System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, 1.8 GHz Core 2 Duo/Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 4000+ or better CPU, GeForce 7900 GT/Radeon X1900 or better graphics card, 2 GB RAM, 9 GB hard-drive space
Genre: Action/Third-person shooter
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release date: Available now
Anyone who has played Transformers: The Game or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, both of which are based on the Michael Bay movies, knows that, while the games were an entertaining diversion, they didn’t quite deliver on their promises. Most people would agree that they were far from the worst games ever to be based on a movie, but they were also far from the best. Enter Transformers: War for Cybertron, which takes place on the titular homeworld of the Transformers, prior to their arrival on Earth, during the civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons.
The single-player campaign allows you to start with either side, but chronologically it begins with the Decepticons. Each half of the campaign consists of five chapters, further subdivided by checkpoints. When you pass a checkpoint, your progress is automatically saved; there is no quicksave or manual save ability, but only on the hardest difficulty setting will you really miss it. You can also replay part of the campaign starting at any checkpoint you’ve unlocked. Each character is classified in one of four categories: Leader, Soldier, Scientist or Scout, and their weaponry, special abilities, and vehicle form are largely influenced by their class. For example, a Scout (such as Bumblebee) is fast but small, and cannot take as much punishment as a Soldier (Ironhide), so it has to rely on speed and agility. The Soldier is the reverse – less maneuverable, but with better armor, and its default weapons have a bigger punch. Scientists such as Ratchet are the only ones with an Energon healing ray. You can change forms at will, but the vehicle forms are not wheeled cars as in the movies, because at this point they have not been to Earth. Instead, the vehicles are all hovercraft, though only a few (Starscream and Jetfire) are flyers. In robot form, characters can collect weapons reminiscent of those found in other first-person shooters; there are equivalents of pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, assault rifles and rocket launchers. Unlike the previous two Transformers games, weapons are not fixed and you don’t have unlimited ammo; the exception is the Scientist, whose healing ray is fixed, so only one of its weapons can be changed.
Each chapter gives you a choice of three Transformers that are specifically selected for the scenario. The one you pick is the one you control; the other two are operated by an AI. You can also play in cooperative mode on the Internet (there are no hotseat or splitscreen modes, so all multiplayer games must be played online) with up to two other players, with each player choosing one of the three characters. AI-controlled Transformers never complete an objective for you; if you fall behind, they stop just before the next checkpoint and wait for you to catch up. This way, you never lose the feeling that you are the driving force behind the team’s success. There are seven multiplayer modes. Aside from the traditional Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, there is Conquest, a capture-and-hold style game. Countdown to Extinction requires you to take an active bomb and place it at an enemy base. Other modes include Power Struggle, Code of Power, and Escalation, which is the only one that lets you play as the Transformers from the campaign. In all other modes, you select a base model and vehicle form, modify the color scheme, and then choose weapon loadouts and special abilities. Multiplayer modes feature an experience and leveling system, including perks and upgrades. In some modes, credits are earned by defeating enemies. These credits can be used to unlock ammunition, weaponry, health, and new areas in each map.
If there is one truly praiseworthy feature of War for Cybertron, it’s the voice work. Beenox has brought in Peter Cullen to reprise the voice of Optimus Prime, and they brought back Fred Tatasciore, who has voiced multiple characters in the previous games. You might also recognize some of the other actors, including Steven Blum, Nolan North, Sam Riegel, Liam O’Brien, Johnny Yong Bosch and Kari Wahlgren. The single-player campaign is of reasonable length; you can expect to spend 10 hours on a playthrough, with cooperative mode and multiple difficulty levels adding some degree of replayability to the campaign. It is in multiplayer mode that the game really shines, with the multiple modes and several maps (nine more maps and five more characters are included in two DLC packs).
There are really only three drawbacks to War for Cybertron. First is that ammo can be hard to find in some levels. If you don’t keep an eye on your ammo, you end up being shot at while scouring through debris looking for an ammo box. Another problem is that the visuals can be repetitive, to the point that it’s actually possible to get turned around and go the wrong way (in the single-player game, look for the AI-controlled allies; if you’ve already cleared the area and you’re going the wrong way, they won’t follow you). To be fair, though, the mechanical nature of Cybertron doesn’t lend itself to a lot of environmental variety. Finally, even though the multiplayer support is one of the best features of the game, it’s hard to find a match; you’re lucky if you can find more than 4,000 players online at any given time. Hopefully you have friends who are willing to buy or rent the game so you can play against them; otherwise, I’d probably recommend waiting for the price to drop.
Still, War for Cybertron is a lot better than previous Transformers games might lead you to believe; it’s almost worth the price for all the multiplayer modes alone, if only it were easier to find players online. The voice work is outstanding; the actors who have not voiced a Transformer before did their best to imitate the voices from the original cartoon. The single-player campaign is not as long as I would like, but cooperative mode provides an incentive to replay it, and it puts you into the roles of most of the major Autobots and Decepticons from the Transformers series…which is what you really wanted, right?