Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Transformers: War for Cybertron

“Cybertron.  Our home.  For generations it has been a peaceful world, until pride and a lust for power divided us.  Now we fight, enemies who were once brothers.”  So laments Peter Cullen in his legendary ‘god voice’ for Optimus Prime in Transformers: War for Cybertron, the rare video game in a multimedia franchise that epitomizes everything nerds adore about that series.  Video game adaptations of movies or cartoons often fall short of their sources’ glory, but WFC shatters that tradition of disappointment, going so far as to surpass the later entries in Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy (soon to be quadrilogy), making it a worthy prequel to the excellent 2007 action film.  Developer High Moon Studios infused WFC with the series’ irresistible male appeal that transcends generations, focusing on robots smashing each other and wisely stripping the story of the annoying humans that weighed down ROTF and DOTM.  This is a nigh perfect game that will please not only Transformers fanatics but also those who can’t distinguish an Autobot from a Decepticon.

In breaking from my traditional, lengthy narrative paragraph, I will mostly defer to the opening cinematic of WFC, because it so brilliantly encapsulates the game’s conflict and overall production values.  WFC is a prequel to the Bay films and animated TV series, chronicling in detail the civil war that embroiled the Transformers’ home planet and impelled them to forge a new beginning on earth, where they’d gain renown as the Robots in Disguise.  The game’s early events are told from the perspective of the evil Decepticons, whose plots are spearheaded by the corrupt and power-hungry Megatron.  Against the will of the Autobots and the jealous Starscream, Megatron has obtained a mighty energy source called Dark Energon, which he conspires to use in the reconstruction of Cybertron to his utopian ideal, viz. a world rid of factions where the Decepticons can rule supreme without viable opposition.  The game also details how Optimus comes to be the Autobots’ last Prime and takes leadership in the vacuum left by their former head’s demise.   Character development is paper-thin as always, leaving players with a monumental yet downright simplistic clash between good and evil, which is exactly why people love Transformers – it’s stupid, escapist, comic book fun, best enjoyed on a large monitor with heavy doses of popcorn.  True to its heritage, the game also has a good deal of comic relief conveyed through hilarious if corny dialogue.  “It’s really quiet down here… too quiet.”  “And yet still preferable to your incessant chatter!”  Like the first movie in the series, WFC has a well-tuned, consciously juvenile sense of humor, something that the painfully serious DOTM threw out the window a year after the game’s release.

WFC is a visually breathtaking product that can easily compete with any of the Halo games for the level of detail and motion it can support on screen at a given moment.  The mechanical carnage ensuing from robots being wrecked leaves something to be desired, especially when compared with the extremely detailed, CG destruction in the movies, but everything else is almost jaw-droppingly impressive, from the background animations and character design to the extensive ‘acting’ by A.I. characters and the transformations themselves.  The art direction attractively blends the Generation One and Bayformer styles, fusing the colorful, cartoonish figures admired by old fans with the steely armor and gritty atmosphere that have won over new followers.  The sound effects are superb as usual for the franchise, and the voice actors do a great job with their parts.

Other reviewers have accurately described WFC as a Transformers-Gears of War hybrid, a 3rd-person shooter in which the player is pushed to the screen’s side and must rely on environmental cover to survive.  The main difference between the two games is obviously the component of driving in Transformers, which enables players to swiftly dart between pillars and formations to take shelter from enemy fire.  Complementing this mechanic with a broad selection of short- to long-range weapons and special abilities, WFC executes the combination of driving and shooting just about perfectly, giving players a broad array of ways to approach their battles and ensuring that the campaign is replayable for at least a few times.

Finally, I must briefly compliment the multiplayer mode included with the game.  Although I’m not an Xbox Live Gold subscriber and WFC lacks system-link support, I did manage to join the online mayhem one weekend and found the system to be quite intuitive and unique.  Like the Star Wars Battlefront games (the 3rd of which was just announced at E3), WFC employs a class-based model that divides Transformers into tanks, trucks, jets, and cars, all of which the player can customize aesthetically and practically to suit his preferred battlefield strategy.  Because the gameplay merges frenetic shooting and vehicle navigation, players waste minimal time running around the map looking for opponents and action is far more frequent than in many other shooters.  As an outlet for competitive gaming, WFC is a fine alternative to the more slow-paced, online matches that dominate Halo servers.

Transformers: War for Cybertron is far from the most revolutionary and intellectually challenging game in its storytelling, but it is exceedingly well designed and will greatly entertain the average shooter or Transformers fan, whether his car identifies as an Autobot, Decepticon, Coexisticon, or none of the above.  You may lose your faith in Dreamworks, but never in this game.  From here, the fight will be your own.

Final rating: 9/10

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