As a devout fan of Transformers in my formative years (G1, of course) I’ve waited and waited, and waited for a decent videogame adaptation. I mean, come on! Surely the Transformers are about as well suited to gaming as a Uruguayan linesman is to a Specsavers ad.
You’ve got massive, heavily armed robots that can change into all sorts of cool vehicles, you’ve got two warring factions, and you’ve got some of the best, and most iconic bits of design in 80s cartoon-dom. Let’s face it, who on the planet doesn’t recognise the ubiquitous transforming sound?
So, why then, have the vast majority of Transformers games sucked the proverbials about as hard as is humanly possible?
The robots in disguise have starred in some truly spectacular travesties of digital entertainment and, aside from the actually very good Armada-themed Transformers on PS2, the back catalogue is about as worthy of the original IP as Michael “I like ‘splosions” Bay’s awful silver screen CG tech demos.
Needless to say, when Transformers: War For Cybertron appeared in my midst, I was more than a little cynical. Was this another promise of ‘the Transformers game you’ve always wanted’, or was it another Energon-fuelled turd? I shuddered to think.
Happily, it wasn’t long after firing the game up that I was pleasantly surprised, and although this is far from the Transformers game I used to wish for, it’s certainly far better than most efforts.
War For Cybertron, as is clear from the name, is all about the epic struggle between Autobots and Decepticons, as the two factions fight for control of the robots’ home world. Functioning as a prequel of sorts to the 80s series, the game details the rise of the Decepticons and Autobots we loved as kids, and tells the tale of Megatron and Optimus Prime’s intense feud.
Players get the chance to fill the shoes of both good and evil, and the single-player campaign features several chapters, half of which are played from the Decepticon point of view, and the other Autobot. The chapters aren’t the usual ‘here’s what Optimus was doing whilst you were controlling Megatron’ type affair, but instead the whole story is one arc, with the Decepticon events preceding the Autobot levels.
However, although the Decepticon levels take place first, you can, if you like, skip to the beginning of the Autobot phase, and then go back to the dark side later, and you can flit between them as you like.
The game itself is a pretty by-the-numbers third person shooter title. Selecting your Transformer of choice from those on offer for each level, you rampage around various Cybertronian locales fighting wave after wave of generic Autobots and Decepticons, occasionally pausing to flick a few switches, or engage in some set piece battles and bosses.
This is certainly no bad thing, though, and although not entirely groundbreaking or inventive, the action on offer is solid and well put together. Controls and aiming are nice and tight, and the developer has, for once, even made good use of the Transformers’ key ability: transforming.
You can hit a button to transform at will, and your vehicle mode does actually have uses, unlike the aforementioned Transformers Armada, where this was a totally throw-away feature.
Vehicle modes grant access to extra weapons, such as Megatron’s tank cannon and Starscream’s infinite machine guns and homing rockets, and you can also use special abilities, like speed dashes, barrel rolls and quick turns. Flying characters, in particular, are great to romp around as, and you can effortlessly fight on the ground and then, in an instant, soar into the air to rain down fury.
Still, even with a useful transforming ability, most of the game is played out on foot, and to help, you have a wide selection of weapons, some unique to certain characters (such as Megatron’s fusion canon) and others which are available to all.
Some of these weapons are great, and are very effective, like the Null Ray (which, oddly, was unique to Starscream and his minions in the show), homing rocket launcher and the assault rifle. Other weapons can be a little useless, though, and the likes of the scatter gun and shotgun are usually pretty weak, especially on the hardest level, where they seem to simply tick your foes off.
As well as weapons and vehicle forms, characters have special abilities, such as the ability to drain energy from others, create defensive shields and surround the area with EMP blasts.
Other staples are used to round off the mechanics, like recharging health, the limit of carrying two weapons at a time, and a selection of grenades. All very recognisable and generic, but also very fitting and well implemented here.
You have to pick a single character for each level, but you’re also accompanied by two AI partners (or you can team up with friends in co-op). These partners, usually the other characters you didn’t pick, if controlled by the system, are actually very useful, and they’ll fight and kill foes, heal you and help solve puzzles. If you get lost, they’ll even show you where to go.
Getting lost isn’t a problem, though, as the levels, whilst well designed, are about as linear as it gets. You’re always ushered from point A to B down a strict route, and even when the areas open up a little, there’s little room to venture off.
This doesn’t detract from the experience, though, as this is a basic shooter at heart, but sadly, as good as the game looks, you can’t help but get a little bored of the same grey, metallic walls and environs. Yes, the game does have a surprising amount of variety for a title set on a big ball of metal, but by a few hours in you’ll be crying out for a change in colour and texture.
As I mentioned earlier, I was a huge fan of G1 Transformers, with the original primary colour-tastic Optimus, Megatron and Co, and although this title still doesn’t recreate these 80s cartoon heroes and villains exactly, the reworked Cybertron versions are actually pretty damn close, and really are believable as the original forms of the characters before they fell to Earth and had to take on native appearances.
As good as the looks and handling of transforming are, though, I do have to report some problems, as always. The game is mostly impeccable when it comes to presentation, but does occasionally fall flat on its face. There are several audio glitches that cause half of the audio to cut out randomly, and on more than one occasion I witnessed some shocking slow down. This happened in particularly intense fire fights, and I have to say it was very rare, but it’s worth noting. And, as the game is powered by the Unreal engine, the usual texture pop-in and buffering issues are present. (Come on, Epic, are you ever going to fix this and let other devs know?)
And, although I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but, where’s the ever-present Gears of War/Killswitch cover system rip-off? It seems as though no action game is complete these days without some form of cheesy cover system, and when one would actually be of great benefit to the game, as it would here, it’s missing. Instead you’re back to shuffling behind cover and popping out to take pot shots. It works, but a cover system would have added a great deal to the game, especially on harder levels where health can be sapped in seconds.
Even with its flaws, Transformers: War For Cyberton is, surprisingly, a pretty decent shooter. The multiplayer options, save the poor rip-off of Gears’ Horde mode, are good, if basic, and the addition of co-op makes it a game with some replay value. It’s certainly not a classic, and there’s little to no innovation or originality here, just plain, simple and solid blasting with some of yesteryear’s greatest childhood heroes.
If you’re a Transformers fan, then rejoice. You finally have a decent videogame outing, if not the actual G1 game we’ve been waiting for (I’m still trying to wipe memories of the 2003 Takara G1 game out of my mind…shudder), and if you’re not all that bothered about the characters, this is still a great deal of fun.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to rip out some optics.
Transformers: War For Cybertron is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.