Every child of the 80s wants to play a brilliant Transformers video game. The dream would be something based on the amazing movie, complete with rock soundtrack, cheesy dialogue and classic robot designs. Hotrod would pull apart the Matrix and I'd shed a tear as Optimus Prime turns grey and dies. That doesn't really look likely, but then neither did ever seeing a great Transformers game. While it's got a few issues, some of which could have been easily avoided, War for Cybertron is without doubt the most impressive Transformers game I've ever played - and yes, that includes that PS2 release that no one bought despite being excellent. It makes smart use of the license and rekindles childhood memories long lost under a scruffy beard.
Transformers fans know they should love the Autobots the most, but those goody two shoes can get a little righteous from time to time. Thankfully developer High Moon Studios has wisely created two separate, but chronological, campaigns in War for Cybertron. The first follows Decepticon leader and all-round megalomaniac Megatron as he tries to take control of the Transformers home planet, Cybertron, with the help of ultra powerful, corrupting Dark Energon. Energon, as all Transformers geeks know, is essentially robot petrol, and the dark variety gives the user enhanced abilities.
On the flip side you have the Autobot campaign, with the friendly bots being ordered about by everyone's favourite truck, Optimus Prime. While this second campaign is a bit more generic in terms of plot, which more or less amounts to 'being the good guys', the Autobots have been given a more entertaining series of missions and encounters. Either campaign can be chosen from the outset, but I found playing them in order (each spans five chapters) made more sense.
War for Cybertron is played from a close-in third-person viewpoint and does away with any cover system mechanics in favour of a more traditional run and gun approach to gameplay - and plenty of large crates to hide behind. Your standard fire can be aimed more precisely at the press of a button, and there are grenades and melee attacks on offer too. A huge variety of weapons can be picked up and used, although you can only carry two at a time, while special abilities allow you to use stored energon to dash, drain enemy health to replenish yours, perform a whirlwind attack and more.
Before each chapter you get to choose which Transformer you wish to play as, and with the game built around three-player co-op, each has a different class and skillset. You've got scientists, who can heal comrades; scouts, who are quick and can temporarily disable enemies using EMP; soldiers are the heavy hitters; and leaders turn into the coolest vehicles. In competitive multiplayer matches leaders also serve as ability buffs, improving your side's capabilities while hampering the opposition's. Co-op play is brilliant, with the different classes making for a real team experience - one that's much more fun than playing alone.
Transformers wouldn't be transformers if you couldn't turn from a walking robot into a vehicle. One button press makes your bot's bulky body twist and turn until it becomes a drivable vehicle. It's accompanied by that incredibly cool transformation sound and doing so while in mid-air simply never ceases to be great fun. There's a whole load of stuff that makes a good video game, but for Transformers fans, these stylish moves will almost be worth the asking price alone.
Jets can fly about and cars can zoom around the surface, while some of the bots that can't take to the skies as planes can hover for a limited time. Although many of the environments aren't exactly open, vehicles never feel cumbersome to control, and it's generally a joy to speed from point A to B. Collision detection issues did cause my hulking robot to become stuck on the scenery on a few occasions, forcing me to return to the last checkpoint, but thankfully these save locations are frequent.
Enemy variety is solid, meaning fire-fights don't become tedious, but there's nothing especially clever about the combat. Other than being able to switch between humanoid and vehicle forms, War for Cybertron is quite a basic, old-school shooter. It's not an easy game though, with ammo in unusually short supply and enemies able to take you out with a few well aimed head shots - playing cooperatively is definitely the way to go. Early on in the Decepticon campaign things plod a little too, with the game only really getting into its stride from chapter three. But it definitely picks up, throws in some brilliant touches for hardcore Transformers fans and plenty of awesome set pieces.
Transformers fans and shooter aficionados alike will get a lot of fun out of War for Cybertron's two campaigns, but for many players the game's true value lies in its competitive multiplayer game modes. Quite how and why it works so well is something of a mystery, as there's nothing here that stands out as terribly fresh or new, but it's superb fun. The classes each offer something that makes them worth considering, but there's no steep leaning curve and the ability to flick between robot and car adds a surprising amount of depth to the combat.
What this says about me as a gamer, I don't know, but I got my transforming kicks by playing as a scout. The invisibility perk allowed me to get up close and melee enemies, which could be combined with a quick shotgun blast if one blow wasn't enough to create scrap metal. Sadly the scientist, which offers health support to team mates, is woefully weak. You can stay high in the air most of the time, using missiles to take out enemies, but when you try to assist from ground level it seems almost impossible to stay alive for more than a few seconds. With a CoD-like levelling system, some excellent game modes (including Battlefield-like Conquest) and Horde/Firefight style Escalation, shooter fans who happen to enjoy the odd transforming robot will find a lot to sink their time into here.
After the visual letdown of the two recent Transformers games based on movies, it's great to finally have a game that does the franchise justice. There's a largely valid argument that much of the game resembles a metallic Gears of War, but that's not exactly a bad thing. The numerous locations look great, if a little unappealing (that's robot architectural design for you), and the bots all have a more traditional appearance, rather than the insect-like aliens we saw in the Michael Bay movies. There's some spot-on voice work here, too, with Megatron and his cronies all bantering with each other, but it's Peter Cullen's Prime who steals the show. He's just awesome. A more memorable collection of tunes would have made for an even slicker Transformers experience, but you can always stick on the original movie's soundtrack for extra nostalgia.
I'm a huge Transformers fan, so take that into account, but I really enjoyed War for Cybertron. It's the first game I've played that nails the personality of the bots and it genuinely delivers a solid gaming experience alongside the nostalgia. When played alone the lack of ammo and punishing enemies can cause frustration, but get together with some friends, or go online and play as teams, and you'll want that Optimus Prime bed again - only this time hopefully your mum won't be able to say no.