Developer: High Moon Studios
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
A robot reboot that’s more than meets the eye
There was a time when legions of prepubescent boys awoke each morning, gobbling down bowls of sugary cereal and basking in the cartoon glow of Transformers. And sure, the show was really nothing more than a 22-minute commercial designed to sell toys, but it was our show dammit, permeating the pop-cultural consciousness of the 1980s. Twenty years later, along comes Hollywood explosion monger Michael Bay with his ebonics-spouting Autobots, computer-generated special effects and the camera's eternal leering at Megan Fox's ass. As a result, a new multibillion dollar wave of Transformer-mania has been unleashed, with Optimus Prime now shilling everything from cars and fast food, to t-shirts, posters and of course, videogame tie-ins.
Which is why fans of the original cartoon series may be likely to approach Transformers: War for Cybertron with more than a little trepidation. After all, videogames based on popular film and television properties have a fairly shoddy track record. But while veteran developer High Moon Studios’ Transformers: War for Cybertron may seem like little more than another rushed license, like the mantra of the beloved shape-changing robots, the game is a classic case of more than meets the eye.
Borrowing more from the canon of the '80s cartoon rather than the lackluster films, War for Cybertron puts players in control of both the Autobots and Decepitcons in two separate campaigns which can be completed alone or cooperatively with up to three players online. Taking place on Cybertron (the Transformers' home planet for the uninitiated), the campaign chronicles the devastating civil war that takes place before the two factions arrive on Earth. Of course, like any good Transformers tie-in, the story plays upon the campy cartoon fromage of the original series, while also having enough gravitas to keep a now adult fan base engaged.
The audio is also top notch, from the iconic vehicle changing sound effects and epic score, to the surprisingly well-delivered voice acting (including legendary voice actor Peter Cullen once again lending his booming baritone to the role of Autobot leader Optimus Prime). Visually, the game is absolutely gorgeous, with the much lauded Unreal Engine 3 providing stunning vistas, particle effects, and the recognizable yet redesigned Transformers characters, with everything from fan favorites such as Warpath and Starscream to Soundwave and Ratchet. The game really shines, however, when the characters explore the unique environments: from harrowing space battles to jaw-dropping boss battles within the intricate bowels of Cybertron itself.
Gameplay takes the form of an intuitive third-person shooter, mixed liberally with moments of beat em’ up brawlers and vehicle combat. More importantly, the Transformers inherent shape changing abilities is more than just a throw away concept and is used dynamically throughout the levels with players able change on the fly in order to solve puzzles and complete specific levels and objectives. It’s a unique mixture of gameplay styles that keeps the pace frenetic and the players constantly engaged. And while players will no doubt find the cooperative campaign more than satisfying, the game also features several other robust multiplayer features that are surprisingly addictive, pitting up to 10 players online in a variety of game modes, while also allowing for class and character customization.
Of course War for Cybertron is not without its faults. The story is a little uneven and at times bafflingly incomplete (even by the admittedly cheesy standards of '80s cartoons), and the levels are occasionally repetitive in design. These minor problems, however, do little to detract from what’s otherwise a polished and surprisingly entertaining game. Diehard fans of the original will probably get a little more mileage out of the game, particularly given the stunning, reimagined renderings of their favorite characters, but War for Cybertron is also more than just another licensed game, with enough going on under the hood to appeal to both the uninitiated and Transformers fanboys looking to recapture the energon-infused buzz of the original cartoon.