I recently reviewed the Nintendo DS versions of Transformers - War For Cybertron, and have since been enjoying the heck out of the console version created by High Moon Studios. War For Cybertron is complete with two campaigns and online play, starring all the big names from the Transformers universe. The best part about War For Cybertron? It's not based on any Michael Bay movie and it rocks -- hard.
Defend Freedom Or Submit To Order (Or Both, Actually)
War For Cybertron is played from the third person perspective and is roughly 85% combat and 15% light platforming and switch hitting. There are two inter-connected campaigns that allow gamers to get the story from both sides of the war. A total of ten chapters makes up the complete experience, with Chapter one through five being for the Decepticons, and chapters six through ten for the Autobots. You can start off with either campaign.
I liked that no matter which campaign you start with, you're put right into the atmosphere of what is really a grim civil war between the Transformers. I thought it was a good decision by High Moon to also scrap the interactive tutorial that so many games force players to go through before they can actually get started. Instead, at any time from the pause menu, you can view all of the details about playing the game in text and picture based tutorials. This section also includes weapon profiles for every weapon in the game (there are more than a dozen) and all tutorials are nicely organized so you can find the information you need quickly.
For anyone that has played third person games before, the controls and gameplay mechanics are familiar and accessible. Allow me to just provide a brief overview: L3 is to transform into your vehicle, Y switches between your two weapons, X is for reloading and Interacting, A is for jumping (and double jumping), R3 for melee attack, and the bumpers are for the abilities. Pressing down on the d-pad allows you to take a cinematic look at important events too, when the prompt appears.
Driving controls are as easy to get used to, and each Transformer has a separate type of weapon and ammo count to use while in vehicle mode. The vehicles can also boost to get through environmental dangers and clear gaps, and whether or driving or flying, it feels comfortable and responsive. The only thing I didn't like about the default control scheme was that I would sometimes transform inadvertently. This would occur when I was pushing the left stick hard in a direction and the controller would interpret that as a click, abruptly transforming me. Besides being true to the franchise, transforming into your vehicle allows you to move quickly, use other firepower, and get to places you otherwise can't. It's especially useful in multiplayer to get an edge on your enemy (whether that be in offense or even to escape).
As for the flow of the campaign, it's fast paced and action heavy, with most sequences boiling down to blasting down a bunch of bots from the other faction. Fortunately, you're not alone as players will always be joined by at least two friendly AI. Which AI you will have with you depends on which mission you're playing and which character assigned to that mission you decided to play as. There are multiple character classes in the campaign, including Leader, Scout, and Soldier. The Leaders, i.e., Megatron and Optimus Prime, have abilities that differ from the Scout, and likewise to the Soldier. For Megatron, players pack a fusion cannon and can siphon health from their foes. Megatron can also hover and deal out more damage while doing so. Optimus Prime is able to dash and his other ability allows him to
increase the firepower of nearby Autobots for a period of time (especially useful in multiplayer). The Scouts can cloak, and Soldiers like Brawl from the Decepticons can perform a whirlwind melee attack. No matter who you pick, the AI controls the other two characters and the story does not change.
AI, Gameplay Continued
The AI, both friendly and enemy, isn't anything to write home about, and in fact, it can be downright bad and frustrating. I would have liked to have seen the ability for the friendly AI to revive players in the campaign, especially since that's a feature in multiplayer and given the fact that you can revive your friendly AI if they fall. Unfortunately, as soon as you die, it's time to reload your last checkpoint. If you don't get to your downed teammates in time, they'll respawn automatically. It's actually pretty easy to die in War For Cybertron too -- if you get flanked from behind or are caught out in the open, that health meter can drop rather fast. The health system works like that in Resistance from Insomniac -- it contains multiple bars, and so long as you retain at least half of any bar, it will refill itself automatically. If you empty a bar, you need to find Energon cubes in the environment to replenish. I think that's a good health system to keep players in check, but I would like it even more if the friendly AI could revive me too (even if it were for just once or twice per mission, for example).
The AI can also get themselves stuck or left behind, especially on platforming scenarios. The game will warp them to catch up, usually in some secrecy as they'll warp in behind you a lot of times. Additionally, besides adding to the atmosphere and sometimes helping to lead you in the right direction, the friendly AI are like props. They'll shoot and talk and transform alongside you in battle, but if you stop for a moment and watch them, they rarely destroy any enemy, requiring you to at least pitch in if not score every kill yourself. They don't use the best weapon for the situation, and they don't go for headshots. Playing with a friend over Live alleviates this, but it would have been more immersive and enjoyable had the AI been able to perform better.
As for the enemy AI, High Moon relies on numbers and a variety of enemy types rather than intelligence, and I think that works out well enough. If nothing else it gives you a lot of targets to shoot at, and it's also cool with the enemy AI are focused on your friendlies, allowing you to quickly flank them. As for enemy types, there are several, including a variety of sniping, rocket launching, flying, brute, and grunt types, as well as (of course) several boss fights. The level design promotes a nice amount of variety in how enemies attack, too, with enemies above, below, and to all sides. There are still a lot of 'clear the
hallway' moments, but I thought the pacing of the story and how the enemies were presented to the player was good.
Given that there are plenty of enemies and that you can die quickly on Cybertron, I would have expected a more complete cover system, but there actually isn't one built in. Not only can players not crouch, but you also cannot attach and detach from the numerous objects scattered about that would provide good cover. You're certainly encouraged to stand behind them and take cover, but you're not actually "in cover," at least not in the sense that other games like Gears of War and Uncharted use. And for a game that feels somewhat similar to Gears, with its grim atmosphere and gun heavy action, a cover system in the vein of Gears would have been welcome.
But despite some of its shortcomings, both campaigns are a lot of fun. I enjoyed the story, and how it was told, which is primarily during the course of normal gameplay. The characters, of course, are classic to anyone that grew up in the 80s and it was a treat to see and hear them in this type of quality, non-movie-tie-in kind of way. Another aspect of the campaign that I liked was how much 'stuff' there was going on at any one time. It's a visually appealing experience, marred only slightly by some clipping and the fact that some pickups in game blend in a little too well with the environment, making them hard to see from time to time. On that note, keep your eyes peeled for ammo pickups, you're going to need them. But other than those minor complaints, I experienced a very visceral and pretty rendition of a war torn Cybertron, rife with blown up bot parts, destroyed objects, and Dark Energon. Aurally, the voice acting was great -- Soundwave sounds as cool as ever -- and the effects and music were also fitting and well done.
In addition to the solo campaign, you can also team up with two friends over Live and replay the campaigns in a drop in/drop out co-op mode, which is a treat. I only wish split-screen and/or System Link were supported too, but co-op in any capacity is a welcome feature in my opinion. The Escalation mode, also bound by a Live connection, is neat as well. In this mode, players can team up with friends to combat waves of enemies, either Decepticon or Autobot. In between rounds, players can upgrade their weapons and abilities to adapt. There is also an interesting online competitive mode that I've spent some time with. Within it, there are four playable character classes, and each class has an individual upgrade path, encouraging you to play each. Similar to the campaign mode, the different classes provide different benefits. From what I've played so far, the mode is well rounded and actually quite deep, and a lot of fun.
Ultimately, despite some flaws, Transformers - War For Cybertron is the best video game the franchise has ever seen. That may not mean a lot to many gamers who only recall the uninspired movie tie-ins from the last few years, but nevermind those now (and well, even back then) -- this newest experience is definitely worth your attention.
To the summary...