Genre: Action Developer: High Moon Studios Publisher: Activision Classification: M Release Date: 22nd Jun 2010 Platforms:
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I couldn’t quite peg what it was about Transformers that was grinding my gears until I read one of the loading screen tips, telling me to grab the ‘overshield’. I’d already picked this shield up a couple of times, but I wasn’t really sure what its purpose was until it was spelled out for me.
It was then that I realised what bugged me about the game - it was, barring the perspective change and transformation button, Halo in disguise. The overshield, the weapons, the enemies. A loading screen popped up - to kill a ‘Brute’ I had to destroy its backpack. Halo CE styles, I killed every brute from there on out by dodging their charge and Melee attacking their back.
Other enemies could hover in the air, peppering you with just enough bullets (lasers, energy weapons fire?) to be annoying until you blast them from the sky. Invisible enemies betray their locations by firing at you.
It’s not bad, it’s just disappointing. It’s a game where you’re a sentient transforming robot entrenched in a battle for your planet - and you inexplicably feel like you’ve done it all before.
Level design is extremely reminiscent of Halo as well - you’ll find yourself destroying hundreds of generic enemies in corridors before you make it to a large, open area, queuing large battle sequences.
It’s not all Halo-esque gameplay though. Before each mission you get to choose which Transformer you’re going to be - the leader class usually has the best offence while the other two in your robot crew serve utility roles (like healing, or shielding).
Usually this means you’re just better off being the leader - Optimus, Megatron, Starscream etc. - but the ability to choose one of the other transformers keeps the game fresh for a little longer. Further, depending on the mission you’ll have different abilities - the strongest missions involve the Jet transformers, who can... transform into jets.
In robot form they’re just like anything else - shoot, strafe, shoot, run slowly, shoot. In Jet form though, they’re able to zoom around the level - in some cases opening up different routes, allowing you to flank your enemies.
It also demonstrates the best use of the very cinematic transformation action - boosting as a jet and flipping into a robot sees your character slide along the ground, rock star style. Still, even the transforming exhibits some design flaws.
Take the ammo situation. Despite all the Transformers firing energy weapons only, you’ll run out of ammo very fast. As a... pickup truck, or whatever Optimus is, you have barely half the ammo you have at any other time. And only one weapon. You can’t spend the entire game as a rocket firing pickup truck, because you’ll run out of ammo too quickly.
Megatron, a hover tank, has only 10 shots before he is useless. And in vehicle form you can’t perform any of the grossly over-powered melee attacks either - you pretty much only want to become a vehicle to move faster, because robots not in disguise move really, really slowly.
The story is pure fan service - it takes place well before any of the cartoons or *shudder* movies. You help Megatron assert his power over Cybertron, watch Starscream align himself with the Decepticons, and follow the rise of Optimus as an Autobot.
Unfortunately there’s actually very, very little in the way of background - the player is expected to know a great deal about the history of Cybertron to understand why it is that Megatron and his Decepticons are fighting the Autobots.
The graphics are fantastic - the art design is a great interpretation of the cartoon series, and the use of colour has always been a strong point for the series. Named Transformers are instantly recognisable and it’s easy to believe in the world of T:WfC. Unfortunately, despite the graphics, there’s a significant lack of polish evident in the game.
The world of Cybertron is very robotic, and very alien. It means the jagged edges and harsh slopes of Cybertron can cause your character to get stuck on odd pieces of architecture - numerous times when in land-based vehicle form I managed to get stuck on tiny steps in the landscape.
You also find you get stuck on your AI teammates - sometimes at extremely inopportune times. An AI character’s death won’t punish the player, which is very helpful when they - to borrow a phrase from World of Warcraft - stand in the fire. Boss fights typically involve movement and dodging environmental attacks, and often your AI just won’t move out of the way of the giant laser. It’s OK when they die and then respawn on you - it’s not OK when they stand in your way while you die a horrible death.
The audio is probably the game’s best feature - the voice acting is fantastic, featuring the likes of Steve Blum, Nolan North and Fred Tatasciore all delivering their lines superbly. The idioms of the various robots shines through with the voice work - even Soundwave’s stilted voicing is recreated. Peter Cullen returns as Optimus Prime, reinforcing the game’s fan service status.
Fans of Transformers - real fans, the people with the cartoon series and die-cast toys - will probably get a huge kick out of the story behind Transformers. They might even get enough out of it to overlook the insipid level design, borrowed gameplay elements and sloppy AI. For everyone else though, Transformers: War for Cybertron is less than meets the eye.