Thursday, June 24, 2010

Transformers: War for Cybertron Review

Licensed games were once the bane of all gamers. A big summer blockbuster would come out, and a crappy game would inevitably come with it. Sometimes, this is still true (I'm looking at you, Iron Man 2: The Game), but with recent titles like X-Men Origins: Wolvernine and Batman: Arkham Asylum, games based on a license are starting to get good. And not just good enough for fans of the license, but really good. In fact, had BioWare not released Dragon Age: Origins last year, there's a good chance that Arkham Asylum would have been my pick for game of the year.

Amidst this renaissance of licensed games, Transformers: War for Cybertron was announced. As a huge Transformers fan, it was hard for me not to get excited. After all, this was a game being developed by professed fans of the franchise, being billed as a sort of origin story free not just from the mythos of Michael Bay's... reimaginings, but of any continuity at all. A clean slate, but one who's transforming robots clearly bore a resemblance to the beloved cartoon of my youth. Could War for Cybertron be the Transformers game I'd always craved?

Well... not exactly. But I'd say that High Moon studios has come closer than any previous developer.

We'll start with the good. War for Cybertron is a well-crafted third-person shooter. At the start of each of the game's ten chapters, you'll be given a choice of three characters to pick from, each with different starting weapons and abilities. Each character has been lovingly rendered with parts that move and twitch, even when he's standing still. Plus, each character's movement is fluid and natural, so you always have the sense that you're playing as a living being who happens to turn into a vehicle, and never a vehicle that turns into a clunky robot. The levels are also very well designed, so that one minute you might be racing down an open road, only to switch to bot-mode to hop across some spinning platforms to get the drop on an enemy sniper before ducking into a narrow corridor. It's a game that would be fun, even if you weren't playing out my described scenario as Optimus Prime.

But that's part of the game's problem. Even though you play as popular Transformers, even though the game is constantly referencing other Transformers material (especially the 1986 animated movie), the game felt as much like Gears of War to me as it did Transformers. I suppose it's to be expected on their home planet, but I never really got the feeling that I was a 20" tall robot. Each campaign had a epic boss fight with a huge Transformer, but neither felt as epic or as huge as the fight against Tidal Wave did in the PS2 Transformers game. And while the developers were hyping how this game was going to become the new basis for official Tranformers canon and how it was going to be full of deep revelations about the Transformers' past, the story was actually more like a "Megatron's scheme of the week" episode from the old 80's cartoon... that didn't include even one fight between Optimus and Megatron!

All-in-all, I think it was a good try, and I'm looking forward to seeing if High Moon, Activision, and Hasbro will make sequels. Aside from some minor flaws, War for Cybertron is a solid shooter and probably the best Transformers game to date. If you're a fan of shooters, check it out. If you're a fan of shooters AND Transformers, quit reading and go buy it.

Final Score: B+


science412 said...

This is just a general comment on your blog... It looks beautiful on the iPhone 4.

Mike said...

Good to know. I credit the iPhone 4's retina display (I've seen it in person)... and my general awesomeness.