Soft Meat Reviews:
Transformers: War for Cybertron
(Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
Unlike other recent Transformers games, Transformers: War for Cybertron has no relation to the movie franchise. This distinction gives the game more freedom with the Transformers mythos, allowing for a more interesting story and setting but, sadly, the developers didn't seem to know what do do with that freedom.
The game takes place during the civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons on their home planet of Cybertron. The story is divided between two campaigns, one of which follows Megaton's quest to infect the core of Cybertron with an evil and powerful energy source known as Dark Energon. The other campaign follows Optimus and his fellow Autobots in their mission to undo the damage done by Megatron. Sadly, the actual story isn't very compelling or original. The predictable twists, lame plot, and uninspired cutscenes will leave you bored and unfulfilled.
The game does do something interesting with it's story. While most games would either have the two stories running parallel to one another or have the "bad guy" campaign be an alternate "what if" scenario, in this game the stories are sequential. The Autobot missions start right after the Decepticon missions end so, while you do have the option start with with either campaign, you're expected to play the Decepticon missions first.
At first, the gameplay seems to fair much better. The combat is well polished, if a bit formulaic, and the ability to instantly transform into your character's vehicle form adds an extra dimension to the gameplay. The appeal does not last, however. After the first few missions of traveling through nearly identical environments and fighting the same enemies over and over again, I found myself loosing interest rapidly.
The main culprit is the setting itself. Cybertron is essentially a giant robot planet. So, no matter where on the planet you are, you're still in a mechanized city. That doesn't necessarily mean the developers are off the hook entirely. Even a simple pallet swap for some of the different areas would have made a huge difference. Instead, almost every hallway, door, wall, roadway, and pillar is made out of the same gray metallic substance. It gets very boring, very fast.
Compounding this is the fact that the level design is incredibly linear, with the vast majority of the game taking place in narrow halls and small rooms. This makes for boring gameplay under normal circumstances but it is even worse in this game because it makes your vehicle transformation almost useless for anything other than boosting your movement speed during the lulls in combat. There are a few set-pieces where you will actually need to use your vehicle form (such as a segment that would give the Master Chief a major case of deja vu). Beyond that and two levels where you play as flying characters, you will spend the vast majority of your time fighting in hallways in your humanoid form.
The enemy types are equally repetitive. Nothing outside of typical shooter fare (snipers, infantry, fliers, etc), with each having only one character model for each faction and even then the difference is barely more than different color neon highlights.
The boss characters are significantly more interesting. Throughout the game you will find yourself up against classic Transformer characters such as Trypticon and Omega Supreme. However, even though the characters are interesting, the actual fights are not. They never really amount to more than avoiding a rigid pattern of attacks until the enemy reveals it's weak-point and doing as much damage as you can until the cycle repeats itself. That's literally it.
In an effort to make things interesting, the developers thew in a co-op mode that allows you to play with up to two friends, but it does little to add any fun to the experience. The enemy AI isn't smart enough to warrant any type of coordinated teamwork and the level design is so linear that you can't do much more than just shoot the enemies directly in front of you anyway. Basically, the co-op in this game is only going to be as fun as the people you are playing with and the game doesn't really deserve credit for that.
A little more value is added by the multiplayer mode. The gametypes are nothing special, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and versions of Capture the Flag, Territories, and Assault but the addition of killstreaks, custom classes, and, of course, the ability to transform add a fair amount of diversity to the gameplay. The multiplayer level design has the same problem that the single player campaign has of having very little aesthetic diversity, but the layouts are well balanced and do a good job of accommodating both the traditional third person combat and the agile vehicles.
The weapons and classes seem fairly balanced (although I do admit the minigun seemed a bit overpowered when I was using it) and the gameplay is genuinely fun, but I don't think it has enough variety or originality to hold your interest for long.
The main problem with the multiplayer is it's small community. Finding a match in anything but the most popular gametypes can be tough. Another problem is that when you search for a match, the game doesn't filter out DLC maps that you don't have, so you could be searching and find a match only to be kicked all the way back to the title screen because you didn't have that map.
To top the game off is a mode similar to Gears of War's Horde Mode, called Escalation. As with Horde Mode you fight cooperatively with friends or random people online against waves of enemies. This mode isn't just a simple Gears ripoff though. The game has a point system where you earn points as you kill enemies and spend those points to unlock weapons, power-ups, and open up new areas in the map. It's an interesting concept and almost makes up for the fact that there are only two maps for it, one where you play as the Autobots and one where you play as the Decepticons. It's a fun mode and will keep you entertained for a little while, but the limited map selection and enemy types hinder it's replay value.
I've never been a huge Transformers fan but I have always liked it and I was somewhat exited when I heard that they where putting together a Transformers game that wasn't based on the recent movies (especially one that took place on Cybertron). It certainly had the potential to be a really good game but the lame, unimaginative design causes it to fall short of it's potential.
In the end, I would have to say this game is worth a rent. The gameplay is well polished and there are enough interesting elements to keep you entertained for a few days, but I don't think this game has enough substance to merit purchasing it at full price unless, perhaps, you are a die-hard Transformers fan and feel the need to add this to your collection.
Check out my previous reviews:
LIMBO (video review)
Batman: Arkham Asylum (video review)
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