The Transformers franchise has seen commercial success for the better part of the past 26 years. While there have been many different versions of Transformers over the years, few have managed to acquire the same level of success that the original, Generation 1 series did throughout the 1980‘s. The recent Hollywood movies are perhaps the closest in comparison when it comes to the popularity of the original run, which occurred from 1984 through 1994. Even with their financial success, the fan base that has gathered around them is far from what was created and still exists around the original show.
The unfortunate side effect of the timing of Transformers Generation 1's popularity is that the original series missed out on the great video game boom of the mid- to late- 1990's. As a result, there really have not been any "great" Transformers games that truly capture the magic of the G1 series. Even the most recent games based on the movies have been met with harsh criticism and have constantly left die-hard fans desiring more. Surely someone can and will come along and create a game that not only lives up to the standards of excellence set by the ‘80's cartoon but perhaps raises the bar for cartoon-to-game adaptations across the board.
Enter High Moon Studios. The crew at High Moon Studios are, admittedly, Generation 1 fans at heart. They have mentioned time and time in again various developer blogs and interviews that their driving force for this project stemmed from a love of the original source material. That is why they approached Hasbro (under the flag of Activision) with a proposal to do an original Transformers game based on the Generation 1 line of the series with nothing more than a sketch of a redesigned Bumblebee. Mind you, Hasbro has an incredibly strict approval process when it comes to touching one of their most coveted franchises in the company's history, so it was a pretty bold move to lay such a project on the table. The proposal may not sound like that big of an idea, but it truly was considering that Activision / High Moon wanted to touch on an aspect of the Transformers universe that even Hasbro had not yet covered directly: the civil war of Cybertron.
Cybertron, the fabled home world of the entire Transformers universe is known to have been devistated by a brutal civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons prior to the events of the original series. Various comics and cartoons have shown the home planet following the war, but no one has ever chronicled the war itself. War for Cybertron serves as a prequel to the original series and tells the story of the final chapters of Cybertron's civil war, which is an area of the franchise lore that has never been explored. By approving the project, Hasbro has basically given High Moon Studios their blessing to create the canon storyline for the birth of one of the animation world’s most beloved stories.
This new story is told through the guise of a 3rd person, action shooter available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Players get to experience the struggles that led both factions to leave Cybertron for Earth and set in motion the events that we know as the original series. The game allows players to assume the roles of a few of the most famous characters in Transformers lore as well as create their own unique characters for online play. Hasbro gave them the permission to take the franchise and make it their own, and High Moon / Activision have done so with great success.
The campaign portion of the game is actually split into two parts, an Autobot and a Decpticon campaign. Either one can be played at any time and the game will save your progress on each independently. You can also journey through each either by yourself or with up to 2 friends online cooperatively with drop-in and drop-out gameplay. If you are playing by yourself, the game will allow you to choose a character and assign the computer to the other two characters present in your party for the mission. The makeup (character wise) of your parties changes slightly throughout the chapters, but all of the names should be familiar to fans.The different characters included throughout the game are differentiated mainly by their class, which will be explained further when we discuss the multiplayer portion of the game. In brief though, characters in the game fall into one of four seperate classes, which determines the special abilities and starting weapons of each. Before it is all said and done though, you will likely have spent time playing as a character from each given class. Regardless of who you select at the start of a chapter, you will see the same story presented throughout; don't worry that you may miss something by choosing to play as Bumblebee version Optimus or vice versa, regardless of which campaign you choose.
Each campaign broken up into a series of chapters with individual checkpoints marked within each; players can resume previously completed sections though a simple scene selection that will allow them to access pretty much any portion of the game that they desire. It will take you approximately 5-6 hours to complete each side's storyline. The two campaigns can be played in any order too, though the story will follow more of a chronological line as you complete them in the order presented by the game, with the Decepticon campaign being listed as the first.
High Moon has written and presented a great story for fans of the series and unfamiliar players alike. War Cybertron not only chronicles the unknown history of the planet but also gives gamers a glimpse into the evolution of the larger than life characters that inhabit it. You won't just be presented with Optimus Prime as the leader of the Autobots, but rather you will follow his journey and rise to power as that leader. The same thing is true for both sides of the war; you will participate in and witness the events that set all of these important Transformers figures into their places in the series lore.
The entire process moves quickly though, which left me wanting to see and do more from a storyline perspective. The length is on average with most games of this genre when you take into account both campaigns, but as a fan of the original series I was left craving more. The story told in War for Cybertron is so well done and so true to the original series I grew up with that I felt my love for Transformers reborn.
The development team has done a very nice job of making you feel as though you are truly controlling a Transformer. These are, after all, giant, menacing mechs with an insane amount of gunpower. As one of these massive robots, you will be able arm yourself with two seperate firearms as well as grenades. The game doesn’t break any ground with the control schemes offered, as you have the ability to zoom in with the left trigger if you choose and fire with your right. Ammo management is key, though, as having a happy trigger finger will leave you pretty much useless on the battlefield. If you do run out of ammo for your guns, and you will, you have one of two options: utilize melee attacks by pressing the right thumb stick or transforming to your mechanical form with the left thumbstick. When you assume your vehicular form, you will have a new weapon that can be used, but note that the ammo for that gun will eventually run out too.
Words cannot express how well I think that High Moon nailed the transformation feeling in this game. This is how is should feel when you change forms in the Transformers universe. I had one of the biggest fan-boy moments of my life in this game during the Decepticon campaign. While running through a corridor under fire as Starscream, I came to an edge where I leaped off into the endless abyss and rather than falling to my death, transformed into a jet and rocketed out of danger. Casual players won’t appreciate that moment but I guarantee that die-hard fans of the series with. It was a moment that just left me in awe as if one of my oldest childhood dreams finally came true: I felt like I was actually a Transformer, if just for a few seconds. The feeling occurs a few times throughout the gameplay experience though. Tranforming plays a huge role in the gameplay, as it should, and it is handled almost perfectly.My only complaint about the game’s gameplay is that sometimes it feels very slow. The only time that you really get a good sense of speed in the game is when you are playing as one of the jet characters and use your boost while flying. I would have liked to have seen a couple of the other ground based vehicles given that same speed ability; it makes sense that Optimus is slow and bulky... he transforms into a variation of a semi, but Bumblebee should be zooming around at almost lightning speed. This sense of speed is rectified in the multiplayer portion of the game, but I felt it was a big annoyance during the campaign. It isn’t a gamebreaker though ad is something I cam to overlook for the sake of a great story and experience throughout the rest of the game.
As good as the story is in this game, the main driving force behind the game is the multiplayer modes. The game includes a wide variety of varying gameplay modes that will allow you to challenge friends and foes alike in the actual War for Cybertron. Upon entering into the multiplayer aspect, players are given a chance to create their own Transformer(s) for use online. You can create one character for each of the four classes in the game: Leader, Scout, Scientist, or Soldier. As you rank up you character within each class, you will earn up to two more spots for two more characters in each given class.
When designing your character, you will mainly just be choosing a basic design and deciding the color scheme associated with that character, given which side of the War you are placed on. Theoretically speaking, you create versions of your character as if they were fighting as a Decepticon or an Autobot, depending on which side you land on when you jump into a game. You will also choose the basic load out for your character; you will choose not only primary and secondary weapons, but also special abilities that can be triggered throughout your playing time. The various abilities and starting weapons change given the class of choice and expand as you progress through the games lengthy leveling system. As you defeat opponents and complete various missions throughout your time online, you will be reward with XP which determines the rank of your selected class. Ascending the ranks within each class rewards you with stronger weapons and abilities to arm your character(s) with. Each class of character has their own ranking which you must work at increasing; it will be up to you to choose your class wisely based on your specific needs within a given game.
The individual classes are also awarded different awards for racking up kill streaks within a match. Special awards are given to players as they amass either 3-, 5-, or 7-kill streaks against an opponent. These streaks give the player access to a special ability that can be triggered by pressing the control pad in an indicated direction. There is a wide array of awards available, including health bonuses, weapon boosts, and even mass destruction attacks such as guided missiles which seek out your opponent(s).
The first of the four classes available is the Leader class. This class is more of the "tank" of the game and is usually controlled by those in the front lines of battle. The class gives you the option of starting with some of the higher powered weapons like the Fusion Cannon and Magma Frag Launcher and allows the use of abilities that strengthen not only yourself, but teammates as well. The second class is the scout. The Scout is the quick moving character class of the game and is more suited for people who like to stick and move. Their weapons aren't quite as powerful as the other classes, but their quick speed allows for more hits to be landed in an effective attack. The Scientist acts as the main support class for the game. Players selecting this class not only have access to the incredibly fast jet-form (think Starscream) but kill streak rewards that benefit your entire team as a whole. The final class is known as the Soldier class and is the most well-rounded of the four. The class offers a wide variety of weapons and skills to create a very well balanced warrior on the battlefield.
Once you have created your character(s), you will then be prompted to select a mode of play to enter into under either ranked or unranked play. Transformers: War for Cybertron offers 6 different types of competitive multiplayer and one type of cooperative. the cooperative mode is called Escalation and is best compared to the Gears of War Horde mode. This mode must be played with at least two players but can support a team of up to four. Unfortunately, you cannot use your created Transformer(s) in this mode and you must select from a roster of iconic Tranformers characters such as Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Iron Hide, Starscream, and many others. There is one map available per faction (Autobot versus Decepticon) and players will battle never ending waves of opponents that increase in power over time. As you defeat enemies, you earn differing amounts of points, or credits, which can be spent at kiosks scattered around the map(s) on health packs, ammo refills, new weapons, or to open up new areas of the ever expanding map.Escalation mode is a ton of fun though you should be warned that it gets very hard, very fast. The new variations on the Horde mode in terms of the currency and expansion are a welcome edition to what has become a staple mode in action games since Gears of War 2. I have yet to play the mode in a game that requires as much teamwork and communication as Escalation does. You will need to communicate and work together. Players can help each other out in the purchase of items two as credits can be "inserted" into the game's kiosks towards the purchase of a particular item. This will come in handy when trying to open new areas too as those kiosks / doors are often the most expensive. Players that fall in battle during the course of a match can either be revived by partners before they self destruct or left to respawn at the beginning of the next round. Of course, that is assuming that the rest of your team completes the current wave and makes it to the next round.
Perhaps cooperation isn't your thing, then one of the six competative modes may be more to you liking. Players are given a selection of playlists for up to 10 players (5 per team) that include the following gametypes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Power Struggle, Conquest, Code of Power, and Countdown to Extinction. The two deathmatch variations are easily the weakest modes and the ones that requires the least explanation. They are simple, kill-count games set in solo- and team-based environments. I don't feel that either one feels too great in this game, as the gameplay is built around cooperation and the completion of team-focuses tasks. that is what the entire main campaign is built on and what the game excels at. There is some fun to be had in these modes, but nothing like the other options offer.
Although the names of these modes may be new, the gameplay surrounding them will be familiar to anyone who has played a competitive action game in the past couple of years. Power Struggle and Conquest require players to capture various Energon Nodes on the map and maintain their possession throughout the match. The longer that you hold onto a Node, the more points that you will accumulate. While Power Struggle involves multiple nodes placed around the map, Conquest involves a particular area that moves around the map over time, like King of the Hill. Both of the matches are a lot of fun and can lead to some very epic battles if you have a full room.
Code of Power is my personal favorite game type in Transformers: War for Cybertron. This mode consists of round based gameplay where teams are given 2.5 minutes to capture the opponent's "Code of Power" and return it to their base as many times as they can within a given round. When a player has possession of the Code of Power, they cannot use their normal weapons and skills but have a very strong melee attack using it as a weapon. Possession will also slow you movement across the map too. The teams will rotate positions from offense to defense between rounds; during my experience with the game over the past couple of weeks, this mode brought out the most competitive matches that I have played online over Xbox Live in a long, long time.There is a great rush of excitement to be had when the clock it ticking away on your team and you are down by just a few captures... the games get insanely intense.
The final competitive mode is Countdown to Extinction. This mode involves a single bomb located in the middle of the map that must be delivered to the opponent's base, activated, and then defending until it detonates. Once a bomb has been detonated, the planting team is awarded a point and it respawns in the center of the map. Again, this is another great team based mode that brings out the best in War for Cybertron's gameplay. The matches fought under this playlist are often long and highly competitive in my experience.
The entire game is presented with great visuals and sounds. I don't think that anyone will be disappointed with the work of High Moon Studios in either of these technical categories of the game. The development team has worked very hard to build Cybertron from the ground up for its representation in this game and it shows. There is a lot of detail given to the environment and you really get a sense of just how technologically advanced the planet is, as well as how devastating the civil war has been. You should know however, going in, that the characters that you know by name won’t necessarily look the way you remember them. The dev team has re-envisioned every character in the game to reflect a more mature, and technologically advanced style. The Transformers that we know from the original cartoon had adapted their look to fit in here on Earth; this game represents their original forms as they appeared on their home planet. The looks are all very similar though and you will undoubtedly recognize all of your favorites from the past.
Fans will also be very happy to hear familiar voices behind the faces of their favorite characters. The voices are very faithful to the original and even include the one and only Peter Cullen in the role of Optimus. There is a lot of conversation and chatter throughout the game, and the voices as well as the attitudes and characters persona match up almost perfectly with how they should..