This is one of the most gratifying things about being an older gamer: when fans of popular franchises grow up and get jobs in the video game industry. A lot of uncharitable things can be said for media culture's habit of remaking, rebooting and rehashing old stories, but when it's done from the heart like Transformers: War for Cybertron plainly is, the result is very often a damn
good time. See Joss Whedon's "Avengers" or Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies; both are exuberant love letters to their source material and it shows.
If you have fond memories of the 1980s iteration of The Transformers
cartoon up to and including the 1986 movie
, High Moon Studios' first TF outing is a high-octane shot of finely-tuned nostalgia. From the minute you start up one of the game's two single-player campaigns (one for the Decepticons, and one for the Autobots - just for story's sake, I recommend you play them in that order, although the game gives you the option to choose), you will feel like a kid again, plopped in front of the TV after school watching the Autobots smash the bolts out of some Decepticreeps. Peter Cullen voices Optimus for the umpteenth time and hits it out of the park of course, and while he is, I believe, the only voice actor present from the original series, the rest of the talent is excellent and written in exactly the same style as the old cartoons. So you get the familiar banter of Megatron/Starscream, Megatron/Soundwave (the original bromance), Soundwave/everyone, Starscream/Skywarp/Thundercracker, Optimus/Ironhide, Bumblebee/everyone, but also some not-so-familiar characters like Air Raid & Warpath, both of which are hilariously scripted and voiced and really feel like they could be right out of the show. The story is a straight prequel of the cartoon: Cybertron is a war-torn mechanical planet, the Decepticons want to grab all the power they can, the Autobots kinda don't want them to, someone gets a little too Dr. Strangelove on things and oops, we have to leave the planet because we broke it. You're not gonna get Spec Ops: The Line or Bioshock Infinite out of this -- it's robots beating the crap out of each other, innit? But it is a pitch-perfect story with a delicious topping of fanboyism and if you're the target audience even a tiny bit, you'll love it.
So what about the game itself? Well... I hesitate to say too much because my inner kid loves the theme-park-ness to pieces, but it is unfortunately a rather average third-person shooter. That's not to say it's badly done, it's not. Technically it's spot-on, it looks good and plays well, but does it do anything new? Not really. It should have a cover system, it doesn't. You can transform into whatever vehicle your chosen robot is, which is awesome, but it doesn't really matter other than stretches of levels where it's either transform or run a lot (and you run slow, but okay, you weigh ten tons). The controls for vehicle mode are kind of frustrating (game devs: no one enjoys driving with a mouse.
It was new and weird in Borderlands, it's old and annoying now. It really is. Stop doing it) and it's disappointing that you don't get a greater sense of speed when you're in "boost mode". The guns sound great, but they could have more variety. The world certainly looks like Cybertron, which again: awesome, however all the metal-on-metal-with-the-occasional-sky motif can be a little boring. But Cybertron is basically Coruscant with less trees, so I'm not sure what else they were supposed to do. There's not a lot in the way of exploration, either for collectibles (there are some, but they very much feel like an afterthought) or just because, and it can't be called anything but a very linear experience. But that's more or less okay since it really tries to be an extended episode of the cartoon, and in that, it succeeds. Hugely. But... all of that does sadly mean that in my opinion if you have little to no desire in watching a bunch of robots shoot each other while making snarky comments, you will probably not miss much by giving this game a pass. There are much better shooters if that's what you want.
But if you are a Transformers fan at all
, grab this. Grab it grab it grab it. It's fantastic, and I can't wait to play Fall of Cybertron.
(Quick note on multiplayer (and a quick note is all it is since I have no experience with it): it's supposed to be good. Fall of Cybertron is supposed to be even better. That's it! There are plenty of other reviews for the multiplayer side and the consensus is, again, "good". "Fun", even. I don't know what else to tell you.)
Posted: February 14th, 2014