The Transformers have had a long and very bad history with videos games, which spans from 1985 on the C64 all the way to this year’s Fall of Cybertron. The developer’s, High Moon Studios, only previous games were Darkwatch and the mediocre Bourne Conspiracy. War for Cybertron was set to release after the second movie in Micheal Bay’s Transformers trilogy.
There was not much for fans to get excited for at the time, many people thought it would be another cheap tie-in to the movies. High Moon spent a lot of time trying to assure fans they loved Transformers and they wanted to make a good game, but it would take a lot to convince people otherwise. Is War for Cybertron more than meets the eye or will it be another case of Devastator’s balls?
Gameplay: Let’s start with how the game plays. At first glance it looks like an average third-person shooter with giant robots and that isn’t entirely wrong, but what makes it work is how it all comes together. High Moon decided not to include fully regenerating health, instead your health is sectioned off into bars. You will regen up to the bar you are on, but no more.
There is no sticky-cover anywhere in the game, you can walk behind things but don’t expect to stay there long. The shooting action is fast paced and requires you to keep moving around. The health packs in the game are Energon Cubes, which is a nice little bit of fan service and it works well. There is also a nice verity of weapons in each level, including some “heavy weapon” type of arsenal with limited use.
Of course the Transformers tag line is Robots in Disguise, so what about those vehicle modes? There are a few types of vehicles in the game and they look similar to what you would think of when you imagine the characters, but at the same time they are slightly alien-looking. Sadly, in order to make Soundwave playable they had to make him turn into a car-like vehicle and you don’t see any of his tapes. Outside of ground vehicles you also get to play as jet-based Transformers in a couple missions and it is a nice change of pace. Each stage is well laid-out to make use of the characters you are given.
Characters: The obvious characters are all present (Optimus, Megatron, Starscream, Bumblebee, and so on) as well a few that only fans are going to recognize. Each stage lets you play as one of three characters. The stages don’t change based on the character you pick or the associated abilities. All that changes is the starting weapon and the vehicle mode.
The voice work is very good, there was a lot of care taken with casting and recording. Peter Cullen, of course returns to do Optimus Prime and High Moon called on the talents of veteran voice actors like Johnny Yong Boch, Steve Blum, Crispin Freeman, and Nolan North to do various other voices. Frank Welker sadly does not do any voice work in War for Cybertron, but the voice actor they got for Megatron, Fred Tatasciore (he has quite a few animated series to his credit), nails the character perfectly.
Now onto Starscream; I grew up watching shows like Transformers and GI Joe, they hold a huge amount of nostolgia value for me and it’s hard to get passed. The 1986 Tranformers movie is my favorite movie of all time, I have seen it enough that I know it almost line for line. By far Starscream is my favorite character, even in the modern cartoons (Armada and Prime specifically).
I try hard not to let nostolgia color my opinions, but I grew up hearing the voice of the late Chris Latta every day after school and his performance as Starscream is always going to be what I compare all other versions of the character to. Latta used his Cobra Commander voice for Starscream, but it fit perfectly since both characters were very alike.
Prior to playing War, the only other Starscream performance I really liked was Micheal Dobson in Armanda (I just started watching Prime and I love Steve Blum’s Starscream). So all this build up might lead you to believe I’m going to say I hate Sam Riegel’s Starscream, but I actually don’t dislike it. His Starscream is weaker than both Dobson and Blum’s take on the character, but for the most part it works. As a voice actor Riegel is excellent (he’s a great Donatello and does a good Peter Parker) and I think some of the weakness of Starscream in War is due to the script.
Fan-Service: I usually hate fan service (especially when it’s the kind you see in anime), but here I think it works. The fan service in War for Cybertron never gets in the way, it’s there to make fans smile and it’s done well enough so that you can tell the developers really do love the universe. The fan service even extends to some of the characters you see in the game or little things in the story that fill in questions that people have been asking forever (for example, why doesn’t Megatron just scrap Starscream). It’s hard to strike a good balance with fan service and I think High Moon hit it pretty much perfectly here.
The Story: The story has it’s moments of pure cheese and a couple eye-rolling moments, but High Moon managed to capture the essence (or spark if you want a lore-specific term) of what Transformers is. The war between the Autobots and Decepticons on Cybertron is something that has very rarely been dealt with in the cartoons (I haven’t read any of the comics, so I don’t know if they went into it), and it’s nice to see some unexplored territory being used. The developers took some of the best elements of various Transformers cannon and combined them together for War’s story.
War for Cybertron is actually tied into the Prime universe, which is the same universe being used with the currently running (and very good) series Transformers Prime. Hasbro worked with High Moon on the story and setting to make sure everything fit, so the game is part of the official cannon while still being able to stand on it’s own. The story is far from perfect and the script is lacking at times, but it never reaches a point where I’d call it bad. All the characters are well captured and everything plays out like you’d expect. The real let down is how the story is structured.
Enemies: From a lore perspective it is understandable why so many characters would look the same, but the lack of enemy variety is quickly noticeable, especially since it’s the same no matter which side you are playing as. After a while, you just get sick of seeing the same enemies over and over again and there isn’t enough variety in the how the game plays to break that feeling up. The boss battles are the biggest offenders, they are downright terrible. The battles that you think would be amazing just fall apart, you never really get anything out of them. You fight against some of the strongest Transformers in the history of the series and it ultimately ends up being disappointing.
Campaign: Like I said above, the problem with the story is how High Moon structured it. The game is broken up into two campaigns, one Decepticon and one Autobot campaign. The Autobot story continues from the Decepticon one, but you can choose to play the Autobot story out of order before the Decepitcon campaign. Unfortunately, this decision forced them to have to break what could have otherwise been a well told story. The chapter to chapter transitions are a bit of a mess as well, the narration does a good job of setting it up, but it really should have been a case of “show, don’t tell”.
The PC Port: War for Cybertron isn’t the worst port I’ve seen, but the port is not good and it was never supported; High Moon has admitted that the port wasn’t great and it’s likely they didn’t have much time to do it. The game is locked at 30FPS (someone did find a way around it), controls are workable, but you can not customize them, the config files are encrypted so they can not be edited, and there really are no graphics options. Additionally, there was zero post game support, no patches and the PC version never got any of the DLC. Furthermore, the multiplayer was also riddled with cheaters.
I didn’t care for the competitive multiplayer all that much. I’m not saying it’s bad, just I generally don’t like multiplayer in games. It’s not why I bought War for Cybertron and I simply played enough to see what it was like and moved on. The campaign does include co-op, which is fun, but there isn’t anything more to say about it other than that. The competitive MP is what you expect, shoot things, get EXP, level up, apply perks, change load out; you can change how your character looks a little bit as well.
There are four classes each with a different vehicle mode and one turns into a plane, and it’s kind of fun to fly around. I may sound cynical when talking about the MP, but it didn’t do anything for me one way or the other. It existed and I played it because it was there. The multiplayer aspect wasn’t anything I could feel myself caring to come back to ever, even if it wasn’t dead.
Now we come to the question of what do I think of the game? Well, it’s the first good Transformers game that has been made, so it has that going for it, but at the same time it has a lot of little faults and the PC port is severely lacking. Even with it’s problems I do recommend War for Cybertron, it is on sale for under $10 and at that price it’s hard to go wrong. The current Steam price is $20 and I’d say wait for it to go on sale. However at this time, even if you like the multiplayer it’s dead, and it has been dead for a long time. Unfortunately, there isn’t much reason to replay the campaign either, but if you can find it for the right price it might be a worth while experience.
Transformers War for Cybertron Review by Derangel