Hasbro's "Transformers" are a big deal right now. It's like the '80s all over again, except the graphics are much, much better. Prime time then for gamers to take a jaunt across Cybertron, first overthrowing the filthy Autobot overlords and then beating back the vile Decepticon usurpers. That's exactly what players are tasked with doing in "Transformers: War for Cybertron," the latest effort from "The Bourne Conspiracy" developer High Moon Studios.
"War for Cybertron" unfolds across 10 chapters split in half between two campaigns, one each for the Autobots and Decepticons. While players can start with either faction, the story first follows the Decepticons and their leader Megatron as they take control of the robot planet and infect its core with Dark Energon. The action then switches to the Autobots, led by a young upstart named Optimus after their leader Zeta Prime falls. The story is an entirely new concoction, though the word from Hasbro is that fans can consider this story as official canon.
Let's put aside the gameplay for am moment. Watching the cutscenes and listening to the dialogue in "War for Cybertron," it feels like you're seeing the old '80s cartoon all over again. The look is much different, but the patter and the delivery do a great job of evoking the original series. Special shouts to James Remar and Sam Riegel for their excellent voice work on Megatron and Starscream, respectively. And Peter Cullen of course, for Optimus.
Old Meets New
In addition to the great story and performances, the tweaked appearance of these classic characters offers a welcome change. Unlike the recent Michael Bay movies, every Transformer is instantly recognizable to those familiar with the older designs. The sound effects add a lot as well, especially the ever-familiar transformation sound.
Behind all of the cool storytelling and execution, there's still a game to play. It amounts primarily to a linear corridor shooter with occasional breaks to more vehicle-oriented sections. Player-controlled robots can transform at any time, so the only real forced vehicle segments are those that require flying. Each of the game's 10 chapters supports co-op play as well, for two or three players.
Between the competitive modes and their XP-based progression and the cooperative Escalation survival mode, not to mention the campaign co-op elements, "War for Cybertron" has a strong focus on multiplayer. It gets a lot of things right too. On the competitive front, players unlock up to three created character slots in each of the game's four classes. In addition to weapons, other "Perks"-like character buffs can be unlocked as well. Escalation uses named characters and finds strong comparisons with the zombie survival mode in "Call of Duty," with defeated enemies dropping currency that can be spent on health, ammo and weapons.
Not Worth Fighting For
"War for Cybertron" tells a story of a war between the Autobots and Decepticons for their robot homeworld. Unfortunately, there's not a lot to see when you're fighting on and in a planet consisting entirely of metal and electrical current. Credit goes to High Moon for putting in the effort, but ultimately you're just running from one high-tech looking shooting gallery to the next.
On the standard medium difficulty, "War for Cybertron" still manages to swing wildly between incredibly easy and frustratingly challenging without ever really finding a comfortable balance between the two. Playing on the easy difficulty makes for a far more entertaining experience, especially given the repetitive nature of the gameplay.
Different But The Same
The Autobots and Decepticons are warring factions, yes. But they all originate from the same race of beings, which means that there's really no functional difference between the two. Each named character falls roughly into the classes laid out in multiplayer, so there's at least some variety. But ultimately, the only real thrill of playing one campaign over another is getting to hear much more Soundwave dialogue in the Decepticon campaign.
The game's multiplayer elements are pretty full-featured, but they won't mean squat if a community of dedicated players aren't attracted. In addition to there being an abundance of other, similar multiplayer experiences out there, the core gameplay and generally dull assortment of too-small maps do not work in the favor of "War for Cybertron." Only time will tell if the multiplayer is going to be a winner, but there are definitely strikes against it.
"Transformers: War for Cybertron" is a good game, though definitely not a great one. It's not $60 worth of fun unless you intend to commit yourself to the multiplayer. The campaign is either too short or too frustrating, depending on which difficulty you embrace. High Moon showed real talent with their work on "The Bourne Conspiracy," and that talent is in evidence here as well... just not as much. "War for Cybertron" will definitely appeal to hardcore "Transformers" fans, but others will want to wait for a price dip.