TRANSFORMERS: WAR FOR CYBERTRON
It’s incredible to think that for as long as Transformers have been on the cultural map they have gone from favourite toy, to favourite cartoon, to favourite animated movie and then, much later, to becoming a guilty pleasure in the form of the Hollywood blockbuster... but there hasn’t been one decent computer game based around the franchise.
It’s clear there’s plenty of mileage in the idea of giant robots that can transform into vehicles. And why wouldn’t there be? After all, it doesn’t get much more macho than a robo-tank with arms and big guns fighting with a robo-plane atop a huge dam in a bid to secure precious energon cubes. Just look at all that horsepower. Can’t get on board with that? Then stick to Jane Austen novels... Autonomy & Autobots anyone?
For long-standing fans of everyone’s favourite aliens there’s plenty to get excited about now though with the release of War for Cybertron. Promises to be able to design your own Transformer will immediately set pulses racing in a haze of giddy nostalgia, and promises of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 style multiplayer, with upgrades and such, are likely to throw people into apoplexies from the potential excitement. Of course, while neither of these features stand out as original the fact is that when ported over to the Transformers universe these should instantly be a winner. So, have High Moon cracked it and finally delivered on the fevered dreams of every 80s kid? We donned our dinobot pyjamas and took a look for ourselves.
It doesn’t take long before immediate comparisons to other games come into sharp focus. Elements of Halo and Gears of War are the most immediate in terms of gameplay, yet there are some culled from Call of Duty as well. More about that later... Whichever side the player picks they are thrown into some fairly straightforward run and gun third-person action that sets the tone for the game. Moving through levels typically involves targeting some drone units or gun turrets, with the more difficult levels involving a variation on this theme with some distraction such as some slightly more powerful units or, as a level comes to an end, a boss in the form of a recognisable Transformers character.
Of course the ace up the sleeve has to be the ability to transform, right? Well there’s no definitive way to answer that question. The transformation sequences are great and there are certain parts of the single player campaign that make great use of this function. Shoot-em-ups can quickly degenerate into car chases in a flurry of adrenaline fuelled action that’d make Jason Statham pause for breath; however a lot of the time the ability to transform can’t really be utilised to its full potential as the level design doesn’t really allow for it. Most of the time it is used to simply speed up the linear progression through a level, an alternative mode of transportation to running.
Still, that isn’t to say what is here is bad. It is an enjoyable experience and it can be played without any particular mental commitment. Although not a movie tie-in, it does have that in common with the movie at least - this is pure popcorn entertainment, brain not required. The levels look great and the battles pass by in a blur of explosions and laser fire. It is an extremely impressive fireworks display that will draw the right kind of mind and distract from the monotony of the main game. Cleverly, when the explosions and destruction seem to be also fading into the realms of the ordinary they are ramped up a notch to draw some more “oohs” and “ahhhs”. It’s a strategy that alarmingly works.
Lots of explosions and action are always appreciated in a game like this however the style could have been improved in one significant way. The robots seem to lack as much of a physical presence as they could have and even on the metallic home world of Cybertron the crunches and crashes that would be expected never seem to materialise. Essentially they feel a lot like humans which is a minor quibble for sure but it is these sorts of things that do pierce the nostalgia forcefield and slowly but surely force the player to engage with the reality in front of them.
What is that reality exactly? Well, simply put it is an action game which is entertaining in parts and excellent in others however is too much repetition for it to be considered either a great or unique gaming experience. That is true of single player at least, a mode that is elevated by an engaging storyline and script that shows true reverence to the source material... Players will push through to the end of the single player campaigns simply to see the outcome. However, multi-player does bring with it some more interesting components that should provide players with an incentive to come back.
Remember the mention of Call of Duty elements earlier? Well, it probably goes without saying that there are some in the multi-player too. That game’s mechanics have infiltrated and infected every genre, to the point where some kind of persistent experience system with unlocakbles is now throbbing under the surface of every game like the matrix of power itself. No different here either, with a design your own robot mode that integrates a class system. Sadly, the option of customising appearance is pretty much down to colouring in a few pre-built models but there is something genuinely game altering in the class system.
Choosing a scout will lead to having an agile, nippy robot that can disguise itself when required, whereas soldiers are a bit more robust and capable of aggression at the expense of speed. As well as this there are scientists that can heal others and the leaders - such as the godlike Optimus Prime and Megatron - get group buffs. As a result the online element of the play is certainly more varied than the long, drawn out levels of single player.
One area that really can’t be criticised, the game is a beautiful homage to the Transformers cartoon and any true fan will be entranced with what they see on the screen. With the game being set before the original cartoon series we see the characters in their Cybertronian forms, before they were required to alter to fit in on Earth. The concepts behind each one are fantastically executed and the level of detail is just a delight.
The same can be said of Cybertron itself. The level of detail in each map is spectacular and unlike the cartoon any suggestion of money saving reuse of the same backgrounds is completely unfounded... Cybertron has never before looked and felt like the alien planet it is and the otherworldly effects are breath-taking.
Transforming animations are also gloriously fluid and it is heart-warming to see something that could have been handled so clunkily given such painstaking attention. Even in the heat of a battle involving multiple enemies there are no issues with the animations and the ability to transform in mid-air while blasting on opponents, before transforming back before hitting the ground and speed away will drop a jaw more than once early doors.
The game looks great and manages to bridge the gap between the old first generation of cartoons and the virtually unrecognisable robotics of the movie. The way the game looks boasts both charm and authenticity.
When dealing with a slice of nostalgia getting the sound right is so vitally important and again the game doesn’t disappoint in this department. While the in game sounds include a lot of those taken directly from days gone by, what really polishes the package is some fantastic voice acting. Some of the original cast return and for those that don’t the stand-ins perform admirably. There are even quotes from the original movie, which pop up in a series of verbal nods to long standing fans. This is High Moon’s way of saying that they are very much on our side.
The score isn’t as great and has nothing as inspiring as “You’ve got the touch” to propel the player to feats of heroism - or dastardly deeds in the case of the Decepticons - but it is still in keeping with the game, even down to the reworking of the original theme that greets players as they fire up the game.
It’s a game that all Transformers Fans will want to love, it isn’t anything new but it must be said it is solid and delivers a decent all round experience, even if it is one that will quickly fade in the memory. What stands out isn’t the gameplay, or the in-game mechanics, or even the multi-player component that brings with it a lot of laughs. No, what stands out is the storylines and the characters. Think of the game as an interactive movie, with some very long drawn out scenes that start to feel more Warhol than Kubrick and that’s about the size of it.
War For Cybertron must be readily accepted as a must-have for Transformers fans even with some of its failings in place. Having been officially sanctioned by Hasbro, it’s clear that Half Moon have gone into some loving detail when it comes to the storyline as well as the visual aspects. The game is held together by some fantastic cut-scenes and tells many of the stories only alluded to in the cartoon series, not least of all Starscream defecting from the Autobots to hook up with the Decepticons like some sort of weakling Satan in a Paradise Lost.
This is the best Transformers game to date by a long way however to appeal to as wide an audience as possible it is not wrong to expect something a bit more immersive from an action game these days. At times War For Cybertron feels almost weighted in the era it draws on for most of its source material but in others the balance is just right.
||Something of a mixed bag, great in parts, tedious in others, a bit more variety and wider scope would have been appreciated.
||Look great and definitely bridge the gap between the cartoons of yesteryear and the movies a new generation are familiar with.
||A solid score and sound effects but the voice acting steals the show with original cast members and some suitably enthusiastic newcomers.
||The multi-player mode is fun but the create your own transformer mode lacks options and the perks don’t make huge differences to the online game.
(Not an Average)
||Those who are not fans of the franchise will find a standard action game but it is something that little bit extra for Transformers aficionados.