Also available on: Xbox 360, Wii, PC, DS
Developer: High Moon Studios
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
The Transformers franchise has had mixed fortunes in the world of video games. From bog standard film tie-ins to obscure 8-bit platformers, developers have continually struggled to maximise the license's potential. Why this should be is something of a mystery. On paper, gigantic robots with the ability to take on the characteristics of vehicles and artillery is the perfect foundation for a console offering, but fans are yet to be treated to a definitive experience.
Enter Transformers: War For Cybertron, Activision and High Moon Studios' attempt to rectify this. Set long before the Transformers we all know, the game is not restricted by any ties to movies, television shows or other media - but does this level of creative freedom elevate it above and beyond its forbears, or has it fallen into the same pitfalls as most licensed fare?
Serving as an officially endorsed prequel to the long-running saga, War For Cybertron tells the story of the civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons on the Transformers' home planet. It's a chapter many fans will be eager to delve into, not least to experience Optimus's rise to the rank of Prime and other key events that helped shape the series' history. Despite an uncharacteristically dark tone, it feels like an organic attempt to expand the universe, aided by strong storytelling and attention to detail.
High Moon Studios certainly did its homework, yet such endeavours are worth little without compelling gameplay. Fortunately, War For Cybertron has much to offer in this department too. While it has the look of a standard third-person shooter, there's more to this one than meets the eye. The developers have struck a harmonious balance between combat and a transformation mechanic. Action is fast-paced, yet still reliant on tactical prowess and co-operative play. Both Autobot and the Decepticon story campaigns are available from the off, featuring mission-based gameplay that essentially involves three companions engaging in frantic gun battles with light driving segments sandwiched in between.
Strategy plays an integral part. The in-game environments are functionally designed to accommodate your vehicle form at any time, so it's up to you to decide which state is most appropriate for tackling certain foes. Learning how to use the terrain to your advantage is also imperative. While cover mechanics have been excluded in favour of momentum, the battlefield is littered with debris to shield yourself with during fire fights. It's important to keep track of your teammates and revive them when they are down, but don't expect computer-controlled allies to be so courteous. The friendly AI is often inept, leaving you with the lion's share of the work.
Controls feel intuitive for the most part, though the driving segments present a small learning curve. When in your vehicular state, the action switches to the right analogue stick and a sudden adjustment is required. A host of new powers are also placed at your fingertips, so there are essentially two sets of controls to get to grips with. Transformation is executed by pressing down on the left analogue stick (L3), which is perhaps the worst button they could have picked given that its sensitivity will have you constantly shapeshifting by accident.
The story campaign is a satisfying, adrenaline rich experience in single player mode, though multiplayer certainly has its advantages. Most significantly, you won’t be left shouldering as much of the work when fighting alongside friends. It's also easier to formulate a workable strategy with human companions, as the computer AI will pretty much do its own thing during boss encounters and other tight spots. There's even an element of competition to this mode of play, with counters to inicate the most adept marksman.
Other multiplayer options include standard deathmatch, base capture, flag capture and several variations of these. The most entertaining by far is Escalation, a four-player arena game where teamwork comes in handy as you take on wave after wave of enemies. In short, the game includes all of the modes you would expect from a third-person shooter, with a pleasing Transformers twist.
Visually, the dark tone may be unfamiliar to Transformers fans but it works well. Cybertron is a convincing war torn world, with plenty going on around you to create a sense of immersion. Although it's a well rendered environment, landscapes grow repetitive, even for a race of robots' home planet. Lack of diversity is a bigger issue when it comes to the enemies, as only a handful of foes plus bosses feature on each side. An excellent soundtrack and familiar voice acting makes it easier to overlook a lack of diversity, particularly when Peter Cullen us delivering his Optimus dialogue.
War For Cybertron isn't the most poignant experience on home consoles. Although the story is well structured, it does play second fiddle to the gunplay and the course of action is thoroughly linear. On the plus side, this is an effective use of the Transformers licence and the definitive offering its fanbase has been waiting for. Moreover, volumes of gameplay ensure that this one is not strictly limited to the diehards. As a prequel with an emphasis on action, it serves as a good jumping-on point for newcomers and may even convert a few naysayers to the cause. Activision and High Moon Studios have certainly done their bit to transform the franchise's fortunes in video gaming.
> What do you think of the game? Share your views