The last few "Transformers" games were forgettable, and that's putting it kindly. True, they were based on movies, and that's a tough hill to climb, but they still never really stood out as exemplary pieces of software in any major way. It was with that in mind that I went in to see "Transformers: War for Cybertron." My expectations were not very high. Thankfully my first glimpse at the game met and exceeded those expectations (though, admittedly, that's not much of a triumph).
With a new developer (High Moon Studios) and a new engine (Unreal), "Transformers: War for Cybertron" is another beast entirely. It's an action game starring robots that turn into vehicles, but there's a lot more to cover beyond that basic facade.
"War for Cybertron" has no association with the recent movies in any way. In fact, it tells a story that's not really been told at length in any Transformers medium. It's the story of how the Autobots and Decepticons went their seperate ways on the planet Cybertron. It's this rift that kicks off a civil war which will eventually tear the planet apart, requiring the Autobots to seek refuge elsewhere (Read: Earth...which is not in this game at all, since it wraps up as the Autobots are leaving).
The story is broken up into two campaigns, but unlike the Decepticon and Autobot campaigns of the last game, these campaigns don't occur at the same time. Instead the Decepticon campaign takes place first, with the Autobots coming in at the end to try and stop their nefarious plan. You can play them in any order, but if you're looking to be consistent with the timeline, it's Decepticon, followed by Autobot.
Familiar Faces In Important Moments
Since "War for Cybertron" takes place before the events of the classic cartoon series, the developers were able to get creative with the scenes they were portraying. Hasbro was more than willing to help them along, and was surprisingly open about what they would let them do.
For example, there are two pivotal moments that take place in the game. The first is when Optimus (who is pre-Prime) meets Bumblebee for the first time. This had never been shown before and it's a cool glimpse into the start of their relationship, as they meet in a time of great peril, in the midst of an all-out battle.
Another example is the introduction of Starscream who, at the start of the game, is unaffiliated. It's after playing as Megatron that you're able to convince Starscream to join your side, a major win for the Decepticons.
The gameplay in "War for Cybertron" is very run-and-gun, 3rd person shooter fare. There's no cover, but that doesn't really matter when you can transform into a car at any time. The vehicle controls have been greatly improved over the last few games, letting you hover, "Back to the Future 2"-style, before putting your wheels down and zooming forward. The same controls work for jets, tanks and any other vehicles you'll be transforming into.
Cybertron is in the midst of a giant war, and the visions of all-out combat plaguing this metallic civilization are incredibly powerful. The robots, too, are powerful. The developers tried to capture the feel of Gen 1 while making it slightly more modern. The effort shows, as characters appear as you might expect, but with a new twist to keep them fresh.
My first look at "Transformers: War for Cybertron" was promising to say the least. I wasn't able to go hands-on with the title, so it's too early to say whether this will really beat out the last few "Transformers" games, but it's definitely on the right track for release later this year.