To be honest, I'm hardly a leading authority when it comes to the Transformers franchise. Up until last week, the name "Omega Supreme" meant nothing to me. If pushed, I'd have probably guessed that it was some kind of new pizza, aimed at the health-conscious middle class masses. It'd have salmon chunks, Moroccan chickpeas and sun-dried tomatoes on it, with some kind of echinacea sprinkled on top. Oh and there'd be an option to get the stuffed crust version - only instead of cheese, the base would be packed with houmous.
As it turns out, I've since discovered that Omega Supreme is the name of a really massive Autobot, a giant of righteous laser death who acts as the last line of defence. For the good guys. I have no idea what he turns into, but it's probably something pretty big and ugly - like Milton Keynes. As I say, I don't know - but if you do, then the chances are that you're a pretty big fan of the popular cartoon series. If that's the case, rejoice - because the 'bot designs in War For Cybertron are heavily based upon those that were used in the beloved Generation 1 series. Forget about what Michael Bay did with the films; High Moon Studios is going back to square one. In fact, it's going back even further, because this game is about the original conflict between the Autobots and the Decepticons: the civil war for the fate of Cybertron.
The last Transformers game, Luxoflux's tie-in with the Revenge of the Fallen movie, used a rather unusual format, offering open arena-like levels with loads of buildings to climb up. It was a strange mix of shooting, close combat, vehicle action and even some quasi-platforming. By contrast, War For Cybertron looks like it'll be much more focused on delivering straight-up, third-person shooter antics. Naturally there will be some of those other elements here too: you can perform melee attacks, clamber about the environment and, obviously, turn into a vehicle. Still, the brunt of the action involves discharging your cannon into someone's face (apologies, I'm currently working on a script for Carry On Transformers, and it's hard to shake the innuendo; I want to digitally recreate Sid James and have him voice a horny Megatron).
Lots of familiar genre staples are on display here: there are grenades, ammo packs and weapons to grab off the floor, and you're limited to holding two different guns at once. If you want to be precise with your violence, you can aim down the sights. The only convention missing is a proper cover-to-cover system; there are lots of scenery items to hide behind, but the up-tempo pace of battle leaves little time for crouching like a coward. There's a run-and-gun feel to the fighting, and there seems to be a lot going on at any given time: in the first stage we were shown, the Siege of Iacon, there were jets and flying bots battling in the skies overhead as Optimus and friends battled Decepticons on the ground. It felt very much like a war game, with the player's actions being just part of a larger struggle.
Activision and High Moon actually showed off several missions at last week's presentation. Some of these sections were given more air time than others, but overall the demos gave a good sense of the flavours on offer. The aforementioned siege level was given the most attention, coming across as a sort of third-person Call of Duty with transforming robots. A series of apparently linear objectives forced the Autobots, still recovering from the death of Zeta Prime, to push through enemy lines to activate a set of anti-air defences. Our demonstrator was using a young, pre-leadership Optimus Prime for this mission, but had he so chosen he could have played as Bumblebee or Ratchet instead. All bots have different strengths and abilities, with unique powers linked to their character: Optimus gets Leadership, a move which grants buffs to all nearby allies, and if I were a betting man (which I am) I'd wager that Ratchet will get some kind of health-dispensing ability. There will always be a choice of three bots at the start of a mission, and the other two machines will be controlled by either the AI or other human players; drop-in co-op for three is supported throughout both campaigns.
Both campaigns, you say? Ah yes, I've so far neglected to mention that there are two separate storylines at play here. The Decepticons kick things off and carry the plot up to "a pivotal moment", then the Autobot thread carries on from that point. You can play the two campaigns in either order, however, so if you want to play as the good guys from the off, that won't be a problem. Still, everyone knows that the villains always get the best lines, and it may well be the case that the Decepticon plotline will have the better story. We'll get to see Megatron in his early years for one thing, and the early days of his alliance with Starscream. If you have a fetish for naughty machines, this will probably excite you no end.
Talking of Starscream, he was the star of the second mission we were shown. While you can switch between your bot and vehicle form at any moment you like, the demonstrator didn't seem to spend much time as a truck in the Optimus section (though it's worth noting that Prime didn't have a trailer; I guess he's still growing at this point in the story). At any rate, the Starscream interlude offered a better indicator of vehicle gameplay: the psychotic F-15 was shown flying through what seemed like a large electronic cavern, alighting at platforms to snipe at Autobots from afar. This stage seemed a bit more freeform than the Optimus one, to the extent that it seemed like more of an option to engage the enemy as a jet. Alternatively, you could fly in then switch to bot form to battle foes from up close. In keeping with his established character, Starscream bitched and moaned throughout the whole episode. From what I've heard thus far, the voice acting in War For Cybertron seems colourful and well-produced - but it's the bad guys who'll steal the show. Why? Because it's fun to hear big machines cuss and growl at each other. The Autobots are too damn noble for my liking.
The final stage we were shown was given the shortest demo of all, lasting barely a minute or two. Still, it proved to be fairly memorable, as it showcased Megatron fighting Omega Supreme. If you've seen the launch trailer for the game you'll have already snatched a fleeting glimpse of this match-up: Omega rises out of a massive crater in the centre of the arena, while a comparatively tiny Megatron dashes for safety behind a series of destructible metal panels. I didn't really get much sense of how the battle plays out, but it looks like it could be quite epic. Supposedly these kind of humongous boss encounters will crop up every time one side corners the other, so with any luck they'll all offer a nice change of scale.
It's still relatively early days for War For Cybertron, but it's looking pretty solid. As I said earlier, I'm no Transformers fanboy, but I'd imagine that if I was I might be quite stoked about what's been shown so far. The Unreal engine's typical shininess seems to be a good fit for the license, and both the bots and their metallic environment have been put together with thoughtful detail. When using something like a control panel, for example, the player character will temporarily merge with the machinery in question, while even objects as simple as large doorways have been decorated with lots of moving electronic parts. In other words, it all feel very robot-y - which is good, considering that the whole place is supposed to be a giant intergalactic factory. If I have a concern, it's that the game looks a tad straightforward. High Moon appears to be following a rather safe, traditional curve, and if that's the case then the gunplay will have to be particularly good if the game is to stand out. Still, the three-player campaign co-op is a nice touch, and with an entire multiplayer mode yet to be revealed, there's still a chance that War For Cybertron will be more than what currently meets the eye.
Transformers: War For Cybertron will be released later in the year on DS, PC, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360