Transformers: War for Cybertron Review
In the time between the announcement of Michael Bay's Transformers film and the DVD release of its sequel, I've spent a lot of time with the robots in disguise. Sure, like everyone else my age, I was a huge fan of the original TV show and toy line, but the films, video games and new shows spawned from the hype around the blockbuster films has been overwhelming, especially considering I've reviewed almost all of them for gamerstemple.com. With all of the work I put into playing and watching the Transformers over the past handful of years, I've become something of an expert on the characters and storylines, of which there are dozens, if not hundreds. Few have truly lived up to the legendary status of the original, and finally, we have a new story that embraces and builds on the cartoon we all remember, rather than trying to revamp or change it in any way. If you've got any love for the Optimus Prime, Starscream, Soundwave and Megatron of the old days, you owe it to yourself to give Transformers: War for Cybertron a chance.
As is evident from the title, this game takes place during the war on the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron. The events detailed here take place long before the original cartoon, which began after their planet was destroyed and the Transformers landed on Earth. The game begins in media res, so it can't really be called an origin story; it more deals with how alliances were forged within the Decepticon ranks and Optimus' rise to power after the death of the former Autobot leader, Zeta Prime. The story doesn't really have any twists or turns and some parts can be tough to follow, but if you're well versed in Transformers lore, it offers up some tantalizing tidbits and shines light on some characters' beginnings and motivations. The interaction between Megatron and Starscream is the most revealing and captivating, but Optimus' storyline explains quite a lot as well. And, thank god, Bumblebee and Soundwave have the right voices and looks, rather than the broken car stereo and satellite transformation they were given for the big budget films. The overarching tale is rather blah, but the high points and recognizable personalities keep it engaging from encounter to encounter.
One last thing about the story: When you begin the game for the first time, you can choose between playing as the Decepticons, starting the game at chapter one, or the Autobots, starting the game at chapter six or seven. Like a lot of people, I imagine, I wanted to jump right into Optimus Prime's shoes and started with the Autobots. I strongly urge against this, as the Decepticon campaign that makes up the first half of the game is essential to understanding the story behind the Autobots side of things. No, there is no penalty for siding with the Autobots first and having the option of doing so is certainly nice, but to get the full effect, you'll want to start at chapter one and play through until the end.
When I first heard about War for Cybertron about a year ago, the developers got me excited by describing the gameplay as Gear of War with Autobots and Decepticons. The finished game is still a third person shooter like Gears, yes, but somewhere in the game's coming together the cover mechanic employed by Marcus Fenix and company was scrapped. Wishing for the ability to take cover during firefights ruined the first few hours of the game for me, but once I got over it, I really enjoyed how War for Cybertron played.
At this point, every gamer reading this should know how a third person, dual analog shooter is played. The Transformers have taken this tried and true gameplay and made it their own by adding easy to use melee attacks and, of course, the ability to switch between robot and vehicle mode on the fly. And for the very first time in gaming history, the Autobots and Decpticons switch between forms exactly how you would want them to: by clicking the analog stick at any time, i.e. easily. The games based on the Transformers films had admirable but ultimately unworkable systems for this most basic of expected abilities, and the games suffered for it. War for Cybertron nails it, plain and simple. And the game built around the simple controls is ALWAYS pushing the player to try it out. Running into a firefight guns blazing will give you a victory, but so will transforming into vehicle mode, launching yourself into the fray, returning to robot mode and dispatching the enemy with melee strikes and missiles. Which do you think is more fun and rewarding? Sure, the third person shooter is a game design that had been done and redone, but great care has been made into making this more than an average game with a Transformers paint job; the ease of control over the robots, the excellent transformations and the elbow room in which to use them make this way more than just another shooter.