Transformers: War For Cybertron
High Moon’s love letter to Transformers fans starts out big and ends even bigger, delivering a game that fans have waited for since the 1980s. War for Cybertron succeeds by recognizing two things: what makes a good game, and what makes Transformers cool. By nailing both points, High Moon has struck a wellspring that could easily fuel an entire series. It bucks the trend of licensed titles and emerges as one of the few outstanding examples of how to honor a property’s history and move it into the future at the same time.
War for Cybertron’s tale acts as a prequel to the many mythologies the franchise has built over the years through comics, cartoons, toys, and movies. Megatron lusts for power, and he’s not afraid to pull the planet down around him to get it. A new Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, must rise to the challenge and face insurmountable odds to thwart the villain. Amid that framework, High Moon has inserted more fan service than I’ve ever encountered in a game. Favorite characters make cameos, like Soundwave’s tape collection. Classic character relationships are highlighted, like Megatron and Starscream’s angry banter. Central elements of the mythology, like the origin of the Matrix and the role of Omega Supreme, emerge as integral plot points. In every case, these features are handled with the joy that only real fans of the franchise could accomplish.
If all those names sound like nonsense to you, you’ll be happy to know that War for Cybertron is also an excellent action/shooter, with well-designed levels, strong gunplay, and a barrage of combat that never lets up or gets boring. The campaign is structured to deliver variety through different playable characters, first through a Decepticon campaign about their rise to power, and then through an Autobot story of perseverance and retaliation. Every level has three unique characters to choose between, and the best way to experience the story is through the excellently implemented online three-player co-op.
Along the way, the game offers many entertaining weapons to use. Most of them feel distinct, even if they fall into familiar shooter archetypes. The ability to transform brings a degree of mobility to the battlefield not found in most shooters, which is especially noticeable during the flight levels. The game is lengthy and often challenging, including several spectacular boss fights that take advantage of the special abilities and size differential that make each character stand apart. That’s not to say it’s perfect. As the campaign progressed, I found myself wishing for smarter AI to govern both my allies and enemies. I also question the lack of a cover mechanic in a game that is clearly modeled after other third-person shooters in which cover is a fundamental feature. Even with these complaints, the battles are frenzied and fun, with a breakneck pace that thrills even after hours of play.
The multiplayer elements of War for Cybertron shine with the same bright metallic sheen as the single-player campaign. A character creation and leveling system allows players to customize their own unique Transformer to take into the fray. The multiplayer modes rarely diverge from tradition, but the increased speed with which the map can be navigated in vehicle form changes the nature of the contests. Cribbing from a couple of recent high-profile shooters, War for Cybertron also includes a fantastic five-player cooperative mode called Escalation that pits you against increasingly more hostile waves of enemies. It’s just sad that there are only two maps for the mode.
No matter what mode you’re playing, the game looks and sounds excellent. In particular, the animation team deserves a nod for the remarkable work they’ve done on bringing these robotic characters to life. Constantly shifting gears and plates on characters and environments alike communicate the energy and power that pulses through the game world. What could have been a boring metallic playground takes on a life of its own. The vocal track is also a treat. With lots of character dialogue and excellent voice acting, the script has all the overwrought melodrama you’d expect from giant talking robots.
War for Cybertron isn’t a perfect game, but it fulfills my youthful fantasies in a way that has me believing the developers had a window into my boyhood imagination. If Transformers dominated your early years, you owe it to yourself to see them brought to life in the way you always dreamed.