The Transformers universe is a rich host of lore and metallic ass-kicking that in recent years has been subjected to a few sub par games which failed to capture the feel and fluidity of Transformers combat, not to mention mimicking Michael Bay’s widely disrespected Transformers movie offerings. But High Moon Studios has been working closely with Hasbro on creating Transformers: War for Cybertron, a game set to explore how the war between the Decepticons and Autobots actually unfolded on their home planet, before they were forced to pay the human race a visit.
Settling upon this point in the timeline was a great choice, allowing them to expand on the lore, as service to hardcore fans and shape gameplay in order to permit an exciting experience. The campaign is split up into ten parts, 5 for the dastardly Decepticons and 5 for the Autobots, loosely intertwining with each other, though some more direct confrontations with the characters you play in the respective campaigns could have made for an interesting dynamic. Nevertheless you get a good choice of any of three famous characters per mission often including Megatron or Optimus Prime each with their own abilities, which are unfortunately not unique.
Gameplay essentially revolves around shooting a lot of things with big, and sometimes unnecessarily large, guns, the odd bit of platforming and some driving and flying sections. As is fitting, the various types of weaponry feel very satisfying thanks to some beefy sounds although the ammo is often a little scarce. The controls are perhaps the greatest improvement upon past attempts at the Transformers franchise, allowing actual transformation at a moments notice via the R3 button; they are receptive and take a page from popular shooters, meaning you’ll get used to it swiftly and be filling other mechanical life-forms with lead before you can say Zeta Prime.
But TWFC seems to be missing a crucial element, a cover system, which is odd because otherwise the whole adventure borrows deeply from the style of Gears of War, especially in its capacity to excel in the co-op mode (particularly as the difficulty doesn’t scale between single-player and co-op). Despite solid combat, even in easy mode, certain encounters can become quite overwhelming so prancing about back and forth only remains fun to a point and although you are accompanied by two allies at almost all times, you seem to have to do 99% of the legwork. Sometimes you just want to duck into cover, especially since the environments seem well disposed towards this type of gameplay.
Along the way you are pitted against a few different types of enemy, from flying transformers to shield wielding tanks but new introductions run out quickly, and from that point on the game has a tendency to simply throw more at you in terms of sheer numbers instead of new foes. This is forgivable, considering the varied and frequent bosses, but a shame nonetheless.
Arguably the game’s strongest facet in combat is the boss fights, to which you can tell they’ve paid a lot of attention. Predictably it always has to do with timing and attacking the right weak spots, but making each phase slightly different along with over-dubbed dialogue helps to keep things interesting rather than like a repetitive formula.
There are some really fun driving sections as well reminiscent of Wipeout, but the vehicle forms of our heroes (and villains) provide some heavy firepower too and consequentially actually transforming is worthwhile and not simply a mode of transport. The platforming is very limited, though; something that, given the right level and narrative design, could have provided some gratifying gameplay and relief from the excessive gunfights. Equally, it’s by no means necessary, but some sort of an upgrade system, permitting a greater set of expertise, melee manoeuvres and transformations, would have possibly afforded the campaign greater depth and immersion. It’s frills like this that TWFC simply foregoes, riding its hopes on the admittedly strong combat and narrative.
In terms of the two campaigns, the Autobot struggle far outshines the Decepticons, whose quest for dark energon and the control of Cybertron peaks in its opening and becomes largely repetitive and drawn out, though I understand High Moon wanted players to be able to see both sides of the story. Optimus Prime and company, however, understandably receive some spectacular set pieces along with much more convincing pacing thanks to some really exciting driving segments across Cybertron’s war torn highways. The kind of action that the Autobots partake in encapsulates what Transformers is all about, and as such, is commendable, in spite of the discrepancy between the two campaigns.
The scripting is surprisingly, pretty sharp, bearing in mind the subject matter isn’t known for its sophistication. Peter Cullen reprises his role from the original Transformers series as Optimus Prime, so it’s inconceivable to make any criticisms and the supporting characters provide equally compelling performances in voice and script, with a dash of comic relief, but avoiding the possibility of becoming overly banal. Playing through with the Decepticons is little more awkward, if not an insight into living with a megalomaniac, as listening to that evil crackly voice gets a tad irritating, but it’s unavoidable I suppose.
Admirably, High Moon Studios have really fleshed out this relatively unexplored part of the timeline, packing in many of the interesting Transformers fans wanted to see, building out and uncovering the motivations and backgrounds of some of the more prevalent individuals. We also get some formidable foes on an epic scale and a veritably explosive civil war set on their home world, a far cry from the breast-heavy Michael Bay interpretations. Throw in some well-placed references to the old series and you’ve already appeased part of your demographic.
Graphics & Sound
High Moon have opted for a slightly cartoon-ish art style, once again evocative of the classic Transformers, as opposed to their overly-complex Transformers movie designs, which has its advantages in some respects, but lacks that metallic glaze. This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that pretty much everything and the kitchen sink is made out of metal on Cybertron and as a result the visuals are frustratingly unvaried and, unremarkable, on account of the graphical style. This has further ramifications for gameplay, making the environments feel very removed from gameplay and interaction, and tiresome to look at, only navigable on account of the extremely linear nature of the game.
As I mentioned earlier, the voice work and script are generally very good, immersing you in the plight of the respective faction, and the weapons sound as badass as weapon fit for a 30ft robot should sound, but somewhat surprisingly, the Transformers themselves sound like they have cotton-wool strapped to their feet, because neither running nor landing from a 200ft drop seems to make much of a racket — a small detail, but strange nonetheless. The actual soundtrack, aside from a frankly awesome credits sequence, sits on the periphery and does the job, even if it doesn’t stand out.
By far the best graphical aspect of TWFC is the animations, which is fortunate given the nature of transformers. Both visually gratifying and fluid, transforming becomes a large part of gameplay sliding in and out as you go, along with nice melee movements and fiddly parts on the larger guns.
The multiplayer modes of TWFC are perhaps its real seller, allowing players to go head to head in number modes ranging from conquest to basic deathmatch. It also features a co-op horde mode dubbed “escalation” where you face increasingly difficult waves of enemies, unlocking upgrades, weapons and new sections. The player versus player multiplayer modes have slight balance issues regarding weaponry and all of the 8 levels are fairly compact with level designs similar to that of the old Unreal Tournament style, but it is enjoyable and with a bit of practice you quickly pickup which classes to use when and how to approach enemies, not to mention that patches and DLC will continue to expand upon the experience.
My chief displeasure within the multiplayer arises from the extremely limited character design, equipped with but a few basic transformer skins and a pitiful colour palette. It just seems as though more personalisation could have yielded a far more in-depth experience that would make long-term play more worthwhile. Nevertheless it is entertaining and will undoubtedly have you taking the box off your shelf long after you’re done with the relatively short campaigns if you’re disposed to the Transformers world.
Transformers: War for Cybertron is the first Transformers game to really capture any of the magic the series brought to us, and for that we should be thankful. The combat is very solid, critically, making transformation a necessary and fun part of the game and the narrative keeps you interested in between the more epic scenes, culminating in a memorable and pertinent final portion.
As it should be, the main beneficiaries of this release are the life-long Transformers fans who finally get a decent and entertaining game, which also details previously untold parts of the Transformers lore with conviction, in a fashion I’d consider respectful, on account of the voice work and attention to detail, that surpasses any accusations of lip service. It’s an unembellished yet dignified and fun experience that may very well end up gathering a bit of dust on your shelf after the long summer, but is definitely worth its price and more.
3.5 out of 5