Review: Transformers: War for Cybertron

Bah weep graaagnah weep ni ni bong! Last year, 2009, the unthinkable was done: a superb Batman game was released. This year, High Moon Studios have set their sights on accomplishing a similar feat with the Transformers license, and while it may not be as spectacular a success as Arkham Asylum was for the Batman license, it is certainly a well done game, and a triumph overall. Read on to find out why!

Publisher: Activision
Developer: High Moon Studios
Rating: T for teens
Released: June 22nd, 2010
Type: Third Person Shooter
Version Reviewed: PC
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360

War for Cybertron takes place during the events, namely the civil war which left Cybertron a ravaged husk of a planet, leading up to the original 1st generation Transformers cartoon.  Players will be given the choice between starting out with the Decepticon campaign, or the Autobot campaign – though, chronologically, the events of the Decepticon campaign occur first. The Decepticon campaign deals primarily with Megatron’s acquisition of a new power source, dark energon, as well as his siege on the Autobot capital of Iacon. On the other hand, the Autobot campaign picks up after Iacon has fallen, and details the Autobot resistance, Optimus’ rise to power, and the eventual mass exodus from Cybertron. Without spoiling anything, High Moon takes a few creative liberties with the source material for the better. They build upon the rich foundation of available Transformers lore, and put their own appropriate spin on certain plot details without ever missing a beat.

As an aside, one of those creative liberties is taken with the game’s art direction. War for Cybertron features a dark and gritty art style, where even the brights feel a little dark and washed out. This isn’t a bad thing, the game looks great with this grungy style, and it’s a great metaphor for the state that Cybertron is in during the game’s events.

In each chapter you can choose between one of three different Autobots or Decepticons, with 1 chapter per faction being reserved specifically for the flying Cybertronians. You will be assisted by the other two characters controlled either by the A.I. or by other players if you choose to play the cooperative campaign. Each character has his own starting weapons, energon abilities (such as Drain which drains health from enemies), and cooldown abilities (like Hover, which places you in the air while also augmenting your damage output), with an additional secondary slot for weapons picked up throughout the course of the chapter.

Additionally, each character can transform into one of four types of vehicles: tanks, cars, jets (chapters 2 and 9 only), and trucks. In previous Transformers games, vehicle modes were cumbersome after-thoughts at best, but they are important and occasionally pivotal in War for Cybertron. Thankfully, the transformation controls are nothing like the disaster that was the “Revenge of the Fallen” game tie-in. In fact, the controls in general are nearly flawless. Transformations are fluid and the only major flaw while using the vehicle modes was the tendency to transform out of vehicle mode when going to toss a grenade due to a slightly odd hotkey layout. Furthermore, the default key binding layout cannot be edited at all without a workaround. This is especially annoying for the (very) few of us who use QWES to move and not WASD. Despite this, the controls are fine on a controller, but I would still much prefer to use my mouse and keyboard when buying a game for the PC.

At the beginning of the Decepticon campaign, one might get the impression that the level design is pretty stale. Things quickly open up however, and players will find themselves enthralled by some rather epic usage of set pieces, and even frequent yet brief movement puzzles such as the rotating laser battery puzzle in the middle of the Decepticon campaign. The deeper you go into the campaign, the more you will realize that War for Cybertron is full of fun and memorable moments. Some truly magnificent boss fights, all of which present a unique experience punctuate this fact. My only bone to pick was the lack of any type of clash between the major faction leaders, but this is forgivable given that every other boss is nothing short of fantastic.

War for Cybertron features an array of voice actors punctuated by Peter Cullen who returns to voice Optimus Prime. Each of the other characters feature voices new to the series, but whom fit the bill pristinely. Anime fans will recognize the vocal talents of Johnny Yong Bosch as Bumblebee, while other industry familiars include Nolan North as Brawl and Liam O’Brien as Air Raid. Furthermore, the transformation effects won’t fail to throw you into the 80s for just moments at a time, and the in-game flavor dialogue between characters provides some comic relief as well as a ton of throwbacks to the original Transformers series (“First we crack the shell, then we crack the nuts inside!).

Multiplayer is handled with equal diversity consisting of numerous competitive multiplayer modes, and several cooperative modes. On the co-op side, you can choose to player either competitive (scored) co-op or regular co-op through the game’s campaign, or you can play High Moon Studio’s take on Horde mode, Escalation. Escalation is a super challenging defense oriented game mode which will provide ample thrills for hardcore co-op fans. To sum it up, you will be attacked by waves of enemies, growing in number and enemy variety with each subsequent wave, and you are rewarded for kills with points used to unlock rooms for your team to entrench themselves in. These rooms also provide ammo, health, and more powerful weapons.

On the other hand, the game’s competitive mode is handled in a style akin to Call of Duty (seems to be a trend with Activision games lately). Build a load out, gain XP through playing the game and completing challenges, rank up to unlock kill streaks, perks, and weapons. You can use one of four classes, all of which provide their own unique playstyle such as the scientist which is the only class capable of turning into a jet, and the scout class which can cloak. Furthermore, you can customize the aesthetics of each class, choosing from multiple chassis and color schemes. It’s a fun distraction, but customization is ultimately limited. Once you reach max level with each class, which doesn’t take a terribly long grind to accomplish, you can activate Prime (read: prestige) mode, resetting your classes and giving you a special icon.

Each competitive mode is at least fun while it lasts in spite of some problems, which I’ll touch on in a moment. This is due, in part, to the fact that each game mode is a renamed take on traditional game modes such as death match, Code of Power which is an attack/defense mode, and Power Struggle which is essentially King of the Hill. Unfortunately, a few issues hold the PvP side of the multiplayer back from being anything significant in the long run. For one, there is no host migration nor are there dedicated servers for the game; if the host decides to quit for any reason, be it rage or a power outage, have fun finding a new lobby. Secondly, there is no form of in-game communication whatsoever – no text chat, no voice chat. Thirdly, the balance is noticeably off. Certain weapon / perk / class combinations are blatantly more effective than others, such as the cloaking scout using the scatter blaster along with the Surprise Attack perk which boosts his damage output when exiting cloak. The synergy, the variety, and the fun are there, but the balance is not.

War for Cybertron isn’t perfect by any stretch, but it is a blockbuster filled with nostalgia and fantastic execution unlike any previously licensed Transformers game. Whereas previous developers fell flat on their faces when presented with the task of doing justice to the Transformers, High Moon studios only stumbles infrequently, and have risen to the task of creating not only something authentic and true to the classic 80s cartoon, but something that is fun no matter which way you choose to play it.

8 / 10

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