If you grew up in the ’80s, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of Optimus Prime. And if you did, you probably thought he was awesome.
Prime is the first name who usually comes to mind when there’s talk of the Transformers, the famed “robots in disguise” who transformed into vehicles and captured the imaginations of kids everywhere decades ago, well before movie audiences saw Megan Fox straddling motorcycles and Shia LeBeouf running for his life.
They remain one of the lasting symbols of 1980s pop culture, and were responsible for kitchen floors, dinner tables and living rooms becoming battlefields.
Transformers: War for Cybertron resonates with those kids, who are much older now and have replaced those household surfaces with a 360 or PS3.
For them, High Moon Studios has crafted a fun trek through an intriguing piece of franchise lore, echoing good action shooters of the past while capturing enough of that ’80s-child joy to mask some of its flaws. It’s not so much a groundbreaking title as it is a dream update of beloved cultural icons.
The story details the early part of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons on their home planet of Cybertron, long before they ended up on Earth.
The game takes an equal-opportunity approach to the single-player campaign, dedicating the first half to the Decepticons and their conquest of Cybertron and the other half to the Autobots, who try to ward off the Decepticon forces. An cool wrinkle to the Autobot campaign is that it takes place before Optimus Prime becomes a leader — to everyone, he’s simply Optimus.
The story is at its best when played in order, but you also have the flexibility to choose what half you want to play at any time. This offered some fun storytelling options, as you can bounce back and forth between both campaigns, or you can play through the Autobot campaign and then treat the Decepticon missions as a mini-prequel.
No matter what side you pick, the game offers plenty of visual splendor, capitalizing on the fact you’re fighting on a planet occupied by large robots. Cybertron boasts a lot of big structures and moving parts, as if the entire planet is going to change into something else.
Scale is important to the game’s presentation, with some of the levels including a space station, a Decepticon prison, a massive orbital cannon and the core of Cybertron itself. It’s also reflected in some of the boss battles — one confrontation pits the Decepticons against Omega Supreme, who is essentially a one-robot defense system.
There’s a lot of Gears of War and Halo influence here, especially with the dominant war-torn atmosphere, detail of the landscapes and the fact you’re part of a small squad of fighters who can be controlled by either AI or friends.
The visuals aren’t quite as clean as in Gears, but that’s balanced out with some excellent design choices made for the Transformers themselves. The Autobots and Decepticons provide the soul for the whole experience.
The best examples of this are Optimus Prime and Megatron, who reflect a design balance that pays proper tribute to fans, but also makes sense for the playing field. Optimus Prime was known for transforming into a truck on Earth. He does on Cybertron as well, but it’s a futuristic-looking, streamlined truck with hover capabilities. Megatron, for his part, turns into a hovering tank with a powerful cannon instead of a laser pistol.
The robot forms aren’t too shabby either, as you can see almost all of the vehicle parts accounted for, like wheels, wings and doors. Prime and Megatron also feature independently moving pieces, adding a bit of visual life to their presence.
Being able to transform at will adds a special element to all facets of battle, and I enjoyed how the level design was flexible enough for me to play around with both forms. I also appreciated the simplicity of transforming with just a click of the thumbstick, since I remember the days when transforming the toys required instructions and took a few minutes to execute.
This all adds into a playing experience that emanates nostalgia without being overpowering. I reveled in the fight against Soundwave, who kept ejecting smaller minions from his chest while speaking in that signature tone only fans of the show will remember.
I also enjoyed the bits of dialogue, which added personality to other characters. It was interesting hearing Ironhide praising Prime for stepping up and taking leadership, or Starscream speak insidiously behind Megatron’s back.
However, the game is not without problems. If you play solo, you’re going to find yourself yelling at your brain-dead AI teammates who can’t shoot. Enemies aren’t that bright either, as they are all too willing to be gun food.
I also could have used a little more diversity in the enemies, as opposed to fending off waves of the same grunts, brutes and destroyers every mission.
That said, none of that really mattered to me as long as I could transform, kick ass and hear Prime say “Autobots, roll out!” If it’s not playing through the story mode, it’s engaging in the well-executed multiplayer. There’s also “escalation” mode, which is just fighting hordes of enemies for as long as possible.
Transformers: War for Cybertron isn’t a perfect game, but playing it turns me into a little kid again messing with toys on the kitchen floor. A little retro and sappy? Probably. Awesome? Definitely.
Transformers: War for Cybertron
Activision / High Moon
Rated T for Teen