3rd July 2010 - I will straight-up confess to being a Transformers nerd. As with any young boy of the 80's, it formed the backbone of my Saturday morning cartoon line-up and the toys were prized possessions (my battery powered moving Trypticon my pride and joy). I have the original series on DVD and the animated movie from 1986. When the 2001 movie was announced I had that weird combination of feeling excited but not wanting to get my hopes up in case it was terrible (the second movie certainly managed that). I had the same feeling with the 2007 game, which unfortunately was a complete dud and left the franchise out on a limb. June 2010 and we have another game on our hands but this time by High Moon Studios. Surely someone will get it right this time. I mean - come on, you're dealing with transforming robots. How hard can it be?!
Transformers: War for Cybertron tells the story of the civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons on Cybertron before their exodus to Earth. It's a 3rd person shooter that has its roots in the original 80's cartoon rather than any of the latest movies, and has been put together by a team that are obvious fans of the series. From the very start this is an instantly recognisable Transformers world. The metal cities and landscapes have nice touches like transforming doors, holograms, and computer interfaces that characters plug into. Popular Autobot and Decepticon characters like Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron and Soundwave are playable, and care has been put into the look of each. Lots of little things such as moving parts when in humanoid form, and the fluid transformation to vehicular form and back brought a smile to my face. The game is heavily based on the G1 cartoon series, but because it is set prior to it, there is some creative licence used in Transformers designs to make them fit in with life on Cybertron. Make no mistake - each is easily identifiable and only for the absolute purist will this be hard to swallow.
Being a 3rd person shooter the control mechanism needs to be easy to navigate or the flow of gameplay will suffer. Apart from the odd fact of you having to go to a tutorial page in the pause menu to learn the controls (what's wrong with in-game tutorials High Moon?), they all map out very straightforward and before you know it you are running along shooting robots, double jumping mid air with your thrusters, transforming and running over some poor bastard before transforming back and finishing someone with a melee attack. It really is as simple as that and it is as cool as it sounds.
The battles are a good combination of shooting in both forms, melee attacks, and racing or flying around for exploration. Unfortunately the enemy AI is not flash and taking bad guys out isn't really a brain buster. Also ammo is too often in short supply and I found myself on more than one occasion scrounging around for some while trying to avoid being killed. It can get a little repetitive sometimes, but the fact that you're in the Transformers world with all the sights and sounds distracts you from that most of the time.
In the main campaign there are always three characters in the party - you choose one from the available options, and the computer controls the other two. Brilliantly your friends can drop into the main campaign and take over the other characters. The only gripe with this is they have to be online - there is no split-screen. With the ability to play the campaign with different classes of character (leader, soldier, scientist and scout), as Autobots and Decepticons, and with different mates there is a big plus for replay value here.
If you find the campaign not varied enough for you there are two other excellent multiplayer modes. Firstly the typical online multiplayer for up to 10 players with Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Power Struggle (a type of node game) and a couple more similar to capture the flag. What adds depth to these fairly standard modes is the character customisation. You pick one of four classes which have their own strengths and weakness, and as you play and score achievements you are rewarded with points. As you level up these can be used to unlock weapons and abilities for each class, similar to Modern Warfare 2 or Resistance 2. It adds a huge incentive to come back and play and to try out each class, as each has their own unique achievements. The second mode is called Escalation and sees 2-4 players take on waves of AI enemies that get increasingly hard. You are awarded points that can be used to unlock doors and purchase upgrades on the fly in the arena. This is great fun and adds a strategic element in the choice of classes as a good mix is needed to see you through the higher waves.
As I mentioned previously the team were obvious Transformers fans and have put the unreal engine to good use. The Transformers look awesome with attention to detail and good flashes and explosions from weapons, crashes and leg thrusters. There is lots going on in the background as well, such as parts of the city transforming and battleships flying overhead giving a good sense of the war going on around you. There is not a huge variety in settings as it's all either on a space station or in the metallic cities of Cybertron, but to be honest it doesn't really bother you much as it's what you expect the planet to be like.
There were a few instances in frame rate drop out, and once in a fight against Starscream the game went so slowly I thought it was going to freeze, but for the majority of the time things ran smoothly with lots of robots on screen and weapons firing everywhere.
The voice acting fits in with the Transformers world with nice sound effects on voices and dialogue that is suitably cheesy and appropriate for each character. Megatron is arrogant and insulting with every sentence, and Soundwave sounds superb with his electronic altered voice and weird sentence structure just like the cartoon. The Autobots have not been neglected with Peter Cullen reviving his role as Optimus Prime - enough said there.
The music is pretty standard. I didn't really notice it much as I was paying too much attention to the great sound effects. It did get a little monotonous though when a big battle lasted for a while or you were exploring without fighting going on. The sound effects in the game are authentic and really add to your immersion in the robotic world. Transforming sounds awesome – for the first few minutes in the game you just keep driving and transforming, firing weapons and interacting with panels to hear the sounds again. Definite smile factor for fans.
With the ability to play the fairly lengthy (about 12-15 hours) main campaign as different characters and with two of your mates, the multiplayer modes with their reward and customisation system, and the escalation mode there is plenty to do. Fans will keep coming back just to play one of the best Transformers experiences available and even non-fans will have plenty to achieve that makes the game good value especially at the prices it is selling for at launch.
For years I've been wanting a game to come out that captured the magic of the Transformers and did the cult franchise justice. Some have tried and failed dismally, but High Moon Studios have created something that gamers will flock to and enjoy playing with friends. It's by no means perfect with the campaign getting a little monotonous on your own, a few frame rate issues and some average AI, but none of that will matter to fans as this is the most faithful salute to the Autobots and Decepticons I can remember. Transforming effortlessly on the fly, listening to the great sound effects and voice overs, blowing lots of stuff up with big guns and getting stuck into the multiplayer will keep people on this title for a while.
AAG SCORE: 8.5/10
+ Well created Transformers characters and world
+ Easy controls and transformation looks awesome and works well
+ Great sound effects and true-to-character voice overs
+ Variety of fairly deep multiplayer aspects including three player campaign co-op
- Campaign can get monotonous when solo
- AI not that difficult
- Some frame rate issues
Written and Reviewed by Khye Davey