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Review: ‘Transformers: War for Cybertron’ (XBox 360/PS3)

The “Transformers” franchise has reemerged thanks to Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg?s big-budget film trilogy; however, those of us between 25 and 35 have fond memories of the cartoon series, comics and toys from the ?80s. The original Transformers toys are still WAY cooler than anything today.

Given its popularity during the ?80s home video game console boom, it?s surprising that there have been very few Transformers video games in the last 25 years. That?s going to change thanks to Activision?s “Transformers: War for Cybertron” (“TWC”), which serves as an origin story for our robot heroes and villains and (hopefully) the beginning of a game franchise that pays homage to my youth while serving as a prequel to the films.

TWC takes place on the planet Cybertron, which is ravaged by a war between the Autobot and Decepticon factions. For those who don?t know, the Cybertronian war is an integral part of Transformers lore preceding the Autobots and Decepticons? arrival on Earth. TWC throws you right into the middle of the war and provides a bit of a backstory to some of the familiar faces in the franchise.

In TWC, you play as both Autobots and Decepticons. The Decepticon campaign precedes the Autobot campaign, though you can start with whichever one you want. Each campaign is comprised of six missions. At the start of each mission, you choose between one of three robots, each of which has its (his?) own weapons, abilities and vehicle form. Fans will recognize nearly all of the characters, including Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Ironhide. Since the Autobots and Decepticons have yet to come to Earth, they don?t completely resemble their familiar forms. For example, Soundwave turns into a Cybertronian APC-type vehicle instead of a cassette player. This is cool because you see the robots in their original forms but some of the characters aren?t immediately recognizable, especially in their vehicle forms.

While Activision does a great job of working in many familiar faces, you don?t spend much time fighting against them. Most opponents are nameless grunts, though this can?t really be helped with a finite pool of characters to choose from. There are several boss battles, particularly in the Autobot campaign, where you face off against familiar faces. I was surprised by the final boss battle in both campaigns. It seemed clear that Activision was paying service to fans of the toys, since neither character featured prominently into the cartoons or films.

As far as presentation, TWC is outstanding. I remember seeing a preview of the game in a magazine months ago and thinking, “These can?t be screenshots, there?s no way the game looks that good.” I am happy to say I was wrong. The character models and environments are outstanding. I would have liked more diversity in the environments, though. Most of the time it feels as if you?re playing the same level with different characters. The voice acting is also top notch. Most notably, Peter Cullen reprises his voice as Optimus Prime and does a great job as only he could. The other voice actors do a fine job as well and capture the feel of the dialogue between the characters in the movies and cartoon. The music, while not necessarily bad, is forgettable and damn near impossible to hear. Sometimes I found myself wondering if there was any music at all or if I was losing my hearing.

The gameplay is good but there?s room for improvement. TWC does a great job of giving the player freedom (most of the time) to play as either the robot or vehicle. There are a few missions that require you to play in jet form for large chunks, which is a lot of fun. I would have liked more diversity in the appearance of the jets, though. For example, in one Decepticon mission you choose from Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker, all of whom look exactly the same in jet form. I don?t recall if the toys/ cartoon versions all looked the same, but it would have been nice to mix it up. The controls work very well and have a run ?n? gun feel, almost like Gears of War or Mass Effect 2. Weapons run on limited ammunition and there are different types of weapons to acquire, from machine guns to grenade launchers to shotguns and pistols, but youwill frequently run out of ammo. This gets annoying in the middle of a fight where you?re forced to hunt for ammo crates, although each character has a powerful melee attack. One thing that I found strange is that each character has the same amount of health. One would expect Megatron or Optimus Prime to be far powerful than lesser characters but they?re all pretty even in terms of offense and defense. Each character has four health bars that will drain quickly and, like the ammo, leave you running frantically for health crates. While this keeps the difficulty in check, it takes away from the badass feeling. Also, it would be nice to have an upgrade feature where you can increase the characters? offense and defensive abilities. Maybe in the sequel?!

All in all, TWC is a great game. There are 12 levels and each level will take you about 45 minutes to an hour to complete, so you will get your money?s worth. There is a multiplayer component that I have yet to try and an option of playing through the story campaign with up to two other people. Activision is also releasing new content, including new characters and multiplayer maps, for purchase on Playstation Network and XBox Live. If you are like me and grew up with all things Transformers, then you should check TWC out. It?s not perfect, but it?s very good and I look forward to seeing where Activision goes with a sequel. In the meantime, if you?re hungry for more Transformers video game action, I also recommend checking out Transformers for the Playstation 2 (not the movie version, which I haven?t played). It?s extremely difficult, even on the easiest setting, but it?s a lot of fun and the Tidal Wave boss battle is awesome.

Score: 4 Little Goombas out of 5