When I first saw Transformers: War for Cybertron at the beginning of June, I said that it was shaping up to not just be a good Transformers game, but “a very good game – period.”

Yeah, looks like I was right on the money about that.

War for Cybertron takes place thousands and thousands of years before the Transformers ever made their way to this little blue planet we call Earth, during the original civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons. As a result, there are no pesky humans to get in the way with extraneous and irritating subplots – the game is all about robots kicking robot ass all the time.

The game features two singleplayer campaigns that tell one sequential story. The first half is played from the Decepticons’ point of view as Megatron attempts to conquer Cybertron, and the second half then asks you to undo everything the Decepticons just did as the Autobots fight back.

While it’s possible to play the two campaigns in either order – you could certainly play through the Autobot one first – it probably makes for a better experience to play through the game as intended. Not only does the Autobot campaign feel a lot tighter than the Decepticon story – and the bosses are more interesting – but it’s a bit more fun to have the on-screen characters encouraging each other and working together than just hurling insults constantly.

At its core, Transformers is a solid and unassuming third-person shooter/action title with a gimmick – there’s no built-in cover system, but if you’re familiar with running and gunning in, oh, every other current-gen third-person game, you’ll feel right at home behind the controls of War for Cybertron. If that were the alpha and omega of the game, it’d be good if forgettable – but it helps that the gimmick is a really good gimmick.

After all, what are the Transformers best known for? It’s right there in the name: They transform between robots and vehicles. The transformation mechanic in War for Cybertron works really well – a simple click of the thumbstick instantly switches you between vehicle and robot modes, one of which provides speed and mobility and the other of which gives you versatility in dealing with situations. It’s a great mechanic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is simply how it just works. It’s never a hassle to use, it’s intuitive, and you’ll probably find yourself switching between forms on the fly multiple times – in the same fight, even.

Because the developers at High Moon built their game around the players having these ultra-maneuverable forms, levels in the game tend to be vast and, while largely linear, still pretty sprawling – particularly the few levels built for the flight-capable cast. While the levels themselves are cool, the game feels hampered by its setting: Cybertron is a machine planet, after all, and though the developers make a valiant effort to mix it up, it starts to all look a bit similar by the final few chapters.

In fact, the combat itself suffers from the same thing. Since you can play the two campaigns in either order, both of them have similar difficulty curves, and the number of set pieces is ultimately limited. Battles will feel repetitious by the end, but it’s a testament the title’s solid core gameplay (and the awesome transformation mechanic) that they still remain pretty fun when all is said and done.

Though the game is perfectly enjoyable solo, it also becomes much more fun when you’re playing it with a friend. The entire campaign from beginning to end features various three-man teams, meaning it’s heavily built around co-op play, and given that your friendly AI has a tendency to glitch out and get stuck every now and then, having other people at the controls is definitely a plus.

While the multiplayer also features many of the same features and gametypes you’ve come to expect in games these days (deathmatch, CTF, territory control), it again speaks to the strength of the core gameplay that it can be as fun as it is. Thanks to the maneuverability of the vehicles and the wide, labyrinthine environments, multiplayer combat in War for Cybertron is a mobile, chaotic affair that takes place on as many vertical planes as it does horizontal ones. It feels like a genuine part of the game instead of just a hasty add-on, and the Escalation gameplay mode may be the best version of the “Nazi Zombies” survival challenge that we’ve seen yet.

All in all, Transformers: War for Cybertron is not just a good Transformers game, but a good game period. It’s not without flaws, and it isn’t quite as stellar as last year’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, but it is a well-made, entertaining game that has clearly been put together by people who love the Transformers. Many of the original voice actors show up, and those that couldn’t are replaced by people who fill their shoes fairly well. It’s a love letter to the robots in disguise, and certainly deserves a place in the videogame library of anyone who likes the series.

Transform, roll out, and get this game.

Bottom Line: What could have been a generic third-person shooter is bolstered by solid gameplay and an awesome transformation mechanic that makes battles fast-paced and very mobile. The visuals and combat set pieces begin to get repetitious by the end, and the AI feels buggy, but the multiplayer is terrific fun – for the most part, it simply works well together.

Recommendation: Transformers fans should not go without. Otherwise, it’s a very solid buy as we enter the mid-summer doldrums.

[rating=4]

Game: Transformers: War for Cybertron
Genre: Action-Adventure
Developer: High Moon Studios
Publisher: Activision
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Available from: Amazon.com, Gamestop

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

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