Thursday, 7 July 2011

Transformers - War For Cybertron (PS3) Review

As the last review was on the Transformers franchise and I was scheduled this week to follow it up with a video game; it seemed only right to cover one of the franchise’s more successful installments.

As with everything else, Transformers has been incredibly hit and miss when it comes to video games. Its first release on the Famicom, Mystery of Convoy, proved to be one of the most difficult games ever created. It was less a video game than sealed can of pure frustration and hatred waiting to be opened up by whatever unsuspecting player bought it.
The rewards were few, the graphics were downright bad and the rewards for winning were worthless. The quality of Transformers games barely improved over the next couple of decades. Something not helped by several installments being licensed adaptations of the live action films.
Anyone who’s ever read a review a licensed film tie in will know the hellpits of pure unrefined failure and ruin they usually turn out to be.

The only exception to this was the Playstation 2 2004 game by Melbourne House based upon the Armada cartoon. The game was difficult but rewarding, had extremely different environments, and a wide variety of metal monstrosities as enemies. The creative team even worked in the cartoon’s gimmick of small Mini-Con robots as an upgrade system for the game’s characters.

For many years it stood as the sole example of a good Transformers video game. That is until 2010 and the release of War for Cybertron.

Background and story:

Almost thirty years and they're still fighting like an old married couple.

As the title suggests, the game takes place on the titular robots’ homeworld of Cybertron. It focuses on the initial war between the two factions, Autobots and Decepticons, and leads up to why they abandoned the planet and what caused their exodus.

In story terms the plot is fairly linier. As the Decepticons you rampage through the mechanical world, killing all in your path and trying to cause as much anarchy as possible. At the same time you’re trying to corrupt things with the MacGuffin of the week: dark energon.
As the Autobots you go around trying to hold the planet together, get rid of the corruption and push back the enemy forces. A lot of the game is spent reversing the damage you’ve personally done as the Decepticons and save lives by killing enemy soldiers.

Truth be told even if you care about the story while playing it you’re going to end up noticing you’re doing almost exactly the same things as the good guys as you are the bad guys. People apparently turn a blind eye to a homicidal Optimus Prime when the victims of his blood-soaked rampage are baby eating jackbooted robot fascists.

The real strength of the writing comes almost entirely from the banter between characters. The interaction between your small squad of moustache twirling bad guys or knights in shining armour is what helps distract players from the shortcomings of the plot. The dialogue is a constant source of humour, occasional exposition and display frequent signs of genre awareness. One perfect example of this is this brief exchange which takes place while high explosives rain down on the level from above:

Breakdown: Take cover!
Megatron: Steady yourself, coward! I marked this area for Dark Energon bombers.
Breakdown: ARE YOU INSANE?!? I mean... yes, brilliant, Megatron!

Both the voice actors and writers seemed to be having a blast with this and it helps to give the game’s story mode much needed vitality. It also proves to be quite immersive as the personalities fit the characters’ gameplay aspects perfectly:
In terms of personality Megatron is a homicidal leader with an almost invincible confidence in his own abilities. In gameplay terms he is more than capable of dispensing death to titans several times his size and soaking up masses of firepower.

They’re simple characters, but they’re well written simple characters.

Graphics and design:

Expect to see this a lot. Expect to be the direct cause of it 90% of the time.

The overall level designs contrast well against one another. Despite the whole world being one big machine the various locations are designed to reflect upon the factions they belong to. Iacon, home of the Autobots, is a ruined city which embodies lost glory but still holds onto some elements of its faded grandeur. Kaon, a Decepticon fortress, is low tech, dark hellhole about one step away from becoming a cross between LV-426 and Mordor. Appropriately a good chunk of its enemies consist of oversized mechanical facehugger spiders.
Even the core of the planet has its own unique look, embodying aspects of a giant factory or engine encrusted with wildlife.

The problem is that while these are areas which have their own emotion and aesthetic behind them, they’re all metal. The most differentiating aspect of each location is their lighting and the sky above them. While good none of them are diverse enough to be visually satisfying to the player after the first several hours of playing. It would be like playing Metal Gear Solid 3 and permanently being stuck in the jungle. It might look nice and is varied in its own right, but sooner or later you’re going to get tried of seeing green.
Everything also has glowing Tron lines which is a bonus. They’re always fun to look at, especially when they help to add colour to the metal environments of the game.

What is good about everything being metal is that the looks of each character are both individually diverse while retaining factionally specific designs. The Autobots are all streamlined, smooth and consist of rich colours while the Decepticons have dark, jagged and robust bodies.
Unique aspects also reflect the personalities of each one. The brawler Ironhide is old, robust and industrial in his look. While the scientist Jetfire reflects some of his Decepticon origins in his appearance but is predominantly coloured white and has far more curved edges than the evil faction. Furthermore the characters embrace the best aspects of the old and new series in the franchise. They mix the more realistic transformations and metal looks of the live action films with the more pleasing looks of the 80s cartoon.

The graphics themselves at their core are good enough. They’re certainly nothing ground breaking and nothing you see with exceed the opening cut scene displaying the full blown melee between the characters. They’re not bad per say but you can tell they’re nothing special and the endless metal environments do not help in the slightest.


War For Cybertron’s gameplay consists of straight forwards combat broken up by short bits of platforming. There’s no real puzzle sections to be found here, nothing which searching through the game for hidden rewards will really accomplish and each level, while large and well designed, is fairly linear.
This does remove some replay value from the game’s story mode but multiplayer helps make up for this. Customisation allowing players to use weapon combos they might otherwise be barred from during story mode. Something many people welcomed due to the limitations upon the number of weapons which can be carried. Like 2003’s Fire Warrior, each character can only carry two guns one of which cannot be dropped.

By allowing the player to select any weapons they like individual characters can be tailor made to certain roles. The arsenal of the game itself is extensive. There are some excellent weapons in here such as the sniper rifles (or null rays as they’re called) and rocket launchers but others to be loathed such as the relentlessly inaccurate grenade launchers and unsatisfying plasma guns. It covers everything you’d want there to be in a shooter and all the guns handle surprisingly well from a third person perspective.
The best thing is that there’s no major game breakers. The transformers’ small heads prevents the sniper rifle reigning supreme while still being a good weapon and the more powerful guns tend to have projectiles slow enough to dodge.
Probably the most powerful thing a player can have at any time is his melee attack which can kill in two hits but you have to be skilled or lucky to get close enough to kill someone with it.

"Alright, WHO WANTS SOME!?" 

The limit to carrying two weapons isn’t the only Halo inspired mechanic within the game. You can rip turrets off their mountings, health has limited regeneration. Overshields appear to buff your character and make enemies frustratingly resistant to bullets. It’s everything you would expect to see by now.

Speaking of the enemies, the AI ranges from very dumb to exceptionally good. This is more down to the overall design of enemies than actual programming.
For example enemy fliers look like they’re cannon fodder due to their slow speed, but even one can cause great deals of damage if it gets close enough to perform a bombing run. They also know when and when not to use vehicle modes. If you’ve got a slow firing weapon enemies will transform to cars or what not to help avoid your shots. This makes things especially interesting in multiplayer escalation maps and areas with swarms of foes.

The multiplayer options themselves have everything you would want from a third person shooter like War for Cybertron. Co-op mode allows people to join in with story mode and control other characters.
Multiplayer maps allow you to kill one another in teams or as individuals in deathmatches. Leveling gives you perks and bonuses. Conquest allows you to take control of command posts a-la Star Wars Battlefront. The aforementioned escalation has you take on waves of foes similar to Halo ODST’s firefight. It’s the works. Stuff which is done well but it’s all things we’ve seen plenty of times before. There’s even a multiplayer type which has you deploy a bomb in an enemy base in a manner similar to Team Fortress 2, barring the railroad tracks.

Actually, that’s not the only area which this game is reminiscent of TF2. The class system reflects the Heavy, Medic, Scout and Soldier if you threw in a few extra abilities such as adding the Spy’s invisibility and backstab ability to the Scout.
They’re certainly fun and can be played to most traditional game styles. The Leader and Scientist classes help to support others by healing them and giving skill boosts. Scouts rush about at high speed, can’t take much damage but can turn invisible and backstab people. Tanks are quite literally tanks in every respect.

Each class is also limited to certain vehicles. Leaders are road kill making trucks, Scouts are fast moving sports cars, Scientists are fliers and Tanks are, yep, tanks. Unfortunately it’s with the vehicle modes that the game falls short.

There just isn’t enough variation between vehicle and robot modes in the game. Aside from the ability to mode much faster than on foot and the ever fun ability to turn enemies into road kill, both modes feel very similar.

The 2004 Transformers game added the vehicle modes exceptionally well, but the levels within those were far less linear. They allowed for more exploration and generally lacked the bottomless pits found in War for Cybertron. The only time when vehicles modes work within story mode are the two levels in which the player is allowed to take control of a flier in a series of airborne battles. These unfortunately only take up a small portion of the game and aircraft are only available to one class in multiplayer.
On the whole this feels more like the developers did not use the feature to its full potential. More a missed opportunity rather than a major flaw in the gameplay.

What is a major flaw in gameplay is the number of glitches in online play. While they do not plague multiplayer effects like rubberbanding, people not getting hit, lag, disconnecting and similar problems do crop up.  These are especially true for the PC but the Playstation 3 edition to be the most stable and without these issues.
In addition to this the multiplayer community itself is generally quite small and other players hard to find.

Downloadable Content and achievements:

Fan service, ho!

As mentioned before that searching for rewards was largely pointless. Most of them are well hidden and just out of the way rather than obscure locations, you’d recognised them as giant rotating faction symbols, rather than in the far corners of the map. While this means you don’t have to spend long hours searching for them it also means you can go through a level a dozen times and miss all of the icons entirely. Even if you do find them all you are only given a silver trophy as a reward.

Trophies meanwhile, or achievements, range from good to easy. Additional rewards should convince players to play again, feel like they’re getting something out of playing it on harder levels or in a different way. While there are at several of these in each story mode, a good number of them are the most generic things you could imagine. “Beat X level on any difficulty to get this trophy!”
Even the online levels are like this, very bland and generic trophies with interesting ones occasionally sandwiched between them. For every one involving something hard such as sniping an invisible man in a headshot there are dozens which come down to “kill X number of enemies.”

DLC content is also fairly bland. Several extra skins can be given to play as in multiplayer and additional maps are available to use. That’s it. The skins are certainly good, one of which is fan favourite Shockwave, and stand out well but you’d expect more from a game. Something has certainly gone wrong when Bioshock is outdoing you in terms of DLC.


If you want to see a good Transformers game then this is it. The reason it’s the best thus far is mostly because there have been so many horrible games squirted out to cash in on films.
As you might have seen one thing repeatedly commented upon was that it contains good aspects which are fun to see, but it never pushes the boundaries. Which is a real shame as having your character turn into a truck should have been something revolutionary enough to make a truly unique game out of. It's competent and is good to play but it's nothing special save for its setting and characters.

If you don’t know anything of the franchise or want to see Transformers done well then the game is at least worth renting. The story is simple enough to follow, it will distract you for a few hours and you might even enjoy it enough to buy properly. But with the multiplayer community as it is there are better shooters out there.


War for Cybertron, Transformers and all related characters and media are owned by Hasbro, Activision and High Moon Studios.

Images taken from

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