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Reviewed: Transformers: War For Cybertron
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: August 8th, 2010
Page: 2

If I were to review Transformers: War For Cybertron as being "better than its predecessors", I wouldn't be lying. Let's face it, what Activision had to work with coming out of Michael Bay's movies was horrid, and I can't blame the games for being just as bad as their source material.

So I went into this one with some higher hopes. After all, it was a fresh start. License to do what they wanted with the storyline, license to do what they wanted map-wise, license to toss in every single character ever seen in the franchise if they so desired. To their credit, they have placed a remarkable number of recognizable characters into the game, even if Skyfire doesn't quite look like his old self, and of course Megatron is a tank-like commander rather than being more gun-like. Since this is "pre-Earth", many of the visual changes can be excused - these are supposed to be the Transformers in their "natural" forms, after all.

Unfortunately, the first mistake that was made is to make an incredibly, incredibly short single-player campaign. There are only five levels for each side, Decepticon and Autobot, the end of which feels more like "congratulations, you finished the tutorial, now play online" than the completion of a true story. The idea of "dark energon", the idea that Megatron has found and harnessed some "new power source", kind of comes out of left field for those who have followed the Transformers franchise, but there it is. The core events - the rise of Megatron, the assault by the Decepticons, the rise of Optimus after the death of Zeta Prime - work well, storyline-wise.

Unfortunately for the game's designers, the actual gameplay consists of the few face-recognizable Transformers from either side running around and beating up on faceless groups of unnamed enemies that all look alike, until finding one or two recognizable "boss" enemies from the other side. Along the way, it also requires coddling the requisite group of 2-3 allies who have their AI permanently set to "suicidal moron", since this is a "squad-based combat" title at its core. The gameplay hell that is the single-player campaign "rewards" the player with some nice cutscenes and solid voice acting from recognizable Transformers veterans (including Peter Cullen as Optimus, as it always should be), but that's about the extent of it.

To be brutally honest, it looks almost as if someone simply took a Call of Duty-style game engine and tried - poorly - to bolt the Transformers license on. Most of the time, players are playing dodge-and-cover, trying not to let their "Energon" (life bar) drop below the point where it can't heal up after a few moments' rest. They can carry at most one or two weapons, each of which has its own ammunition (something the Transformers have never had to deal with before; the whole point of the Civil War was supposed to be about energy resources) and which can be randomly found around, or picked up from defeated enemies. Powerups and healing come by shooting levitating boxes.

I suppose that last one could be excused, since while the Transformers themselves are visually appealing, it's apparent in the level and graphic detail of the game that someone went way, way overboard trying to replicate the overdetailed look of certain comic book series. The end result isn't a visual feast, but more an effect of pure visual overload - a mistake that the designers then compounded by dropping flashing indicators over everything relevant, trying to "assist" the player in picking out weapons, cover, enemies, and interactable objects from the confusing mass of trash and junk that makes up the game environment.

Getting back to the gameplay, there are four basic classes - scouts, scientists, leaders, and soldiers. They do precisely what one would think they would do: scouts are the "car" version and scientists the "jet" version of basically the same hit-and-run class, Leaders can turn into large-scale trucks and back up their friends with some punishing attacks, and soldiers are the "tanks" of the game both figuratively and literally - they turn into tanks, and are able to absorb the most punishment while doing a good deal back. If you're getting lost on the distinction, thinking back on the differences between Bumblebee, Starscream, Optimus Prime, and Barricade may help, though underneath it all, the vehicle modes are fairly useless and 95% of the gameplay is going to be spent in robot mode anyways.

It would be nice if I could say that the "cooperative" mode for the single-player campaign - in which up to four players can go through the campaign as a unit - helped. Unfortunately, it's just about worthless as well; playing it requires one distinct console, TV, and game service identity (either Xbox360 or PS3, and no, they can't talk to each other) for each player, great if your friends live in a different city, lousy if you want to get some people together at your house for a beer and some Transformers fun.

For pure multiplayer modes, the game is, unfortunately, equally bland. Purchased/preorder/unlocked characters can only be played and leveled up in "Escalation" mode, though there are maps for the other modes in the already-released DLC. (Gamers who are tired of zero-day DLC adding to the cost of the game, I feel your pain). For the rest of the modes, players don't actually get to use the real Autobots or Decepticons, but instead name their own character and paint up the chassis of an existing unit to their own specification. Logging on and seeing the different ways that people can misspell the names of their favorite character is a bit of humor in itself, but it would have probably worked just as well to allow the players to use the actual characters and just show their online service name overhead, like most squad-based combat games do.

Once a player's made "their" character, it's into the rest of the multiplayer games. Here, too, the gametypes are pretty standard; Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, "Conquest" (a "hold the objective" style setup), a couple of capture-the-flag variants, and "Power Struggle", also known as "Murder The Man With The Axe." Finally, there's "Escalation" mode, a somewhat self-contradictory mode in which players face wave after wave after wave of enemies, collecting "currency" until finally overwhelmed, and then spending it to upgrade their Transformer before diving in for more monotonous waves. It's good for a couple of hours, and then gets to be overwhelmingly boring in an "escalating" manner.

At the risk of repetition - I tried to have high hopes for this one. I really did. The problem is, bolting the Transformers franchise to even a well-done squad-based shooter is taking a risk, and bolting it into an existing and only passably-made engine simply didn't work out.

Added:  Monday, August 09, 2010
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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