Get Ready to Roll Out!
To the current generation of gamers, bloggers, and technophiles, Transformers is simply a move license, one boasting explosive action sequences and little substance. That’s just the effect that reintroducing a franchise through Hollywood’s ongoing series of classic remakes and re-imaginings has on people. But, once it was a television show, and then a series of comic books that have become beloved by geek culture. It’s fortunate then that it is those iterations of the source material on which this video game utilizing the property is derived.
Transformers: War for Cybertron plays out as a precursor to pretty much everything that everyone knows about the franchise. The war between the heroic Autobots and the maniacal Decepticons rages across the machine world of Cybertron. Megatron, the Decepticon leader, becomes the first Transformer to control the highly unstable Dark Energon, and it’s his march toward victory and the Autobots’ struggle to stop him that you’ll be participating in.
During each chapter (of which there are 10 in total) you’ll select one of three robots to control, all of them recognizable characters from the franchise like Soundwave and Bumblebee. Throughout missions they will all banter back and forth, some of which provoked a few laughs here or there from me. The jokes are pretty hit-or-miss, but even the stuff that’s not really in there for comedy purposes is enjoyable. There’s three-player co-op packed into the campaign, so some friends can come along for the ride and fill in for the appropriately awful AI teammates. Like cooperative modes tend to do, playing this way makes the game both more fun and more approachable. Enemies like Brutes require some level of team-based coordination to take on effectively, and riding the game solo leaves this more up to luck than anything else. There’s also the option to revive fallen allies in when playing with friends, so that occasional unlucky barrage of boss-related missiles doesn’t immediately mean starting from a checkpoint.
This being an action game centered around a civil war amongst a race of heavily-armed robots, not a lot to be found here that doesn’t involve blowing something up. This is a third-person shooter graduating from the over-the-shoulder school of Gears of War, but it lacks a cover system, which is actually quite refreshing. The characters that can be picked come with classes — Scout, Soldier, Leader, and Scientist — that differ mostly in the sizes of their health bars, and special abilities like increasing the team’s damage or turning invisible. These abilities are instrumental in combat; I’m not sure I could even begin to guess the number of times they flipped the odds in my favor.
Everything stays fresh for a while, but all of the shooting and exploding does start to wear a bit past the halfway point. Enemies aren’t all that varied for one; they tend to come in large packs with a high count of toss-aways and a couple of others that might have a real shot at taking you down. There’s also just a few too many instances where you’re asked to blow the locks off of something, or smash a wall, or go somewhere and hit a switch. It’s an action game, and these things keep the experience paced well, but after so many hours of this I just wanted to go find a puppy and hug it.
If I had to pick a couple of words to use to describe War for Cybertron, I’d say that it’s a game’s game. You aim at stuff and shoot at it, and when your health gets too low you find a pick-up to fix it. You’ll grab weapons off the ground, struggle to keep hold of ammunition, and finally you’ll encounter some of the most choreographed boss encounters seen in an action game. They fire rockets, pause, and then spin around with laser grids or machine guns. Survive all that stuff and they expose their weak point. That gets shot at until it can’t be damaged anymore, and then it slips back inside of a machine or runs behind a forcefield to repeat the cycle again. It was these segments that the game hit its low-point. All of the bosses just felt very tedious and repetitive, and I couldn’t wait to blow through them so I could move on to more fast-paced, slightly less predictable gameplay.
It’ll take about 10 hours to play through both campaigns on the medium difficulty setting, and you should feel fairly satisfied by the end. Regardless, there’s a full-featured multiplayer mode available with the typical deathmatch and team-oriented game types, and it’s surprisingly fun. The classes utilized in the campaign are pulled down into the online setup, and are much better realized. You have your requisite Modern Warfare persistence, with unlockable perks and weapons, and also abilities specific to each class. It’s a blast to run around cloaked as a Scout, post-stealth damage enhancement equipped, and melee some unsuspecting machine from behind. Using team support tactics, like an Ammo Beacon for an area-of-effect damage increase, or the Orbital Beacon to reveal enemy positions is also a lot of fun. A lot of teamwork can be required to keep the team-based matches from being entirely one-sided, and its because of that as well as a number of the mechanics that I was vaguely reminded of Team Fortress 2 during my time with it. After spending about the same amount of time with the multiplayer as I did with the story, I’m still itching to get back in and play some more. It’s not every day that this happens with some under-the-radar game that I grabbed for the single-player, so in that regard, color me impressed.
Transformers: War for Cybertron is really refreshing, even with its flaws. The inclusion of the always-memorable voice cast, a solid campaign to play through, and simple-but-intense multiplayer games in which to immerse oneself once it’s finished redeems the franchise license after a couple of disastrous Michael Bay films. Though this isn’t a movie tie-in, it always feels good to pick up something like this and have a good time with it. Who knows, maybe the people that were totally into the movies will get their hands on this, or get it for their kids, and for once they won’t be disappointed. But they should still rethink their movie-going principles.