Transformers: War For Cybertron
Now I’m sure everyone who’s a fan of something, be it a book, a movie, a comic, a cartoon, etc, can agree that adaptations tend to suck, and reboots too. Michael Bay running rampant with the Transformers license had basically killed any hope I had that we’d see anything half-decent be done with the shape-shifting robots ever again, and certainly not anything good. So imagine my surprise when back in early 2010 I started noticing information about how someone was making a Transformers game adaptation that was a reboot of the origin story, and it actually looked good. And when the game came out it turned out to actually be good.
This was not my first foray into the games based on the Transformers. I played that pretty bad Beast Wars one back at the end of the 90s. I tried a game that I can’t recall the title of right now. Might have been the tie-in for the first Bay movie, but I don’t think so. All I remember is trying to navigate a jungle and the controls were horrible.
Then High Moon Studios stepped onto the scene and showed everyone how a videogame adaptation should be done. I’ll admit that though I had heard of Darkwatch (their first game) I never actually played it and so had no clue who High Moon actually were. But whoever they were, it was clear they understood Transformers. Perhaps a little too well, because although I loved the game, I could tell early on that this game was meant for the fans, and might feel alienating to anyone who wasn’t a fan. I wouldn’t blame them for thinking this game was a poor introduction to the franchise.
I will still claim that T:WFC is not just a good Transformers game, but a good game that just happens to be about Transformers. I liked it so much that I bought both the Xbox 360 and the PC version, and I’ve played through both of them several times. I prefer the PC version, because I like using the scoped weapons, and I find aiming with the mouse a lot more precise than with a thumbstick.
I haven’t even mentioned the plot yet, which is unusual for me, but lets get to that now. A civil war has broken out on Cybertron between the Autobots and the Decepticons. The leader of the Autobots is Zeta Prime, and Megatron commands the Decepticons. When the game starts the fighting has more or less reached a standstill, but Megatron has heard about an ancient legend that he is convinced is real: Dark Energon. If he obtains this corrupted version of their precious energy source, he is certain the scales of the war will tip in his favour. His sources have told him the only remaining sample of Dark Energon is contained on an orbital space station under the charge of Sky Commander Starscream. So naturally he diverts a suitable (read: excessive) amount of his forces to lead an assault on the station and take everything on it for his cause.
The campaign structure is pretty interesting, even though I won’t call it new or groundbreaking. Each side gets five missions, and if you play chronologically the five Decepticon missions are first. They are sub-divided into three ground missions, one aerial mission, and then a big boss mission at the end. With the exception of the big boss, all missions are pretty long. I’d say 30-40 minutes each, but I could be remembering that wrong and overstating it. In each mission you get to pick one out of three Transformers with different special abilities and vehicle forms, while the other two are controlled by the AI, or by your friends if you’re playing co-op.
While Megatron and Optimus each have a unique weapon in robot form, all weapons for robot forms are usable by everyone. In vehicle form it depends on what the vehicle is. Tanks naturally have a big gun, and their special ability is a quick 180 degree turn. Trucks have dual rocket launchers and can perform a crash charge as their special. Small cars have dual machine-guns and can perform a quick side-jump to avoid attacks. Jets have a machine-gun and missiles (both with infinite ammo) and can do a barrel roll. And in robot form everyone has a melee attack with some sort of energon weapon (which sends you flying forward, so be careful).
I quite liked the combat, even though it took a little while to get used to all your options. For some people I don’t think it ever really gelled and just felt awkward, but for me it just clicked after a short while. As an example: Playing Megatron. I’d be firing on enemies in front of me as a robot, then I’d spot a trio up on a ledge, so I’d transform at the click of a button and fire off a heavy round taking out all three of them before returning to robot form and smashing the final Autobot in front of me with my mace. The only real issue I had was that you could run out of ammo weirdly fast.
Part of what made the game so great for me was the attention to details. The Transformers themselves were never static. Even when standing idle there are lots of moving parts on them, just little things, to make them feel alive. When transforming to ground vehicles they were hovercrafts normally, but when you engaged travel mode they would subtly shift and connect their wheels or threads to the ground before speeding off. Or rolling out, if you prefer. They don’t hold their weapons so much as reshape their arms into them. When using a turret they don’t just grab it, but actually merge their form into it. And jumping into the air, transforming into a jet and immediately engaging afterburners will never stop being awesome. They feel very fluid and adaptable, like you’d expect a race called Transformers to be.
Each side had several playable Transformers for the campaign, and even more for multi-player. During the Decepticon campaign you could play as Megatron, Brawl, Barricade, Starscream, Skywarp, Thundercracker, Soundwave (who is the so far only confirmed triple transformer in the High Moon games) and Breakdown. Additionally Dead End, Demolishor, Onslaught, Shockwave and Slipstream could be unlocked for multiplayer.
For the Autobots you could play as Optimus, Ratchet, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Warpath, Ironhide, Air Raid, Jetfire and Silverbolt in the campaign. And for multi-player you could also unlock Arcee, Jazz, Scattershot and Zeta Prime.
One complaint people have made is that they thought the transforming felt clunky and awkward, and I can see where they’re coming from. There’s a certain timing to it that you need to get the hang of, and accidentally transforming at the wrong time can fuck things up for you, especially on higher difficulties. Even so I was very happy with how they had done it, but I do understand anyone who feels differently.
I was also quite pleased with how the game looked. It didn’t have the most stellar graphics, but it looked right. The characters looked right and were a great callback to G1 aesthetics, the transforming looked right and the world looked right. I do find it hard to argue with those who thought the environments looked a bit samey. It didn’t bother me, though I can see why it might have for some people. It’s natural really. Cybertron is a machine world. Having different biomes is unlikely, and metals aren’t usually that varied in colour. I can tell they tried, but it was lacking in contrast. They do seem to have worked on that for Fall of Cybertron, and what I saw in the demo was a definite improvement.
The voicework in this game is pretty great. Peter Cullen makes a return as Optimus, and I like to think he enjoyed doing this game. The voices for everyone else also feel very good, with Soundwave especially feeling spot-on. All I can really say about the music is that I don’t really remember much of it, which doesn’t seem like a good sign. The sound effects otherwise do a decent job. Not all of the weapons sound stellar, but most of them are pretty good, and the transformation and vehicle sounds are alright. They helped make the world, but I can’t claim they really stood out. The one I best remember is being a tank, and the sound of firing and reloading, while I in my mind went “Boom! I’m a tank.” Strangely it never got old.
I will say again that Transformers: War For Cybertron is a good game, and considering how cheap it currently is I don’t feel bad about recommending it to anyone, fans and newcomers alike. If you really don’t like Transformers though, this game is unlikely to change your mind. But Fall of Cybertron is going to have a fire-breathing robot space T-Rex, and if that does not appeal to you at all, I worry that there might be something wrong with you.
Go play it. I’ll even co-op with you if you want.
Posted on August 10, 2012, in Games, Retrospective and tagged 3rd person shooter, Activision, Fall of Cybertron, go play it, High Moon Studios, PC, PS3, seriously, Transformers, videogames, War For Cybertron, Xbox 360. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.