canuckeh's Transformers: War for Cybertron (Xbox 360) review

Megatron takes an anti-life stance

So I vaguely remember that last year, I thinking that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was not half-bad. Before you shut the monitor off in disgust and declare me the world’s biggest nitwit failure of a life form, know that I’m talking about the video game, not the 150 minute disaster of a movie. While the campaign was a waste of data and the controls were more unorthodox than people who pull their pants down to use the urinal, the multiplayer options were rather novel. It was akin to Grand Theft Auto 4’s city-based multiplayer, except YOU were the jacked car, and the jacked car transformed in a hulking mech of destruction. 
 

 Viking robot barbarian
Thus, I was a bit hesitant about the prospect of War for Cybertron. All of the promotional screenshots going into the experience hinted at a dark, super serious tone that frightened me. I dreaded that, in attempting to rebel against ’s grumpy old-man-Jetfire and Devestator swinging wrecking ball testicles, the developers treated the fiction with incredible reverence. And in doing so, they would forget that the original Transformers was an 80s cartoon designed to market and sell action figures. Fortunately, while the visual style of the game displays the theme of “oppressive cyber-planet land in times of death and destitution”, the actual game is more true to 80s form. Each of the characters present in War for Cybertron relishes in their gloriously one-dimensional personas from the past. Every sentence spoken by Starscreen unsubtly hints at his eagerness to betray his superiors. Optimus Prime behaves like a hybrid of Pope Benedict and Captain Price. All of the Autobots converse in optimistic tones, uttering such 80s-isms as “ready to rumble” and “locked and loaded.” Megatron may be the most entertaining of all, as he only knows about conquering and killing the weak, while he struggles to free Cybertron from the shackles of freedom and tranquility. 
 
The plot of the game is intended to be a prequel to whatever version of the Transformers cartoon you believe to be sacred. So you’ll find out how Optimus became Optimus Prime and what happened on this “Cybertron” locale we always hear about.   While I can imagine the really, really devoted Cyberfans (the ones with the Autobot logo tattooed on their asscheek) being intrigued by this rarely-touched piece of the Transformers fiction, they will be quickly reminded why it is a rarely touched piece of the Transformers fiction. The whole novelty of Transformers in the first place is that they are robots that transform into automobiles. You know, that whole “robots in disguise, more than meets the eye” rhyming bit. The “War for Cybertron,” if you will, is prior to the time Transformers explored the planet Earth and learned what a Mack Truck is. As a result, all of the Transformers transform into generic futuristic hover-cars and aerial vehicle-things. It’s kind of blasphemous to see Optimus Freaking Prime and Sound Freaking Wave transform into the similar kind of car-based device. 
 
As odd as it is, transforming into hover-things is a notable, if secondary, feature of the gameplay. You’ll transform to drive across long stretches, make clean getaways and frustratingly drop the minigun you just acquired from a tough-to-kill robot to drive across a long stretch. You may also find yourself transforming into vehicle form for the sole purpose of using your vehicle’s guns because you ran out of normal gun ammo. In one of those bizarre-for-video-games-but-not-that-bizarre-in-real-life moves, you can’t just pick up ammo or guns from fallen enemies. Rather, you can only obtain munitions from conveniently placed crates across the land. As a result, you’ll undergo a slight bullet shortage during the first few levels as you make uneducated decisions about which weapons to carry. I can respect the game for not forcing the player to undergo a mandatory half-hour tutorial, but I don’t know what giant robots from space consider a “grenade launcher” or “ammo crate”. 
 
 That sexy floating convertible? Optimus Prime, of course.
So there’s a bit of an awkward growing period for the new player. The first few levels will feature a lot of cursing as you run out of bullets and get shot by enemies because your arm was sticking out of the wall. There is indeed no cover system, and health that doesn’t regenerate completely if you take too much damage. You can either claim this game is prehistoric for using such dated concepts (and ironically prove yourself to be a caveman with such narrow-minded thinking) or accept the breath of fresh air from the many, many cover-based shooters entering the market these days. After a tough few starting levels, you learn to make smarter decisions over what weapons to carry and how to protect yourself at night in the dark Cybertron alleyways. 
 
Then you have to contend with the campaign’s other flaws. The level design isn’t entirely drab, but the Autobots didn’t know how to transform into great interior designers. So you’ll grow wearisome of the grey metallic scenery of the robot homeworld pretty quickly. And you’ll soon realize that much time is spent fighting generic clones of robots. If you’re a Decepticon, you’ll battle waves of peppy orange robots. If you’re an Autobot, you’ll fight purple versions of the same robots. It’ll fry one’s patience circuits to have to duel with the same generic bots after awhile. Most disappointingly of all is that the real Autobots and real Decepticons rarely engage in fisticuffs. Considering how the cartoons are built around Autobot-on-Decepticon violence, it’s strange that there are only a few boss fights where you’ll battle a real Transformer-celebrity. Optimus and Megatron never have their war to settle the score in this game, for example. 
 
 The legendary transformer, Purpletron. He has 300 brothers.
The campaign takes about 10 hours to complete. Truth be told, I probably would have stopped caring were it not for the nostalgia factor of playing with real Transformers. There’s something inspiring about having the actual Megatron order you to jump to your possible death. You can play with two other comrades in online co-op, which I imagine making the experience all the more palpable. There’s also Escalation, a variation on Nazi Zombies/Horde/Firefight/Fight-repeating-waves-of-enemies mode. You’ll get some kicks out of this mode, and perhaps a chuckle or two as giant hulking robots gather around the vending machine for ammo. Does the vending machine transform into a warrior robot? I never found out for myself. 
 
The online multiplayer is, feature for feature, taken from many other multiplayer shooters past. You have your deathmatch options, your node control/capture the flag options, and you’ll have different character classes that you can level up. I feel a bit slighted by the customization options of your created Transformer, as you’re limited to choosing the colour palette of several pre-designed robot characters. If you so desired, you can play online as Optimus Prime’s cousin, Poptimus Chime. Like every newfangled shooter today, your characters level up and new abilities gradually open up, and I continue to wonder how long it’ll take for people to get bored of grinding online multiplayer modes. When the online mode works, it’s as entertaining as any other online shooter. But I’ve had a handful of gimped laggy sessions that made me leery of the mode in general. Be warned. 
 
War for Cybertron is a Transformers game for Transformers fans. Despite the mortal sin of Optimus Prime not transforming into a Mack Truck (complete with cargo load appearing out of nowhere), the game plays to the strengths of the fiction enough to cause massive spurts of geekgasms. For people who grew up on Ninja Turtles and things that didn’t involve transforming robots, it is a playable but kind of dull third person shooter that transforms into a playable but kind of familiar online package. 
 
3 ½ stars  
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