mechanics are good, except the cover system which is non-existent. Beyond that, there are too many minor issues holding back Transformers: War for Cybertron from being a great game. The online gives it some legs and the co-op is a fantastic addition, providing you don’t have any issues accessing the server. The presentation is great as is the well-scripted dialogue. While there are several issues holding it back, Transformers fans are sure to have a blast in this frantic third-person shooter.
7.3The core gameplay is serviceable and offers exciting frantic action, but the environments and enemies are very repetitive and the lack of a cover system really hurts.
8.5 The character models are fantastic and most of the environments look fine but they’re too bland and repetitive.
9.0 Great voice acting featuring the respected Peter Cullen.
8.0Single player, great co-op and online along with a horde mode provides stacks of content, but the online longevity is questionable.
7.6Transformers: War for Cybertron is exactly what meets the eye.