The first release we’ve gotten from Activision in the TransFormers line that’s not tied into a movie or tv show, War For Cybertron, is it’s own stand alone title meant to tie into pretty much any continuity you want to throw at it, be it the new live action movies, the old comics, the new comics, the old TV series, etc. We all know tie-in titles are generally not great, even though I actually enjoyed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for the most part, so how does a title not directly tied into a property but related to it do in telling a story and providing something compelling for fans? Let’s take a look at how High Moon have handled things here.
You’ve got a few options when you pop into the main menu of the game: the campaign mode, the multiplayer mode, and escalation. I’m going to start with the campaign mode, which is where one of the game’s stronger elements shows up: the story and the characters. There are two sides to every story and in this game you get both, albeit at different points in time.
The first part of the campaign puts you with Megatron as he’s moving to clench not only complete command of the Decepticons but also control over Cybertron by attempting to utilize a forbidden form of power known for its instability, Dark Energon. He’s invading a power facility headed up by Starscream, who hasn’t yet joined the Decepticons and is most definitely not pleased at the intrusion. After some convincing, through a thorough trashing of his forces, Starscream decides to give Megatron’s plan a try, especially after Megatron seemingly manages to take control of the Dark Energon, infusing his own body with it and gaining some interesting abilities. Megatron’s master plan at this point is to trash the Autobot city of Iacon and make his way to the core and infuse it with the Dark Energon to take over. Only the Autobots and their current leader, Zeta Prime, stand in his way. Megatron gets a big surprise, though, when the key to taking over Cybertron isn’t a key at all, but is the enormous Omega Supreme, who isn’t about to just let Megatron and crew waltz in.
If the Decepticons aren’t your bag, you can always start with the Autobot part of the campaign which picks up in the story around the time the Decepticon campaign ends. I chose to play through this first and move into the other, as it tells one long story, but you could even flip between the two if you wanted to. The Autobot story starts after the fall of Iacon, where Optimus gets a disturbing message from a courier named Bumblebee that Zeta Prime is MIA and he’s now in temporary command. Optimus takes a few of his forces and begins to retake the fallen Iacon and put a stop to Megatron’s insane plan. This includes getting captured just to break others out of a Decepticon prison, send forces up to Starscream’s former outpost, and eventually make his way to the core to put a stop to whatever Megatron has up his sleeve. Optimus has to make his way past Soundwave and a few other nasty fights on the way there, and Megatron isn’t about to let things be undone and unleashes Trypticon on Optimus and crew.
While a bit short, totaling about 15 hours, the story does move along at a good pace that keeps you interested, and while hearkening back to the Transformers history, it is new and something we’ve never really seen before. There are a variety of characters to play as in both campaigns, including Optimus, Megatron, Starscream, Ironhide and so on. The Decepticon campaign does flow a little better from one event to the next as the Autobot campaign breaks up events a little bit, and while there might be a plot hole or two, what TransFormers story would exist without one? They aren’t huge and are easily overlooked as the characters are handled beautifully, with the teams having conversations as they move through levels. Starscream is obnoxious as ever to all involved, Megatron is commanding and decidedly evil, Optimus is the unwavering hero, and Ironhide is the pessimist. Everyone you come across has their own personality, and while you don’t always have time to chit chat, the banter is very welcome and fits the events perfectly.
One of the beautiful things about the campaign mode is that you don’t have to play it alone. For the first time in any TransFormers game, you can play with two other people as you move through this story instead of playing with the two AI controlled characters. While the AI isn’t terrible for your teammates, it is a lot more fun to move through this with friends instead, the only downside being that you can’t do it split screen. Yeah, you have to be online for this to work, but it is handled fantastically well.
I’m going to skip Multiplayer for a second to talk about Escalation, which is a form of multiplayer, but works a bit differently. Escalation puts you in charge of the main characters from the game in either the Autobot camp or the Decepticon camp, with up to five total players. You can only have one of each character involved, so there might be a bit of fighting over choices of fan favorites. Waves of enemies come out at you, and you have somewhat limited resources to fight them off. You unlock points for taking out enemies and can spend these points on different areas to heal up, get more ammo or unlock more areas to get bigger power ups. As you unlock the new areas, though, it gives the incoming enemies more areas to pour in from, so there is a bit of strategy involved. The goal is to just survive as long as you can while working with other people to stay alive. You can revive your teammates like you can in the co-op mode, provided they aren’t completely destroyed in the firefights. If they do get wasted, they don’t respawn until the current wave is defeated and the next one is ready to start.
Multiplayer has a plethora of modes to choose from. Before I delve into them, I want to talk about Character Creation. Yes, you read that right, for the first time, fans are able to create their own TransFormers to run around in the multiplayer maps with. You have four classes to choose from, the Leader, Scientist, Scout, and Soldier, and as you earn enough points you unlock more slots, three max for each class, so you can load out each one differently for the role you want to play them with. You’re limited to the chasis in some areas, like all the Decepticons currently have for a leader chasis in the base game is Soundwave, as Megatron falls under the soldier class, and the Autobots only have Warpath’s chasis for the Soldier class. You can recolor them to a point, as not every color is available for each side, and you have a variety of weapons and abilities to set up as you unlock those with leveling up. More on the classes and play there later.
There are six multiplayer modes to choose from once you’ve got your characters made up: Conquest, Power Struggle, Countdown to Extinction, Code of Power, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. Deathmatch is exactly how it sounds, a free for all where the person with the highest killcount wins. Team Deatchmatch also goes by kill count, but puts you on either the ‘Bots or ‘Cons side, where teamwork can win it, as can pure skill by a few players. Conquest is like Team Deathmatch, but instead of kill counts, you get points by taking and holding three different points on the map. Power Struggle is similar to Conquest, except that you’re after one point to take, and it moves randomly around the map. Countdown to Extinction involves a neutral bomb that you take and plant in the enemy base. The enemy can diffuse it and even put it in the other team’s base. This one really requires a bit of team work. Code of Power is your mostly typical Capture the Flag style game mode. In each of the games there are bonuses you can get from playing each of the classes and doing different things to gain more experience and level up faster, but more on that later.
Story/Modes Rating: Classic
One of the complaints I’ve heard is that the game looks the same over and over again in different levels, and that there’s no variety to the visuals. I’m really confused by this, as every environment has its own flavor and design, and looks distinctly different from the previous one. As you move throughout Cybertron in the campaign mode, areas change and look very different from one another. When you’re playing multiplayer and learn the layout of the maps, you can see vast differences, and their appearance is easily different from one another despite the layouts. Is it all made out of metal? Yeah, because Cybertron was all made out of metal. I find that to be a silly argument.
Character designs are all also distinct and different. You can easily tell what you’re up against when you’re fighting in multiplayer or in co-op, and you’ll know what to expect from them just with a visual clue. None of the robot designs look out of place when compared to the others, and they are all recognizable as who they’re supposed to represent, although if you’re looking for the movie style designs you might be disappointed, as they’ve opted to go with the blockier style of the original series and the recent comics instead of the more angular and kibble-ridden forms of their live-action counterparts.
Size and scale are really apparent as you play. The bigger grunts look meaner and the Titans definitely have a size advantage on others, and you can easily feel their size from a distance, but none moreso then when Trypticon or Omega Supreme are on screen. Even when you’re not looking directly at them in their respective levels, you can feel their weight and size pressing on you throughout, and that is a wonderful thing as it presses the significance of the boss fight home.
Animation. We all take it a bit for granted when it’s working as seamlessly as it does here. Not only do the models move around well and carry their sense of weight, but the environments have some decent animations as well. One of the things that stands out is when your TransFormer is just standing at the ready doing the moves we’ve all come to know when we’re just waiting for someone else in an MMO or an FPS online, but instead of just doing that, plates shift on the robots, gears move, and so on. It’s a little thing, but it really brings the game to life, and it’s those little things that you don’t always notice right away that can help to make a game visually exciting and draw you in.
My one complaint is that despite the size of the space needed on the PS3 hard drive, there are still some loading glitches. I don’t notice it but maybe once a session when I’m playing in campaign, but it’s all over in multiplayer, at least on a laggy host. When you die and wait to respawn and pop up on the other side of the map, sometimes textures and other objects load a little slower than other things, and while this might take a second or two, it is there, and with a 5 gig install on my hard drive it’s not really excusable. Other than that brief loading period, the rest of the game looks phenomenal.
Graphics Rating: Incredible
The game itself has some nice voice talent present in it, with Peter Cullen, Steve Blum, Crispin Freeman, and Nolan North, among others. After seeing Frank Welker’s new interpretation of Megatron for Transformers: Prime, I found myself wishing he’d actually been cast as Megs here instead of being passed up, but the cast here does some real justice bringing these characters to life. The voices not only fit the characters, but the dialogue is snappy and actually fits what’s going on instead of being repeats of things we’ve heard all over the game. The campaign mode actually manages to tell a story and develop the characters throughout the levels and not just in cut scenes and the narrated bits.
There’s a nice mix up of the transformation sound for the bots, and aside from the battles, Cybertron doesn’t feel lifeless and the sounds really bring you into it. The music works pretty well here as well to heighten the moments that need it and not completely over blow key moments. There’s a decent music cue in multiplayer moments when you’re in that last stretch, and it’s either two minutes to go or only a few more kills or points needed to win that kicks the action into overdrive just hearing it. While I’m not a huge audiophile when it comes to games, I do appreciate effort on the publishers part to keep it from repeating the same track endlessly and thankfully that doesn’t happen here.
Sound Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay
The controls in this game are pretty tight. You push it, the guy on the screen does it, and there’s not any lag that I’ve seen. The one issue I have is I get a bit twitchy, and when I’m moving around to bash someone with a melee attack I might end up transforming because I hit the move button way too hard, though this was alleviated once I swapped to the second control scheme. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The right analog stick controls the camera movement, which sits over the right shoulder of the bot, while the left analog is your movement. L3 is by default how you transform, but you can swap it to the face buttons. If you do that, then swapping weapons in robot mode falls over to the directional pad. R3 is your melee attack. The face buttons control jumping, reloading, and picking up weapons. L1 gives you an aiming option that is different for each weapon, and L2 lets you use one of your special abilities while R2 uses the other one. R1 fires off your weapon. The left directional button fires off any bonuses you may have earned while playing.
In Vehicle mode the controls are roughly the same, only you can’t use your robot mode special abilities. L1 is your boost to get you moving faster. If you’re playing a ground vehicle R2 does different things for each class, from dashing, doing a flip roll or a simple 180 to line your cannon up with the guy shooting you in the back. Flight vehicles get a barrel roll attached to the R2 button. Like I said, the only problem I had with the default layout was that when I’d get into a melee situation and was trying to move around to stay with my target, I’d accidentally press the L3 button too hard and end up in vehicle mode and vulnerable for the time it took to transform down and back. Not the game’s fault, but more my twitchy fingers, and the second control scheme fixed that issue for me.
Whether you’re playing co-op or not, you’re going to have two team-mates with you in the campaign. Each chapter lets you pick between three characters, usually a leader class, a soldier class and either a scout or a scientist. The characters in the campaign don’t always match up with the chassis in the multiplayer section either, as Megatron’s chassis in multiplayer is in the soldier class while he’s a leader in the campaign. Most of the campaign has you moving across Cybertron in some way, shape or form, trying to get to your next objective. There are a few levels where you’re flying along as jets, and then, of course, the boss fights and levels that have their own unique challenges to get around.
One of the bigger gameplay challenges is resource management. You can’t just fire at everything in sight and expect to have ammo for the bigger fights. You have to be careful with your ammo, which is why I call this more an action title than a third person shooter. Sure, the mechanics are there, but it’s not just a shooter. You have to be careful with your weapon choices as well. In the campaign you can pick up other weapons, and some characters only have one to start, but you can only carry two of them, with one exception. Some of the bigger enemies you come across are carrying blasters and launchers that require two hands. These big cannons can be picked up but are fire and forget, as once you run these out of ammo they’re done. You also can’t transform while you’re carrying them or you drop them. The are large and loud and a great way to make up for any ammo you’d have spent elsewhere.
Throughout the levels there are locked doors and other traps to move around, but nothing too challenging. Most of it is timing or just getting into position to interact with a button. There are cannons in different places that you can jump on and man as well that really help move things along. Your team’s AI isn’t too bad, and teammates will even jump on a cannon to help out if you’re not already using it. They’re also pretty good at staying alive if you’re not playing a scientist to heal them. If you do take a ton of damage and are almost dead, you can stay out of combat and recover just one pip of your energy back. If you want more you’ll have to find an energon cube to get it back, though these are about as sparse as the ammo you find.
There’s a wide variety of enemies in the campaigns and each one has different abilities that require different tactics to get around. Every firefight you get into is going to be different from the last and require a different tactic to get around it. The characters from the campaign have the same abilities and weapons sets when you take them into the Escalation modes. Escalation gives you up to five other players to jump in with, though not everyone can be Optimus or Megatron, as the game won’t let you pick the same character twice.
Out of the campaign and into the multiplayer. You’ve got four classes to choose from in multiplayer, as noted previously: Leader, Scout, Soldier and Scientist. Each class has four weapons and base abilities to choose from, but you only get two of each at a time. As you level up, you unlock modifiers to your abilities or armor and damage that can be set up, and you can choose between three different lists. Leaders can be set up to be offensive or defensive. They’ve got a variety of abilities that let them lean one way or the other or you can mix it up and have a bit of both. Scouts are your fast moving assassins. They have methods of stunning enemies and then moving in for the kill with either the sniper rifle (null ray) or melee attack and can cloak themselves as well. Scientists are the weakest of the classes, but they’re also the only ones with flight abilities. They have the ability to heal teammates or suck the energon from enemies and can drop turrets that can fire at enemies or heal their team. Scientists can also disguise themselves as the other team, which includes changing the color of their name and robot coloring, but the chassis remains the same, so it’s not a perfect disguise. Soldiers are tanks. Literally. They have the most hit points and are the slowest, but their melee special abilities and weapons are the most devastating of the lot.
Within each of the classes there is a good variety of builds and options to choose from, and each of these classes has three slots that a player can open up, so you can customize each build for different multiplayer games. Your Soldier build for Deathmatch may not even be remotely close to the one you use for Team Deathmatch or Conquest. You may want a sniper scout for one set of games, but when you’re playing another, maybe you want someone who can sneak in and paralyze everyone for the leader to take out after you’ve stopped the enemy in their tracks.
There’s a lot of room for tactics here, and like the firefights in the campaign, these are even more fluid and dynamic. In Mutliplayer you have to worry a little less about running out of ammo, because you rarely live long enough to do that, depending on your class. Even then, there are ammo points scattered about, and usually a Soldier player has an ammo beacon they can drop that you can fill up on. While there’s no cover option in the game, where it could be useful in the campaign mode, it’d be absolutely useless in multiplayer. The ravaged battlefields leave little room to hide and the way they’re set-up, if you’re not on the move, someone is going to take you out from behind. The scientist class especially makes this difficult, as they can take to the air in jet mode and hover over the battlefield, raining death from above. Luckily, they can’t take too many hits, and if they’re not moving around they’re pretty easy targets.
I know I’ve been going on and on about it, but this game’s real strength, apart from the story and characters in story mode, really is in the multiplayer game play and how diverse it really is. The multiplayer modes offer up a unique experience online that you’re not going to see in many other games, because let’s face it, this is the kind of multiplayer only the robots in disguise can deliver up.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Great
With a strong multiplayer component to this game and a pretty decent storyline, there’s quite a bit to keep you coming back to this title. There are a variety of trophies to unlock just in the campaign mode, as well as tying into multiplayer. One of the trophies might have you going back to do levels just to find hidden Autobot and Decepticon symbols, which can be a bit tedious as they are well hidden, but others are simply for doing what you do in the game, or for doing it really well, like taking out a jet with a melee attack in the campaign mode. There are three difficulty settings, and then, of course, the co-op campaign mode, because doing it again with friends is always good, especially on harder settings.
Really though, multiplayer will have you coming back time and again to raise your character levels and unlock more abilities to make it harder for others to take you out or to make it easier to take them out first. The sheer variety of multiplayer modes in this one floored me after the basics we’ve had in past TransFormers titles. Add to that unlocking all the bonuses to experience just for playing online, which are counted separately but pop up on screen and you can check on later, as well as leaderboards for those who obsess about being the best. While you can never really win at Escalation, there’s always that chance you’re going to break through that wave you got beat on last time and get a bit higher in the chain.
Replayability Rating: Incredible
One thing the game does well is balance, at least as far as gameplay goes. You’ve got three difficulty settings in the campaign mode, and each half of the campaign builds up to the big fight at the end with increasing difficulty as you progress. The control scheme isn’t clunky and works pretty well. Even in multiplayer, when the game divides up the teams, it does so by score and apparent player ability, so that the teams are at least somewhat fair and the inexperienced players aren’t getting completely trounced by the ones who’ve logged more than a week real time. That isn’t to say every fight is completely balanced, but it’s better than most I’ve seen.
There is an enormous amount of things to do in this game. The main campaign mode will only take between 10 and 20 hours depending on how thorough you are as you move through. If you’re a trophy hog this might take longer. The multiplayer is well executed and can add in another 40 or more hours of entertainment before you really get too bored with it. I haven’t yet.
Is it worth the full price? For a TransFormers fan, yes. I’d recommend it to any one of them in a heartbeat. For a casual fan or someone who just likes the films and isn’t really that into the history, this might not be worth it to you, but I have to say this game has captured what I like about TransFormers in a much better way than either film or either of the games based on the films has managed to do. If you’re just thinking of picking it up as an action fan, there are a few glitches I’ve mentioned later that might make you want to wait until this game drops in price. It has already dropped $10 at most stores but I might let it go another ten.
Balance Rating: Good
Seriously? The TransFormers have been around since 1984, and even then the brand itself was based on pre-existing toy molds. The one thing this has going for it in the originality department is that it’s not based on an existing story line and makes its own rules. It tells a really good tale throughout the campaign and manages to give us some series firsts, with the variety of multiplayer options and, of course, the co-op modes with Escalation and in the campaign, at least as far as gaming in the TransFormers world goes. It’s a solid action game and third person-shooter if you want to classify it another way, but it doesn’t do anything new for that genre either; it just maintains what we’ve already seen before, only lacking a cover mechanic, but the ability to transform and move around the map in a whole new way makes up for that in many ways.
Originality Rating: Decent
I have to look at this two ways. As a TransFormers fan this game is a dream. It’s a solid title that hits on key notes in the history of the TransFormers and puts a new spin on it while walking a fine line in making things familiar. This makes it insanely fun to come back to time and again, and the first week I had this I’d logged as many hours playing this as I did in a standard week of playing Dungeons and Dragons Online with my wife. The only reason I hadn’t fired it up this past week is because I was job hunting. And the only reason the disc left the PS3 at all since I got the game was so that my wife and I could watch Avatar on Blu-Ray. For a TransFormers fan this is a wonderful addiction, and as much as I liked the Revenge of the Fallen game for trying to deliver the fans something spectacular with a movie based game, this game truly delivers on that and that’s why I can’t put it down.
Looking at it from a non-fan point of view, it’s still a pretty solid action title. It has some fast paced action, an interesting level system for multiplayer, a great co-op mode, and some decent variety throughout. Is it Gears of War level or another game along this vein? I’m going to say no. So to be fair, I’m going to have to meet somewhere in the middle on this. On the other hand, I doubt only Die Hard TransFormers fans have been playing this from the looks of things, as you can see roughly the same number of players returning to the game when you log in night after night. Personally I have been completely sucked into this title.
Addictiveness Rating: Incredible
With the DLC coming out at the end of July, a decent combat system, a great story and a lot of positive buzz on this game, you can easily see that there’s appeal. It’s a great TransFormers game, probably one of the best we’ve ever gotten, even better than the Armada game for the PS2, which I loved at the time, despite some flaws. It’s in its own continuity, but has enough references that fans from all the TransFormers lines could get into it, and it’s a solid enough action title that even non-fans can get something out of it. It’s also added in something I’ve heard complaints about other games lacking in the past, what with the ability to make your own characters and customize their load-outs, which instantly made this a must have title for me.
I’ve logged I don’t know how many hours playing some of the free online games featuring TransFormers on fan sites where you could build up your own TransFormers and pit them against the enemy, and all we had was a text log for the battle and things progressed rather slowly. Here, it’s something along the lines of that game, but put into an action context, and it lets you play these characters you’ve made in your head when you were a kid or even older as a bigger kid with a job.
High Moon have tried to do for the TransFormers what Rocksteady did for Batman. We’ve asked for a decent title that did the franchise and characters justice, and this is pretty close to what we were asking for. Is it game of the year material? No, not really. But it is a well done title that I’ll be playing for a long time yet.
Appeal Factor Rating: Amazing
The game is not without faults. Aside from the graphical loading lag I posted about earlier, it is incredibly easy to lose your connection to the host of a match in multiplayer, even when you’ve put your matchmaking settings on regional. Most of the time, the game saves all your experience and hard work in that arena before you’re kicked out, but not always. Add to that the fact that instead of just kicking you out to the multiplayer menu, the game randomly kicks you out to the main menu, which is more of an annoyance but really can get to you the fifth time it’s done it in a half hour period. The disconnects have gotten a bit better as the game’s been out longer, but it’s not something you like seeing.
One of my other big issues I’ve had is the game locking up entirely, requiring me to actually physically reboot my whole PS3. It’s never happened to me in the campaign or in Escalation, but it happens at least once a week in the multiplayer games and it’s always when I’m in the lead, which is infuriating as hell.
Despite this, I keep coming back to the game, and the multiplayer matches and even team up once a week with a bunch of friends I made on some TransFormers forums awhile back. That’s saying something, even with these glitches.
Miscellaneous Rating: Poor
Story/Modes Rating: Classic
Graphics Rating: Incredible
Sound Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay Rating: Great
Replayability Rating: Incredible
Balance Rating: Good
Originality Rating: Decent
Addictiveness Rating: Incredible
Appeal Factor Rating: Amazing
Miscellaneous Rating: Poor
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
While not a perfect game, TransFormers: War For Cybertron is a compelling TransFormers title that would be fairly generic without the great characters and story lines tied into a long running property. High Moon has managed to create a title that I’ve enjoyed turning on again and again, not just playing through the story mode, but also with its variety in the multiplayer area of things and being able to create your own TransFormers and customizing their capabilities, load-outs and even in a limited way, their look. Add to that this is the first time a TransFormers game has had a campaign with co-op mode. This is a title I’d not hesitate to recommend to any fans of any of the series out there as there is something here for pretty much everyone, be it an old fan or a relatively new one. If you’re not into TransFormers and are looking for just a great action title, there are others out there that do it better, but as for me, I’m going to continue running around in multiplayer wasting people with my fusion cannon or sucker punching them with my scout.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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