I want to get this out of the way right off the bat; I am a huge Transformers fan. I own the uncut DVD release of the movie, I know the names of some of the more obscure Autobots and Decepticons and I know all the words to The Touch by Stan Bush. If you are like me then you have no reason to continue reading this review. Go out and buy War for Cybertron right now. Developer High Moon Studios has basically created a love-letter to fans of the original 80s cartoon. For everyone else you are also in luck. Not only did they make a game all Transformer nerds will enjoy, but WfC is also a fantastic shooter chock full of so much content it could be the sleeper hit of the summer.
The story takes place long before the classic cartoons we have come to know and love. Optimus has not yet received the status of Prime, Starscream is a rogue that fights for no one and actually used to be a part of the Autobots, and of course everyone transforms into robotic vehicles instead of the modern ones we are used to seeing. This is Cybertron, the homeworld where these characters are from, and this is the war that separated the two factions and brought chaos to the planet. The story is told rather well through a series of cut scenes and dialogue, and fans of the series will be pleased to know that Hasbro has sanctioned this official canon to the series.
The presentation of the story is both well-told and cheesy at the same time. Sure the plot delivered reminds you of a Saturday morning cartoon, but that is the entire appeal as well. I do have to say that I was disappointed Frank Welker did not reprise his role as Megatron, and instead the stand-in actor sounds like he is trying to imitate the Michael Bay version instead, but the inclusion of Peter Cullen makes it all worthwhile. There are several things fans will be tickled by when they come across them and overall the game keeps things interesting even if you are not a fan of the fiction.
At its core War for Cybertron is a straight-forward third-person shooter. Using the Unreal engine as a base of operations, it is easy to make comparisons to titles like Gears of War, but there is no cover to speak of at all. Instead High Moon took the game back to the roots of the genre where straight ahead firepower works better than picking your points of attack.
Of course what Transformers game would be complete without being able to change into vehicle form on the fly. This is performed simple by clicking down the thumbstick and High Moon has done an excellent job of implementing the mechanic into the game. There are segments of levels where using your vehicle form really changes the dynamic of the action. For instance you can run into a battle, perform a dash or hover move to gain tactical advantage, and then switch to vehicle form and blast away enemies with a more powerful weapon.
The campaign is broken up into two segments each of which host a series of chapters for each side. If you play chronologically you will assume the role of the Decepticons first. This follows Megatron’s journey to obtain the dark energon and use it to take over rule of Cybertron. The second one follows the Autobots as their newly appointed leader Optimus begins his rise to glory as he leads a familiar cast of robots to war.
Both campaigns are relatively lengthy and offer a substantial amount of variety in the form of flying levels, epic boss battles and of course plenty of shooting action. The one area where some people may begin to find tedium is the level design. This is more evident in the Decepticon campaign as you mostly spend your time mowing down nameless drones in similar environments. The one exception is the excellent Starscream level that ends up being one of the most entertaining in the game, as well as a final boss encounter with an Autobot that will definitely excite fans of the series.
While the campaign is definitely worthy of the admission price, War for Cybertron packs so much more into the mix. For starters the main game is entirely playable with up to three people in online co-op. It is always a treat when games offer the ability to play through them with your friends, and WfC is no exception. As it has become tradition High Moon has also added a Horde-esque type of mode called Escalation that can be enjoyed with up to four players. This mode has you fighting off wave after wave of enemies while earning points to spend on health, ammo and opening up the levels. It is extremely difficult and will require you to utilize team tactics and power-ups, which make it more addictive as the waves increase.
Then of course there is the quintessential online multi-player that every game needs to come equipped with these days. I am sure most people are expecting this mode to feel tacked-on and wasteful, but High Moon continues their trend of excellence here by mixing up some familiar flavors with some original ideas. The leveling and challenge system are truly addictive. Think of it like Modern Warfare and you get the picture. There are four classes to choose from as well as a host of traditional modes. Each class carries unique gameplay elements, and leveling up each one can quickly become addictive. I also love the challenges you can complete for bonus XP such as getting the first kill in a match to being the first one killed in a match.
The online mode is definitely where War for Cybertron will shine if the community can get behind it. Team Deathmatch is the seemingly favorite mode currently, but I am hoping that Conquest begins to get a boom in population as it is easily one of the more addicting flavors of the online. My biggest gripe with the online portion is a lack of maps. Shipping with less than ten seems like suicide this day and age, especially when the designs for the game are a bit familiar to begin with. I hope to see some future DLC that perhaps can continue with the trend of fan-service. Outside of that the online mode is easily one of my favorite parts of the game, and I hope to be playing it for months to come.
As far as presentation is concerned War for Cybertron nails almost every aspect. As I mentioned having Peter Cullen as Optimus, as well as the multi-player announcer, are a welcome bonus; even if the rest of the cast feels a little out of place to fans of the original. The visuals are slick, but do suffer from the typical Unreal Engine problems such as texture pop-in and some frame rate issues. The music in the game can also become predictable at times featuring a serving of heavy rock, but watching the end credits and finally hearing the Stan Bush Transformers song set to an animated montage, more than makes up for it.
Transformers: The War for Cybertron is definitely a love-letter to fans of the G1 cartoon series. All of your favorite characters are here and somehow mixed in with a genuinely fun and competent shooter. If you are truly a fan of the series then add a point and do not hesitate to pick up this amazing collection of nostalgia. If you are on the fence at all give the online demo a shot and hop online to see if it tickles your fancy. Considering the online mode is definitely a major selling point in a $60 title, I think WfC has more than what it takes to tangle with most other shooters currently available.
Review copy provided by publisher.