I am not going to lie. I fucking love giant robots.
Who cannot? They are big… fuck-off… robots.
Of course, like everything cool, weird, or frightening beyond the ken of mortals, giant robots come from Japan. When I was but a wee tyke, my favorite thing to do was to come home from school, sit down with my dad, and watch giant robot cartoons. To this day, a giant die-cast Voltron (yes, I know the proper name is Golion, and I am a fan of the Japanese original, but the toy is Voltron, dammit) sits guard above my computer.
Things have not been kind to giant robots of late. The nefarious demonologist and occultist Michael Bay has attacked their good name with the help of his succubus assistant, Megan Fox. Still, the developers at High Moon Studios (with a hat tip to publishers Activision/Blizzard) have managed to do the Transformers® justice with The War for Cybertron.
For fans of the only established continuity, the Generation One continuity, the story of The War for Cybertron is familiar, acting as a prequel to the series. Megatron, demented and power-mad leader of the Decepticon faction, is seeking for a way to overcome opposition and bend the robot planet Cybertron to his will, all to restore it to its former glory (gee, where have I heard this line before? Must all megalomaniacal dictators be cast in the mold of Hitler? Why cannot we have a Pol Pot or Josef Stalin instead?).
To do this, Megatron needs to secure the series’ great MacGuffin, “Dark Energon.” Dark Energon is a convenient stand-in for any number of “too powerful to hold” powers, like nuclear power, but it works as a story device. Megatron wants it, it is dangerous and unstable, but maybe he is just dangerous and unstable enough to wield it.
To stand against Megatron’s calumny are the noble Autobots, part of a faction that wants Cybertron to be a happy fun place full of Japanese weirdness, not unlike Jen. They are lead by the powerful and saintly Zeta Prime (!) and guard Cybertron against the likes of… the player.
In an astonishing reversal of how one thinks these types of games should play out, players will first be treated to the Decepticon campaign, taking control of luminaries like Megatron, Brawl, Soundwave, or the nigh-insufferable Starscream. Only after completing a heart-stopping five missions will players get to pick up the Autobot storyline.
But enough boring stuff, what about the Transformers? Which toys do we get to play with?
All of the standards are here — Megatron, Optimus, Bumblebee, Jetfire, etc. The DS games are said to include more, but really, the DS cannot do justice to the story. In a nostalgic nod, many of the original voice actors are back to provide the soundtrack to the console/PC games. One notable (and disheartening) omission for me was Hot Rod, whom I will forever remember as Rhodimus Prime from the saddest fucking movie ever inflicted on children. My Rhodimus Prime toy was the prize of my collection, and knowing that, dear readers, I am sure tells you a lot about me.
In most instances, players can freely shift between vehicle and robot mode, which provides interesting options for gameplay. Although Megatron turns into a non-canonical (hah hah puns are fun!) tank, the vehicles all feel unique and fun. Particularly for flying missions, taking control of Starscream, Thundercracker or Skywarp for the first Deception flying mission is really awesome. Shifting in and out of jet form, zipping around the planet Cybertron, and laying the smack down on some Autobot bitches is just fantastic.
The difficulty is nicely tailored, with even Easy difficulty making the game challenging in some spots. Boss battles are long and epic, and many will require several attempts before the fight mechanics are managed.
The game has a “designed for consoles” feel (I play it on a PC, downloaded via Steam), by which I mean the keyboard controls feel awkward and tacked on, and there is currently no way to rebind keys in the game. That is not terribly difficult for me, as I have a Logitech G13 gamepad and I merely changed my setup to a way that I found intuitive (many of the controls mirror my WoW controls).
The over-the-shoulder third person camera view is sometimes difficult to maneuver, particularly with a high-DPI gaming mouse and the default camera sensitivity. It takes continual update of my sensitivity via my on-mouse buttons between vehicle or flying missions, where a wild camera is a liability, to gauntlet-style battles where I need a freely rotating camera.
Powerups are spaced in a feast-or-famine fashion. Ammo can and frequently does run out (curiously, some vehicle forms have infinite ammo, while others do not). Every Transformer has a melee attack that its fairly powerful (doing a double-jump with Megatron or Optimus followed by a mace or axe smash to the forehead is rather satisfying) but most enemies will pick the players off too easily without the comfort of fighting from a distance.
The interesting array of in-game weapons provides a veritable arsenal of choices for maximum destructive efficiency, but the game provides precious little in the way of explaining how to use them, leaving one to experiment, wasting valuable ammunition in the process.
Graphic-wise, have a good video card and plenty of RAM. This game is not for the faint of systems. That said, with my souped-up beast of a computer (Windows 7, Intel Core2Duo Wolfram, nVidia 9800 1GB video card in SLI with a 512mb 9600, 8GB RAM, on top of an X-fx motherboard) even in high texture mode there is no noticeable slowdown or juddery frame-rates.
I have not yet completed the game, but storywise, it seems fairly solid for a game based on a 1980s extended toy commercial. The scared Transformers continuity is respected, which is the most important part. The gameplay is fast, fun, and occasionally, frustrating in the challenges it presents. The checkpoint-based save system does limit its playability somewhat (it can be frustrating to die midway between checkpoints), and aside from minor camera woes and a somewhat unintuitive control system, the game feels fresh and fun. And at less than $40 USD on Steam, it is a steal compared to console prices.
On the online multiplayer side, the game promises DI/DO-cooperative play, which I have not yet tried, and the standard batch of action game online modes, which, again, I have not tried due to my noobness.
If nothing else, this game is a must-have for die-hard Transformers fans. People with no touch, no power, and no love for the original series will find it a solid and acceptable third-person shooter, but certainly not ground-breaking or standout above many of the other games in that genre.