In the mid '80s kid's toys changed forever. Hasbro's range of robot-cum-vehicles -- The Transformers -- were at the top of every small boy's birthday and Christmas wish list. Even though the brand has endured for over 25 years though, the videogame incarnations of Optimus Prime and Megatron have been unceremoniously splattered all over the place; at least in terms of critical praise. Things are now, however, looking up.
High Moon Studios and Activision have collaborated on Transformers: War for Cybertron in an effort to give Autobot and Decepticon fans a much-needed backstory to their beloved toys and cartoons. While doing this, it must have been decided that the game would shed both the kiddy-friendly looks of the ancient animated series and the tacky Michael Bay Hollywood-ized sentiments of the recent feature films.
What we're left with is a unique Transformers experience that dishes the dirt on the origins of the alien life forms and at the same time delivers a reasonably solid third-person shooter which borrows equal parts of Gears of War, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Team Fortress 2 to achieve its online and offline goals. The best compliment I can pay to the game is that it's "Gears of Team Duty Lite". It delivers an enjoyable, if not forgettable, single-player/co-op story campaign and a slightly more memorable online class-based shooter experience -- something that surely not many of us would have expected from this license.
Less explosions than Michael Bay would have put in, but still pretty fancy
Transformers uses Epic's trusty Unreal 3 engine and pumps out some reasonably impressive results with it. While video options are distinctly lowbrow in terms of deep customization, War for Cybertron is a very gritty looking affair -- it's pretty much how I imagine a planet with a violent robotic population would look. Steam-filled pipes hiss and belch, metal skeletal structures form the foundations of the giant cityscapes, and obviously, doors and hatches open in a very satisfying Transformer-y way.
Interestingly though, Transformers eschews the popular duck-and-cover systems that made the Gears of Wars' and Uncharted's of the console world different than the rest of the crowd. It could be considered a bit of a cop-out, but we rather like the fact that these massively overbearing robots don't feel the need to cower behind bits of knackered rusty geometry. The game's quite fast-paced, and of course, the best novelty factor will remain the ability to control your favourite childhood Transformers and well, transform into cars, trucks, tanks and planes -- a lot. If only there was a way to translate that awesome shape-shifting noise into words…
The shooting mechanics are decent and when you bolt on the myriad different upgrades, weapons, grenades and abilities, War for Cyberton gets a firm pat on the back for variety. It works really well on either a keyboard and mouse setup or a joypad too, but bear in mind that no one apparently bothered to map joypad button configurations into the game. So, aside from guessing which button does what, there's a couple of keys you'll still have to use on the keyboard from time-to-time.
As the name suggests, the plot starts up arms with Megatron and some of his cheeky Decepticon cronies trying to get to grips with how best to rid their home planet -- Cybertron -- of those pesky goodies, the Autobots. Turns out that the as-of-yet unaffiliated Starscream and chums have been tinkering around with a supremely potent and very dangerous energy source called Dark Energon.
Being the megalomaniac that he is, Megatron decides to take a nice long hot soak in the stuff and subsequently goes a bit bonkers. From here you'll get to experience the war as two distinct story arcs told from the perspective of both the Decepticons and the Autobots. You can opt to start at chapter one as the baddies or skip out and play through the good campaign which kicks in at chapter six.