By Stewie Sutherland
Now that the release date has finally been broken on this title, I can sit back, enjoy a good online rumble and bring the experience to all of AMO’s readers. As someone who has followed the different storylines, universes and timelines of the Transformers since childhood I was pretty intrigued to see what developers High Moon Studios had come up with. Featuring a new take on the original cartoon incarnation, Peter Cullin reprises his role as noble leader Optimus Prime in an effort to save his planet from the threat of Megatron’s rule.
Ever since this game’s production was brought to light months ago, I’ve been more excited to plug in and play it than I have for half of this year’s Nintendo line-up, which says a lot really. So dear readers, with the game itself paused on my television, the classic episode Triple Take Over playing on my PC and my new Cybertronian Optimus Prime figure sitting on my desk, I bring you War For Cybertron.
After a lengthy four gig install onto my PlayStation 3 I’m forced to watch the title screen for several minutes – Cybertron itself rotates slowly, dotted with explosions along its surface and debris in orbit around it. It gives a feeling of a real world war that could only be done when the population can turn themselves into living weapons. The campaign screen is next – ten roman numerals, five in Decepticon purple and five in Autobot red.
The game starts on the Decepticon side where the original back story takes shape. I’m able to pick between Megatron, burly Brawl and straight from the ‘07 movie, Barricade. The narrator is voiced by living voice legend Steve Blum who does an incredible job of mimicking the original cartoon series’ narration. The opening video shows a damaged research station in orbit over the planet as a warship rushes forward. The three chosen characters are on the bridge while a state of panic ensues. Megatron orders them to ram into the station – when a grunt behind him calls it suicide a shaft of light smacks him in the head, throwing him back and denting the bulkhead where he collapses dead, a metal rag doll. Megatron lowers his iconic canon and asks if anyone else wishes to challenge his order.
Soon enough the gameplay picks up. It’s hard, so very hard, to describe the environment I was playing in, because I just haven’t seen anything like it. The crash site is as you’d expect – fires, panic, cracked and broken pieces of metal everywhere. A few wounded soldiers try and crawl away from the wreckage before the entire section collapses and seals them all to their doom, leaving the three selectable characters free. Everything beyond it is just foreign.
The architecture is very unique, a blend of alien and sci-fi, with progressive lasers replacing glass windows and winking lights in the walls and floors. You can recognise different aspects like doors and elevators but only barely – they could easily just be another bizarre piece of wall or a platform of light.
Everything is transforming, too. Turrets spin and convert from panels in the wall and the doors themselves go through a detailed, complex Rubik’s Cube-like pattern before peeling away. Activating bigger machines and computers is more involved than just pushing a switch, as you watch your transformer actually integrate itself with the mechanism. If you’re playing on co-op and someone else performs this, you can actually watch their chest plate open up and accept a telescoping plug to complete the effect.
The gameplay is like most common third person shooters. Your character is selected from a choice of three at the start of each chapter, each with a unique set of abilities and a starting weapon. With a maximum of two guns, your transformer reconfigure’s their arm to become the weapon and sets out to either save or conquer Cybertron. At any time you can press a button and the transforming sequence takes over. The memorable noise is there, touched up if nothing else, and your vehicle sits hovering over the ground. The wheels rims are always tilted down towards the ground and it reminded me of the DeLorean DMC from Back to the Future II – it sits there and hovers, allowing your car, tank, truck or jet to strafe back and forward slowly. Hold a trigger and the wheels snap into place, dropping your transformer to the ground and dashing off. Here you can drive straight forwards pretty quickly, able to stop and turn very easily but sacrificing just a bit of mobility. It’s a fun experience.
The level of detail alone in each character is very deep. Standing still with anyone, you will watch different metal plates and wheels slowly shift and spin in a rhythmic, breathing-like fashion. It’s a little technique to draw you in that bit more, to show you that these aren’t just war machines. These guys are living, thinking people – they’re just made of steel, cydraulics and energon instead of flesh, bone and blood. And just maybe whenever you take that enemy grunt’s head off in a shower of electrified gel, it’s really no different than sniping any other trooper in any other war game available on the market today.
“Take your Autobots and leave Cybertron forever.”
“This is our home, Megatron. We will stay. We will fight. And, we will win!”
Megatron’s ultimatum and Optimus Prime’s answer
For diehard fans of Transformers, the game is full of references from the original series. Soundwave returns looking very similar to his old self, with his shoulder mounted machine gun and glass chest. He has the same vocalised voice and even carries his Minibots Frenzy, Rumble and Laserbeak (who Sideswipe comments makes him their daddy). Even better, in a different cinematic he has a third form which turns him into an alien boom box, where he controls several machines at once in the sinister Kaon prison.
Background characters behave correctly too – my favourite Sideswipe is there in all his gutsy gusto, smart alec attitude to boot. Warpath, no longer the mini-sized tank he was originally, talks with his usual speech pattern of adding “Kapow!” and “Boom!” to the end of his sentences. Silverbolt is still apparently afraid of heights and Ratchet behaves like an aged medic who isn’t too happy when ‘bots won’t use that extra bit of caution. Ironhide even has a touch of a southern accent, and in a nod to the old animated movie, uses the infamous universal greeting.
A brief apology for a mistake in our earlier preview of this title, I made an error with regards to Leonard Nimoy’s character of Nova Prime. Firstly, the name is actually Zeta Prime… and secondly, Leonard Nimoy pulled out and was replaced. I wonder how they kept that quiet…
Anyhow, let’s have a quick look at the story. For the first half we witness Megatron making his first major power play in taking over the planet. Securing an orbital science vessel under command by Starscream and his fellow jets, Megatron harnesses the power of a terrible corruptive energy. Instantly the grovelling Starscream and his team of Skywarp and Thundercracker agree to join for the same power. The final scientist, Jetfire, brandishes them as traitors and flees to warn the Autobot leader, Zeta Prime.
The seeker trio have only a single level in War For Cybertron, which probably leaves many of their fans a bit put out but they play their parts well – Starscream boasting how soon enough he shall rule, Skywarp showing thuggish tactics and instinct and Thundercracker as the smarter voice of reason. Following the Decepticons, players witness the destruction of the Autobot city of Lacon by their own hand and the taming of giant warrior Omega Supreme.
"Cybertron is trying to purge itself of the contamination."
"He means US, you idiot!"
Thundercracker, Skywarp and Starscream attack the underground of Cybertron
On the other side of the field, Optimus and his crew of Autobots are fighting back, pushing out the invaders and restoring their own lines of defence. A young but high ranking officer, it falls on Optimus to bear the burden of leadership and become the last in a long line of Prime’s. The moment where he don’s the mantle and becomes the iconic Optimus Prime is probably only outshined when he receives the coveted Matrix of leadership.
From there, the Autobots branch out – counterattacking, invading a prison in the heart of the Decepticon city of Kaon and preparing to evacuate the now poisoned planet. While Megatron and Optimus Prime never meet directly for a battle, it does leave the end of the game open for a sequel, though the odds might be a bit on the low for that one right now.
Transformers can easily be a children’s cartoon with corny dialogue but between modern day IDW comics and incarnations and the depth of character, the story is becoming quite dramatised. It’s no longer the old fashioned laser skirmishes, with one team backing off for repairs – it’s a war in a very real sense now, do or die.
“You should’ve joined my Decepticons when you had the chance, Jetfire.”
“I wear the Autobot insignia with pride, Megatron.”
“There is no pride to be had in humiliation and death.”
Jetfire defending his choice to become an Autobot
Of course the old humour is all there. It may have gone from a casual brawl to a real fight for freedom and survival but the old charm and wit is all there. It’s a mixed bag really – if you prefer your Bumblebee to be baby-faced with little horns on his helmet you won’t be disappointed. On the other hand if you’d rather have your Transformers gung-ho and brutal, hey, you’ll get that here too. (Players will first meet fan favourite Ironhide when a red blur tackles a Decepticon, flinging him aside and tearing a second in half with his bare mitts). To be fair, his gruff accent does take any sting out of the situation.
As someone who grew up loving the franchise, I enjoy being able to sit back and watch the same situation and characters as a serious story for adults, but you can go either way with this one really.
“Look! There’s Air Raid in that cell up ahead!”
“I was wondering when you guys were gonna show up.”
“We took the extended tour, saw the sights, blasted some bad guys – the usual.”
Bumblebee, Air Raid and Sideswipe in the Kaon Prison
Multiplayer has really been opened up for this game – players can play a campaign level in co-op and as they host, others can drop in and out at any time, taking control of any of the accompanying characters that are available. As far as the campaign goes however, this doesn’t exactly make it any easier. After joining up for a fight on Hard difficulty I soon learnt that if a character is killed we lose the game and have to restart from the last checkpoint. The same happens when all three Transformers are down and waiting to be revived by… well, nobody since there’s no players left. It’s game over once more. When your checkpoint loads with all characters at low health too, it makes for some good old fashioned frustration. Playing single player however usually has the two AI characters invincible, so I stuck to that. (Plus I really like to be able to Pause too – it’s a gem).
On top of co-op, there’s Escalation mode where up to four players can play. This is a lot like Firefight in Halo: O.D.S.T. Players pick a faction, a character, and then get placed smack dab in a small map where they’ll have waves of opposing infantry swarm them. Killing earns you points which you can spend on the map for extra ammo or health, with waves becoming harder and harder as you go.
It’s here in Escalation where you can also show off any exclusive characters you may have gotten for pre-ordering. My pre-order ticket for Jazz and Shockwave states in not-so-small-print that they are only available in Escalation. Luckily I soon learn that their chassis’ are available in multiplayer mode.
It’s this mode that made so many people want to buy War For Cybertron. In multiplayer you don’t just pick a Transformer, you create one. Four actually, right off the bat. Get good and progress and you can finish at twelve, three per class. Here’s the low down on what you do:
First off, you pick your class. Scientists are swanky, showing off the jet forms and healing rays. They also have the smallest health bar, but hey, that’s to be expected. Scouts are cute, with Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Jazz (if you have him) and femme Arcee in their number. Leaders are your trucks, with Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Ratchet and Soundwave, until you finally get the Tanks, like Megatron, who have double the health the humble Scientist has.
Now you can mix and match their stats – each class has four weapons to pick from. They’re pretty well tailored to their class, with scouts sniping and tanks hefting machine guns. Of course, these choices are just your starting weapons. If you decide that big Ion Cannon would look that much nicer on Slipstream’s arm, you’ll have to kill someone with it so she can grab the dropped gear and equip it.
Other choices include abilities, two from a choice of four, and three upgrades – an offensive, a defensive and a general. More of these will be unlocked as you level up, so with careful planning you might have a scout who’s a damned useless fighter but an excellent saboteur with decoy traps and cloaking. Finally, you pick both an Autobot and Decepticon chassis for your character. This way you can have a powerful custom robot and play for either team when you go matchmaking.
Of course this means you might want to name them something a bit better than their current names –no point in calling your Ratchet “Ratchet” because he becomes Soundwave when you join a Decepticon tour of duty. I’ve been giving my characters names like Sky Spy, Kickflip, Spark Shot, which may sound a little corny but at least I know who I’m getting when I pick them. Just have fun and enjoy it.
A small downside comes through in these creations on the cosmetic side – if you’re cycling through the colours to choose, Autobots get bright colours: reds, blues and such, while the Decepticons have darker ones, with shades of purples and blacks. Hey, it’s not bad, but it does limit the choices you have – I can’t be the only one who wanted to splash some whites and blacks onto all my team members, can I? The other side is the actual chassis’, or bodies to pick from. You might have a lot of fun making your leaders appear as all three Autobot choices, but they’ll all be the same old Soundwave when you get put on the bad guy’s side. Similarly there are a few tank forms to pick from on the darker side of the fight, but burly Warpath is the only body you’ll be able to pick from as an Autobot. Two days into playing the game and I’m already hoping that we’ll be able to get a DLC full of extra chassis’ to download in the future… and maybe some new maps too. A grand total of six isn’t a lot, really.
Between the classes, multiplayer seems to be both balanced and off-kilter. I’ve favoured my Sideswipe scout for most of my online fights and he seems to be a very balanced Transformer. However, my scientists with their low health and lacklustre fighting skills seem terribly underpowered and whenever I bring Slipstream or Jetfire out to play they get forgotten very quickly.
On the same level the tanks with their heavy weapons and high health, coupled with their devastating whirlwind melee ability, makes them very, very deadly. This leaves a sense of (amateur) imbalance. However I’ve come across some people who are utter pro’s with the scientist for their quick carpet bombs and evasion – players who can take advantage of shooting accurately from a distance and pop an enemy’s head off at the shoulders.
Likewise more than once I’ve been able to dash up behind a surging tank and fell it with a single melee strike because they’re just so slow. All in all, multiplayer is a mixed experience. Being the MVP a few times, I’ve noticed that it’s a healthy mix of skill and smarts that reward the points.
“We made it! I can’t believe it! WE MADE IT!”
“Yes, Breakdown, your constant whining saw us through.”
Breakdown and Megatron escape a bridge being destroyed by Omega Supreme
Music wise, War For Cybertron has a simple soundtrack with a few beats and fighting tracks throughout. I could’ve played with songs in the background I think, but it’s too much fun to be able to hear your teammates commenting on things like sniping an enemy between the eyes and other dialogue.
The real little winner is in the end credits, which is a montage of the updated characters performing different clips, from mimicking the original 1984 show opening to doing exercises and generally hanging out. The entire animated sequence is a grainy, gritty cell shaded theme not unlike Borderlands, but played to the tune of Til All Are One by Stan Bush, who famously performed the song The Touch for the original animated movie.
All in all, I rushed for this game and I’m not sorry. At a cheaper-than-average price for a new game, it’s a steal, and damn fun when all is said and done. The campaign may be short but there’s replay value to be had, and even more with a full friends list. (Not playing my PS3 much, my list is two names high, so don’t take my word for it). If you’re a casual fan, you might not be wholly satisfied with this title, but there’s still enough to keep you entertained and busy. I’d class this one in the same category as Arkham Asylum and as such – for its price and its multiplayer there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a copy in your library.
8 OUT OF 10
And just for your consideration…
For a franchise over a quarter of a century old, it’s pretty surprising that the Transformers haven’t stared in more video games. The Japanese had a go at it years and years ago in a simple side-scrolling game where Ultra Magnus (known there as God Magnus) could travel in robot and car-carrier mode on a hunt for Optimus Prime (Convoy). The game was well known for one fact – it was hard. A single hit and Magnus would bite the pavement. But I digress – as popular as Optimus Prime is; it’s only been the recent silver screen hits that have made him popular enough to convert to video games. (This is thanks to Michael Bay of course, but that’s neither here nor there).
Transformers (Armada) – PlayStation 2, Melbourne House
The first Transformers game since the very rare Beast Wars years before. Transformers was a very basic game set on the Armada cartoon and toy series which was huge at the time. The game followed the series’ plot loosely – Minicons were scattered across the Earth and the Autobots had to find and collect them – Minicons would usually boost a Transformer’s strength, gadgets or weaponry and were required to win the war. (Many fans came to dubbing Transformers Armada as Transformers Pokémon because of this). The gameplay was basic and slow – character choice was between the three starting Autobots of the series: Optimus Prime – the slow but tougher leader, Hot Shot – the faster but weakest team member, and Red Alert – the off-roader who was pretty much between them as far as statistics were concerned.
While gameplay was slow, Transformers was an acclaimed success – the environments were (for the time on a PS2) utterly gorgeous and deep: the first level set in the Amazon even had a few screen shots that were used as postcards jokingly. Reviewers also praised the movement, claiming it to be an authentic robot simulator to watch an Autobot jump and walk and slide to a halt that looked frighteningly realistic as it moved. A quick button change could shift play from being a third-person shooter to first-person, and including long time voice actor Gary Chalk as Optimus Prime was a plus side too. Brown Hornet also did a damned good end credits song, and I couldn’t finish this little space up without mentioning that.
Transformers: The Game – All Platforms, Traveller’s Tales
Your standard game based on a movie. Transformers: The Movie was the first cross-platform game based on the franchise and for a lot of people, their first Transformers game period. Player’s could pick a side and land in a decent-sized sandbox area, where they could explore and destroy a few stray enemies hidden around. It reminded me of games like Grand Theft Auto, but where the car you’re driving can turn into a giant robot instead of all the other options. It was a fun, decent little game, but character choice was restricted: between your missions you could explore as whichever Transformer would star in the next battleground. If your favourite character was Ironhide, take your time and enjoy driving around in his powerful Topkick mode before taking him into the next mission, and just be glad your favourite wasn’t Ratchet, Bonecrusher or Brawl, who existed in cinematics only.
While the main game was available on Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, variants were also made for handheld machines, where campaigns were split across two separate game cartridges.
Revenge of the Fallen – All Platforms, Luxoflux
RotF was an upgrade from the first movie’s video game but still scored only moderately. Sacrificing the open-area sandbox styled levels, players could pick from a broader range of Transformers to take into small, individual missions. The story from the movie was told verbatim style during the Autobots campaign while the Decepticon side was simply the same areas but a fictional tale of the bad guys killing the good guys. Online multiplayer was a new addition but it wasn’t too challenging and just didn’t gain that much interest. Graphics wise the game suffered too, because to save on load times, bigger characters like Prime and Grindor had to be reduced in quality. Sometime later, a DLC was released that added a few extra maps, trophies/achievements and more than a dozen extra characters from both the movies and the original 1984 cartoon. Being able to play as the original Optimus Prime and Megatron in both modes definitely improved the game’s overall score, but sadly the DLC’s high price still makes it only a decent game at best.
So, there you have it – a brief history of robots in disguise on game machines. The next question is simple – do we have to wait until Transformers 3 next year for another one?