Transformers: War for Cybertron Expanded Review

This is sort of an expanded edition of my review of Transformers: War for Cybertron for the Cairns Post, compiled from the 500-word version of that review and various forum posts I’ve made in the meantime.

Keeping in mind that I wrote that review so as many readers as possible would understand it, let me expand for all you pro gamers out there. For starters, don’t buy it expecting anything earthshaking or revolutionary. High Moon set out to make a Transformers game that works, and they’ve succeeded. It mightn’t be an outstanding experience but it’s certainly a solid one, which puts it head and shoulders above the two movie games.

You’ll probably see a lot that’s familiar. Base gameplay is reminiscent of Gears of War, minus the cover system. Campaign battles go in for quantity of enemies over smart AI; things can get a bit repetitive and frustrating, especially the campaign-ending boss battles (for which the winning strategy seems to be “run like hell and hope your computer allies don’t get in your way”). Still, I found I did better once I remembered the two special abilities each character gets. The whole thing was pretty fun, although I doubt I’ll play it again unless it’s co-op with someone.

Transformation effectively gives every character a Ghost from Halo 3 on-tap; cars, trucks and tanks all hover (although the cars and trucks drop to their wheels when boosting) and all jets can stop midair without dropping out of the sky (and hover up and down if you remember, which I don’t most of the time). If you were expecting the game to switch from Gears of War to, say, Blur or Heroes Over Europe when you transformed, you’ll be disappointed, but on its own gameplay merits it works great.

What will keep you going through the campaign itself is its flavour. It’s a big, loud, heart-on-its-sleeve paean to those Transformers cartoons that geeks like me who were born in the mid- to late-seventies grew up with and makes no apologies for it. All the characters are larger than life and you’ll probably keep grinding through the frustrating bits just to hear what Optimus, Megatron, Starscream, Sideswipe, Soundwave or Warpath will say next. All the leads are presented pretty much as we know them from the Good Old Days, and as that lets Peter Cullen do his nobly resonant thing for Optimus without interference, it’s no real problem.

Yet I still feel let down by the game’s plot. In several interviews before War for Cybertron’s release, lead designer Matt Tieger talked the character arcs of Optimus, Megatron and Starscream up a lot, with particular emphasis on how Optimus would develop from a warrior unsure of his place into the Prime we all know and love by the end of the game. The plot instead drops a handful of hints of back-story – a betrayal that led to Starscream being posted to the orbital platform where we find him; Megatron calling Optimus “the prodigy”; Optimus’ reference to something that happened in both of their pasts “long ago” – and then frustrates by leaving them where they fell and ignoring them.

The campaign tries to make up for it with plenty of nuggets of fan service (like the Universal Greeting), but it still left me with a “cut for time” aftertaste; not as sour as the one Gears of War 2 gave me (the Sires, Maria Santiago, the Locust Queen and the bit right at the end), but still there.

Unfortunately, there’s no Optimus vs. Megatron showdown either.

But there is Multiplayer. Escalation is the obligatory Nazi Zombies mode, where you control the characters from the campaign fighting off hordes of the opposing side. The game ships with two maps, and picking a map determines whether you’re Autobots fighting off Decepticons or vice versa. You can’t set difficulty and playing it solo is nigh impossible, but unlike my other favourite co-op mode, Halo 3: ODST’s Firefight, matchmaking options are available and all public matches are drop-in. Being able to open the map up as you go is a neat concept.

You’ve seen the traditional versus modes before, but transforming definitely gives this game a whole vibe of its own. As the Penny Arcade lads pointed out, you never have to wait at a vehicle spawn point, but then you can’t ride shotgun or take the turret either.
Layered over all this is a tasty combination of Team Fortress 2’s classes with Modern Warfare’s kill-streaks, experience and challenges, although the customisation options aren’t as deep (or intimidating) as Modern Warfare 2. And I’d much rather play this over Team Fortress 2 or Modern Warfare 2.

It might even make me split my attention from Halo: Reach, especially as hearing Optimus Prime say, “Autobots win the match!” is as thrilling as hearing Jeff Steitzer (the Halo multiplayer announcer) say, “Killtacular!”

Oh, one other point of note: The default mapping of “transform” to the left stick click results in some accidental transformations, but watch out in Multiplayer; there’s actually a Leader class special ability which forces you to switch modes and freezes you post-switch for a few seconds. So it may not necessarily be you!

Thus far, my experience of the playing crowd is the opposite of that on the major shooters; they’re very, very quiet. No swearing or slurs, but also no call-outs or tactical discussion. Even the noisy idiots are milder than the average voice-jerk on Halo 3.