Hasbro has never had much luck rolling out their Transformers franchise to videogames. That must be a constant source of frustration to the company. There’s no lack of men around their thirties who once slept under an Optimus Prime duvet every night, who are ready and willing to invest in digital incarnations of their boyhood heroes, who want to recapture those after-school hours in the ‘80s.
In recent years, we’ve seen two par games licensed from the live action movies, each rolled out to capitalise on renewed box office hype around the franchise. Prior to that, 2004’s Transformers (Armada) seemed promising but ultimately failed to deliver.
Transformers: The War for Cybertron takes a step out of the quagmire but ultimately fails to get airborne. Developer High Moon has created a game that feels as though it were designed by committee. Cybertron is strongly derivative of the most successful shooter titles of the current generation, selecting particular elements from each and building a golem that is sometimes entertaining but largely forgettable.
The War for Cybertron is a prequel to the Transformers series, recounting the battle between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepitcons for control of their homeworld.
You’ll recognise the influences of both Halo and Gears of War immediately. The Transformers are protected by a rechargeable shield and can carry two weapon types and grenades. The flurry of the third-person fire fights mean you’ll frequently be forced to take shelter, but there’s no sticky cover mechanic as such, instead requiring you to press your metallic face to a wall like you were in timeout while your shield recharges.
The Transformers themselves also feel much to light and agile for the environments they occupy; the physics feel more human than robotic. You'll never really embrace the sensation that you’re many tonnes of steel crashing through a gameworld.
Transforming from robot to vehicle is satisfying and prompt, and can be put to good use. Unfortunately the linear level designs offer little impetus to do so outside of vehicle-specific phases, unless you’re lagging behind.
The singleplayer campaign is broken in two. You’ll begin by plotting Cybertron’s downfall and controlling the Decepticons, before scrambling to save the world with the Autobots. Each campaign is composed of five levels, themselves composed of repetitive corridors and rooms occupied by repetitive waves of similar enemies, strung together on a predictable arc and rounded out with a boss fight. On a more positive note, you’ll not feel as though you’re playing the game in reverse during the Autobot campaign, meaning that the game amounts to about 10-12 hours of gameplay, instead of five hours, twice over.
During each level you’ll be accompanied by allies, sort of. Their poor AI means they’re as much a part of the scenery and vehicles for banter as they are comrades in arms. The same extends to your foes who display a selfless disregard for their safety, conveniently popping out from cover to take a shell to the chest and loitering overlong to investigate your grenades.
Each mission is punctuated by an agreeable cut scene. You won’t need any special training to keep up with the formulaic narrative and yet because Hasbro and High Moon seem to make no ironic effort to acknowledge the clichéd plot, you’ll also come away somewhat disappointed.
The multiplayer modes are much in the vein of Modern Warfare with a little Gears of War thrown in. Likeable, but unlikely to draw much attention away from the games it apes. Players can choose one of four types, leader, scout, scientist and soldier – each with their own class strengths. Offensively weak scientists can transform into jets for greater range while they perform their main function, healing. Leaders, in the vein of Megatron and Prime, are tanks that can buff their allies. Scouts have a camouflage ability while soldiers are the premium choice for combat.
As you play, you’ll gain experience, unlocking fresh perks that cater to different play styles. It’s all done well, but we suspect the community won’t be large enough to warrant a significant investment in the game.
There’s a lot here for fans of the Transformers to admire, but strip away the pop culture veneer and War for Cybertron is a slightly above par entry in the annals of gaming.