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Transformers: War for Cybertron

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of giant robots. Transformers is a big reason why I’m like that. The franchise has always seemed remarkably counter-intuitive when given any back story beyond the toys, but, damnit, Optimus Prime is a Hell of a guy. It’s a shame he’s not American, or I’d vote for him for president. Sadly the Transformers fiction has gone in all sorts of directions, hitting its low point with cinematic disaster Revenge of the Fallen. I wish I could say the video games were better, but even the best of those wasn’t great. Despite being awesome toys and a great first cartoon, it’s always seemed that Transformers couldn’t make the transition to another medium. Until a little-known publisher called Activision got High Moon Studios, the guys who made a Jason Bourne game I forgot existed, to take a stab at a new origin for our shapeshifting heroes.

Set during the final days of the war between Autobots and Decepticons on their home world, War for Cybertron‘s singleplayer campaign is split in two parts. The first half lets you play as the Decepticons as they turn the tide of the war. The second half shows how Optimus rose to become a Prime and how the Transformers had to leave their home and bring their war to a new planet. It’s an interesting prologue that captures the spirit of the original show, while providing the apparently necessary video game darker tone and metal music. Peter Cullen steps in as Optimus Prime once again, and makes him as awesome as he should be. Conversely, Megatron is presented as a real dick, which is the way it should be. The rest of the cast does a great job of creating that late-Eighties feel. They even got Stan Bush to do a new song. My only problem with the story is that since the Transformers have never been to earth, they don’t transform into man-made vehicles. That’s not that big a deal, but making them transform into vaguely sci fi’ed version of our vehicles just seems weird. So they already basically had cars, tanks and planes before they came to Earth? That’s weird.

War for Cyberton is an old-school third-person shooter. There’s no cover mechanic to be found here, which is kind of jarring in 2010. But this is a deliberate choice, instead of forcing you to hide and whittle down your enemies, you’re free to run around, firing at everything that moves and transforming between forms rapidly. The combat is fast, loose and chaotic. It’s different from the kind of games I’ve been playing lately, and what makes this game worth investigating even if you’re not that big on Transformers.

There’s a surprisingly substantial multiplayer side to accompany the slightly short singleplayer. Following the Call of Duty formula, you can design your bot and outfit him or her with your favorite guns, powers and a number of perks. The game packs all the staples you’d expect, team deathmatch, conquest, even a horde mode called “Escalation.” It’s totally competent, although expect to have to look a little harder for a game if you don’t have the DLC, since there didn’t seem to be a way to filter that content out. But if you dig the singleplayer, the multiplayer will keep you going for awhile and makes that game that much more compelling.

This is a good game. What saves it is its excellent use of the Transformers license. It elevates the title, making it a must-play to any long-time fan of the franchise. In the world of video games, I don’t get to say that very often. So good job, High Moon Studios. Now make a sequel set on Earth featuring the classic designs for the Transformers. That would be legen – wait for it – dary.


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