Some franchises come in a bag of bees – mess them around and you’ll get a face full of venomous pins, treat them with a care and attention approaching love and you’ll get the sweetest of honeys. Transformers is, clearly after that last sentence, one such franchise. It’s not hard to see why – robots that can transform with the fluidity of a Mazda MX hard top folding its roof down, into cars, bikes, jet planes, tanks and damn well anything else metallic your average ten year old boy is gonna love can’t fail to pick up some dogged admirers.
And for every man-child out there who once had a thing for the sons of Cybertron the good news is that High Moon Studios has come at this particular sack of stingers with a mother’s love. The third person shooter, Transformers: War For Cybertron, goes back to pre-80s cartoon Transformers, back to when the Autobots and Decepticons battled for their home planet, to fill in the gaps in Transformers history. Split into two separate tales, you play as both factions in a detailed, immersive plot that feels like the writers knew their subject matter and were into it as much as any fan.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously either; playing through as the Decepticons has its chuckles, Megatron’s mock terror of the cannon fodder Autobots and Starscream and Skywarp’s little digs at each other spring to mind, but there’s enough depth to the story to have you involved all the way through. Playing as the Decepticons will roll you along a story that clues you in as to why Starscream has beef with Megatron in the war with the Autobots. Over five chapters, you blast your way through Autobots big and small, named and nameless, fighting your way to Megatron’s perceived weapon that will win the war. Before or after that you can play as the Autobots, following a Peter Cullen voiced Optimus Prime as he becomes the last of the Primes, leader of the Autobots.
Optimus isn’t as much fun as Megatron to be honest. You’d rather get stuck in a lift with Megatron. But whatever side you opt to follow, you have a choice from three characters to play as. Optimus Prime, Bumble Bee, Ratchet, Megatron, Starscream, plenty of recognizable names, each with their own special abilities, each able to transform into playable vehicles. Those transformations are smooth, swift and can be pulled off at any time, except when you’re too close to a wall, which can be extremely annoying, but they come with that distinct Transformers transformation sound that allows you to forgive it any irritations.
All of this really means that as far as fans of Transformers are concerned this game is an absolute must. If the gameplay were half as good as the story they’d be tearing holes in forums screaming about how this game is a ten out of ten. Lucky for them the gameplay is solid. Right from the off the weapons are hefty buggers, Megatron’s cannon arm packs a sweet punch that’s hard to put down, as do some of the rapid fire weapons you pick up. The melee attacks come in handy in close combat, flattening opponents in one clanging wallop, and then there are the fierce turret guns you can tear from their casings and carve bots up left right and centre. One of the game’s truly disappointing moments comes when you realize you can’t transform into a car and keep your turret gun, you’re just going to have to leave it behind.
The bosses are never too hard to see off, though there are some that will definitely kill you off a few times before you can work out how to defeat them – the colossal battle the Decepticons face with Omega Supreme, a colossal Autobot, are satisfying enough to keep on ploughing through in the face of a seemingly unstoppable enemy. There is a lot here to enjoy.
But that ten out of ten that certain Transformers fans might holler about isn’t anywhere near the truth. Is this a game that should be bought regardless of your opinion of transforming robots? You’d have to be into your third person shooters for starters. Would a lover of third person shooters go all out gaga for this game? Not all out. They might well praise it as being a good game with some elements of other great games folded in.
There are things you could moan about. Ammo is thin on the ground, so if you’re fond of steaming in and shooting till there’s nothing left to shoot you’re going to be in trouble fast. To get anywhere you’re going to need to use cover and pick bots off from safety sometimes. But finding cover means standing behind whatever’s there, there’s no function to duck behind stuff. Consequently you can get shot even when hiding if a part of you is poking out somewhere. These things are niggling but not unworkable – there’s enough ammo once you’ve sussed the game out to see you through most chapters, the only time it gets really tight is when you’re up against bosses.
And the limited safety of cover means you’re forced to play faster and harder – to make the shot and push on. Or play as Megatron and keep using his health draining power whenever it’s charged up. The one thing that rankles about Transformers War For Cybertron is the way in which enemies blend into their surroundings. Locations lack distinction, in part because Cybertron is seemingly a planet made by panel beaters with a phobia for cleaning products. There are plenty of times when you’ll not see your enemy simply because there’s not enough definition between robot and robot’s world.
It’s as if they’ve stuck so close to the idea of the Transformers’ story that they’ve forgotten that a game which takes over twelve hours to finish needs to have a few more visually compelling spaces with enough outstanding features to distinguish each level from the next. Take out the boss fights and you’d be hard pushed to name the levels that are left. It’s a real shame, because those of us who are clued up enough to know who Optimus Prime is but dumb enough to wonder out loud why Megatron doesn’t transform into a giant gun in this game will be left slightly bemused by the fuss. Outside of the Transformers’ fan base, War For Cybertron is a good game that doesn’t do anything to break out of the mould or rise above the competition but does enough to keep third person shooter fans interested.
The cars and tanks, though weighty, don’t have much of a thrill to them aside from giving you the opportunity to speed things up, and the jet planes really don’t give the impression that you’re flying at 400MPH+. On top of this, there’s never any benefit to be had transforming into a vehicle other than to get from A to B quickly, unless you’re playing one of the levels where the only option is to play as a jet plane transformer since that level can only be completed as a plane. You’d think that transforming into a tank must mean there are areas that require heavy-duty firepower but actually being a tank feels more like a disadvantage. Other than getting to somewhere fast, the only time you’ll ever need to transform is when you’re out of any other ammo other than shells. The reload time between each shell makes being a tank a risky option, especially against enemies who don’t collapse in a heap of tin and steel after one hit.
You can play the campaign in three player co-op, which is a definite recommendation since some of the boss battles work so well when you’re in a team, but going solo has little replay value in itself. The multiplayer follows the tried and trusted path: a choice of deathmatches and flag capture games plus Escalation, where you fight your way through waves of enemies in a team, scoring points for kills and using those points to buy ammo, weapons and health or open doors to new areas. Sound familiar? The deathmatches are probably going to keep Transformers fans coming back for sometime. They’re compact arenas where the fights focus on small, explosive battles flashing up whenever one player finds another and the shots bring everyone else rushing out to play. What more could you ask for as a Transformers fan than a game where loads of robots go toe-to-toe in scenes reminiscent from those classic cartoons?
Players have four classes to choose from, and you can modify your bots to your hearts content, changing their colours, body shapes, weapons and powers to suit yourself, with more weapons and modifications becoming available as you level up. But as before, if Transformers doesn’t bring back warm childhood memories then the multiplayer is a bit more pick up put down than only game you’ve played all month. All told, Transformers War For Cybertron has much more going for it than against it. The quality of the script, the pleasures of transforming into a tank, flying off a ramp and transforming into a pistol-popping bot as you slam feet first into a gun fight, and the thoroughly worked plot give this shooter more than an edge over the rabble, but it’s not the gold star game some will have you believe.