"Epic scope with unbalanced gameplay and combat."
It wasnít all that long ago - 2010, in fact - that Transformers: War for Cybertron got heaps of praise for its appeal as a shooter and the new look based on the stylings of what we now call ďBayformersĒ. This denotes the absurdly complex machines that were envisioned by Micheal Bay as being realistic reinventions of the plastic toys originated in the early 1980s by Hasbro. Would it disturb you to learn that this and the other Transformers games published by Activision are no longer available on Steam? It does make me wonder if is really as good as we all thought it was.
Oh donít look at me like that. The game was pulled from Steam because the contract Hasbro had with Activision expired, but just look at the current political climate. It may be literally too close to home to have a series of games about a war that destroys the hope and future for an entire race of beings. Thatís exactly what Transformers: War of Cybertron is all about. The Autobots defend themselves against the tyrannical would be ruler, Megatron, who will stop at nothing to crush anyone who doesnít bow to his will - and in this game heís all but unbeatable.
Thatís reason enough for Hasbro, a childrenís toy manufacturer, not to reinstate this well crafted strain of titles. But letís set aside political turmoil long enough to answer some questions. I did say shooter, and no, itís not a first person shooter, because weíre playing to see our favourite robotic heroes and villains in action, so thereís no way to transform our over the shoulder view into something else. The basic story of Transformers concerns the heroic Autobots trying to protect not just themselves, but their home planet, as mentioned, against the evil Decepticons. This results in them having to leave Cybertron and become Robots in Disguise on Earth, which begs the question why they transform on Cybertron, but Iím definitely digressing here.
High Moon Studios, on the other hand, did not miss the mark with this franchise title; it is loaded with all of our favourite Robots in Disguise, and though most of the voices havenít returned to reprise their roles, the venerable Peter Cullen voices Optimus, though not a Prime at first. That has some bearing on the gameplay, though not nearly as much as Iíd hoped it would. Youíll probably recognize the voice actors from popular Anime series dubs, though most have done a good job of adopting the enthusiastic, energetic 80s style of acting in the face of straightforward writing.
You might be surprised just how important story is in a game like this, but Transformers inadvertently put a lot of weight behind the life and death realities of war in the animated 1980s film when they outright killed popular characters on screen to make way for new toys. It was a real shock to young me, and has influenced the series ever since. As for the game, thereís nothing really to spoil, but in terms of gameplay the single player campaign puts you in the shell of a Decepticon warrior for its introduction. Which one is up to you, as you have three to choose from at the beginning of each chapter.
High Moon is trying to give you an option between a leader, a heavy and support classes. The problem is that they only differ in ability, not performance in any given category. At times youíll have access to characters like Bumblebee who is technically a scout and should be glass cannon, but when he picks up a weapon he uses it as effectively as anyone else would. In my playthrough I found that the selection of weapons was typical, but that I only required a good machine pistol, shotgun or rifle with a sighted scope to get the job done. Why bother with the thematic names when theyíre so inconsequential?
Youíre right. I wonít bother.
Ultimately High Moon doesnít trust you to be able to play their game. Youíre always running around in a group of three, and though that makes for a story that doesnít need cutscenes, it does convey the development teamís tenuous grip on their setting, enemy density and difficulty levels. For the record I played through this game on Easy mode because itís far too chaotic for me to handle when my AI teammates are so ineffective. I preferred to enjoy the characters and setting instead of dealing with unskippable scenes and the unbalanced gameplay, anyway. Oh, I didnít miss that they wanted to feel like The Hero, but far too often even the bullet trails werenít indicators enough to keep me alive.
Okay, before I dive any deeper into the failings of this game, Iíd actually like to highlight just how much of a kick it was to be a part of something so authentic to the Generation One experience. It wasnít until Bay spent millions rendering out endless polygons for the combat scenes of the movies that we got to have a taste of the war on Cybertron. Though the character models are significantly lower in complexity, they do effectively communicate the ideas that made Bayís robots feel so solid.
A brand new, battered and beaten aesthetic has replaced the clean, bright colours I remember from childhood, emulating Bayís war-weathered soldiers effectively. Every Transformer carries a melee weapon of traditional medieval style: In the case of Optimus, a double bladed axe that appears to burn from within, while Megatron wields a brutal spiked mace for his melee attacks. These are underused, employed primarily for breaking open crates that contain health, over-armour, weapons and ability restorer pickups. Occasionally youíll smack around an enemy when you run out of ammo, something that happened far more than I was comfortable with.
Hereís a mechanic that didnít quite pan out: Those aforementioned abilities have two distinct cool downs. Timed and rechargeable. Timed cool downs range from long, in the case of Soundwaveís Sentry, to very short for Optimusí dash ability. Why does he need a dash, anyway? Isnít he supposed to be a heavy? Thatís what I mean about role confusion. If you were to choose a cloaking character, the logic and chance to use it is wasted when thereís only a couple of short opportunities that have no reward or consequence for doing so.
I suppose I should talk about the levels. As they do tie in to the carefully constructed story, you can expect to be on the move quite a bit, but not too much. Even when tromping and stomping around as Megatron youíll be jumping across the scattered remains of roads in space, into the elaborately detailed remains of a 10,000 year old space station, or assaulting the Autobot sanctum of Iacon. I never once felt like I lost track of where I was going, but that had more to do with being lead around by insistent location markers than excellent level design.
The atmosphere of Cybertron is truly epic, and because of the interactive medium, I really do feel a stronger suspended sense of belief than I ever did with Bayís films. Some things, however, have not aged so well. Given the standard of the day and realistic aesthetic, texture quality is notably lax and blurred on my 1080p screen. The Xbox 360 had a sparse amount of VRAM, and I wouldnít have minded a more stylized look to compensate for this deficiency.
Even so, the action was so frenzied most of the time that I couldnít be bothered to notice the poor texture quality. Also, it would appear that someone decided that High Contrast was good way to present limited quality Textures in Disguise. That sort of limitation is expected on console, but on PC? Unacceptable. Itís not as though they were unaware of the issue, though, as all Transformers are lit up much like Tron characters so theyíre easy to find in the dark, grim, scrap littered battlefield.
That, of course, brings me to combat. This is hands down the most chaotic shooter Iíve ever played. The game is good at giving you a button - or key - to press when someone is talking, or a scripted threat is incoming, but telegraphing waves of enemies is inconsistent at best. At least failure conditions are only caused by your own termination, however sudden, instead of timers or escort conditions. That may be a product of the difficulty level I chose, but that puts this game in a higher bracket of skill that makes it inaccessible to a large portion of players who would otherwise enjoy the carnage.
High Moon Studios does a fine job of presenting interesting and familiar enemy types and patterns to take down, and varies your list of Things To Do with sufficient variety that I was never once bored. When youíre not playing ground-locked Transformers, youíll take to the sky as Starscream or one of his lackeys and Silverbolt or an Aerialbot of choice and fly through fantastic, enormous machines and space vistas that are absolute eye candy. I really have to give props to the concept artists and level designers, who really outdid themselves in fashioning a enormous looking world with a wonderful variety of environments to navigate. Sometimes I just wanted to stop and admire things, and sometimes I did.
Speaking of atmosphere, the soundtrack itself seemed to be hesitant in its execution, not quite knowing when to ramp up or back off to suit the required tone. Appropriately it did provide an orchestral-synth backing track for times of high tension, but was otherwise understated and went unnoticed. I found that to be true of the Bayformer movies as well, which had a distinct style, but were pretty quickly forgettable. Interesting how many parallels there are... but not so many that Iíd say this wasnít fun.
This game tries its hand at two other modes of play: Escalation, which pits you against waves of enemies of increasing difficulty and toughness, and Multiplayer which sets you up against other players, as you might imagine. While I havenít spent any time in either of these modes, there are two nice character unlocks to pick up for campaign completion, though using them is entirely moot since no oneís playing this gameís multiplayer anyway. Sorry, Slipstream and Arcee. Relegated to the scrap pile again.
The final metric of any game is its entertainment value, and in this Transformers: War for Cybertron succeeds, even if you have to drop the difficulty settings just so you can play through to see how everything turns out. The combat, while chaotic, was exciting with enormous bosses who were both nostalgic and engaging to deal with. Having my choice of warrior was a nice touch, but due to the inconsistent balance of combat, I tended to choose the same characters because their classes just werenít well defined enough. In the end it does really matter, and Iíd recommend this to fans of the franchise without hesitation.
Community review by hastypixels (April 14, 2019)
At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.
If you enjoyed this Transformers: War for Cybertron review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!