FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, the generation that grew up with Transformers has mostly been deprived of a game based on the beloved robots in disguise. There’ve been no games related to the fan-favourite ‘Generation One‘ (G1) era anyway (save for an obscure, Japan-only Famicon title) until this year’s War for Cybertron, some 26 years after the franchise began.
Sure, there’ve been games for more recent Transformers spin-off cartoons (Beast Wars, Energon) and the recent Transformers movie games. But more recent imaginings of the franchise (particularly Michael Bay’s) are a far cry from what fans of the original toy line, comics and cartoon hold dear. War for Cybertron is perhaps the most faithful representation of the original Transformers’ spirit. Many of the characters are recognisable from the cartoon (right down to the voice acting), although the game’s overall pitch is more akin to the mature tone of the comic series. In any case, there’s plenty of fan service for anyone who enjoyed the earlier incarnations of the franchise.
War for Cybertron serves as a precursor to the Transformers’ arrival on Earth and details a civil war on the once-peaceful Transformer home world of Cybertron between the heroic Autobots and evil Decepticons. Led by the maniacal and power-hungry Megatron, the Decepticons intend to return Cybertron to a ‘golden age‘ by force. Naturally, the Autobots wish to stop the Decepticons and restore peace to the now war-torn planet.
The gameplay is best described as a thirdperson shooter in the vein of Gears of War, but without a cover mechanic. However, the ability to transform into a vehicle and back at the press of a button adds a lot to what would otherwise have been a fairly vanilla shooter mechanic; in vehicle mode, your Transformer gains increased manoeuverability (at the expense of accuracy in many cases) and also a different selection of mounted weaponry. As such, certain situations are best suited to either robot or vehicle form, and knowing how to effectively use each is crucial to your success. It’s worth mentioning that the Transformers’ vehicular modes here are otherworldly, and unlike the car and jet technology they eventually adopt on planet earth in the wider canon; those yearning for Optimus Prime’s trademark cab-over truck form won’t fi nd it here.
There are two distinct campaigns on offer: one for the Decepticons and one for the Autobots. Thankfully, rather than a confusing, intertwined plotline between the two factions, the Autobots’ campaign takes place immediately after that of the Decepticons chronologically.
Typically, you’ll undertake missions as part of a three-Transformer squad and you’ll get to select one at the start of a level. Each character boasts class-based characteristics (such as soldier, recon, etc) and also the respective strengths and weaknesses that come with them. Playing alone, your AI squad mates are mostly useless in a fi refi ght. If anything, they have a tendency to get in your way an awful lot. Of course, the three-player co-operative option eliminates this problem, although unfortunately there’s no local split-screen option.
War for Cyberton has a reasonably substantial multiplayer offering that adopts a few popular trends set (rank progression, challenges, etc). There are the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes, along with a territorycapture game type (Conquest), a bomb-planting ‘Assault’ game type (Countdown to Extinction), a king-of-the-hill gametype (Power Struggle) and a capture-the-fl ag variant (Code of Power). It’s a pretty fast-and-loose multiplayer shooter, and it’s all good fun for a bit of a blat every now and then. That said, War for Cybertron is unlikely to become your go-to multiplayer fi x.
Finally, there’s also the now-obligatory Hordemode clone in Escalation, where teams of up to fi ve Transformers co-operatively defend against wave after wave of enemies. You’ll gain credits after defeating enemies that you can spend on energon (health), new weapons and ammo, and opening new areas of the map.
Visually, War for Cybertron is mostly an absolute delight. I say “mostly” because the metallic sheen of Cybertron makes an interesting backdrop only for so long. Despite High Moon Studios’ best intentions to mix up the environments, it soon begins to blur together. Here’s hoping a sequel fi nally takes the action to earth for some much-needed variance. That aside, the game makes great use of the Unreal engine to bring a contemporary feel to the Transformers while retaining that classic character.
The sound is one area where War for Cybertron stumbles. Despite the fact that so much effort has gone into at least replicating the voices of characters from the ‘80s cartoon (even the narrator!), none of the memorable tunes from the cartoon or the original movie appear. Consistency with the source material when it comes to music and sound effects is crucial to establishing authenticity (refer any Star Wars game). War for Cybertron gets the look and feel very right, but falters slightly in the sound department. But let’s be honest – most of us expected War for Cybertron to be dire, so these criticisms are pretty minor in the scheme of things! This is the kind of Transformers game I thought I’d never see, and it’s set a foundation for what could be a rich ongoing game franchise.