War For Cybertron Hands On Review - Greatest Transformers Game Ever?

"You never know if it’s good until you play the game." This gaming idiom has been repeated countless times by members of the Transformer fandom ever since the first images of High Moon's Transformers: War for Cybertron were released. It has been our mantra to defend against over-excitement in the face of a game that frankly seemed too good to be true.

It’s no wonder we seek to defend ourselves from the heartbreak of another disappointing Transformers game. This franchise’s interactive history is jaded at best. With few exceptions, Transformers gaming has epitomized the failure of licensed properties to be harnessed in to solid gaming. A flood of afterthought games has accompanied the franchise’s live action movie success, ironically producing, arguably, the best Transformer game yet released, Transformes: Revenge of the Fallen: The Game. An underrated game lost to most fans in a flood of schlock.

I was privileged this past week to play a new type of Transformers game, poised to change the franchise forever, and just as fascinating, get a glimpse into the innovative process by witch it was created.

The bottom line is: I’ve played the game, it’s time to get excited.

Let’s be up front about what this game is. It’s a well-tuned 3rd person shooter with a plethora of multi-player options, and a setting/story that, from what I saw, are astonishing. High Moon isn’t trying to re-invent the gaming wheel here, this is not a new type of game. If you didn’t like 3rd person shooters yesterday, this probably won’t change your mind. What the game play is, is tight and well thought out. The dedication to solid game play mechanics oozes out of War for Cybertron.

Putting the game first isn’t just a matter of chronological order here, it’s a philosophy, and it’s what makes this game unique in the history of the Transformers, and most licensed properties in general. War for Cybertron was created as a game to be a game. Every iota of story, cast, and design was built from the ground up to be a part of this game.

Many iterations of the Transformers share characters, almost all have Prime and Megatron, but never before has a game been able to customize its interpretation of the franchise to fit the needs of interactive storytelling and enjoyable play.

No ill fitting primary source plot to fill out with repetitive play. No characters shoehorned into inhibited versions of their original selves, reduced to combo moves, or turned into drones. Each character is here for a reason with a design and function to match. Characters were chosen to fill out the needs of play as well as story, designs streamlined to adhere to game mechanics. Notice the flyer's wings? They’re held further back to increase player visibility. Wonder how Brawl and Warpath made the A list? War for Cybertron needed some tanks.

Having now met the good people of High Moon Studios and toured their, frankly, awesome facility, it’s hard to imagine a better birthplace for not only the new apex of Transformers gaming, but perhaps the future of the franchise. Though they didn’t know it while engineering it, but the story of War for Cybertron would be so well liked by Hasbro that they would declare it to be “Official Canon” for the Transformers.

Now, long time fans know the history of the Transformers fiction well enough to know that the only sustainable Transformers “can/non” is on Megatron’s arm. (Drum riff, please.) Whether or not Hasbro holds its commitment to this new favorite, the good news is that it will hopefully serve as the new standard of quality that Transformers media must live up to.

The story takes its roots in the G1 cartoon and will act as a prequel to the events of that beloved, though aging show. High Moon has succeeded in the nigh impossible task of refining those things that have made the Transformers an enduring cultural icon, and using them to create something familiar and compelling, but new. They leave behind the silly, but with out killing the joy or fun of the universe.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Concept Lead Jim Daley, Lead Artist Ivan Power, (best name ever), and Animation Director Sean Miller. These guys know their Transformers, they had obviously been at least passing fans previous to the inception of this project, but it was clear that the research they had put into the source was no joke.

Many of the developers we talked to seemed as interested in our opinions as long time fans as we were interested in them. There was a feeling of respect for the franchise and it’s legacy, and the team was clearly excited to show the game to people who could appreciate the hard work they had put into so many elements that well-versed fans will find rewarding. Everywhere you look there is a nod to the past or subtle detail it would have been easy to miss, that has been utilized to its full potential.

The walls of the studio were covered in concept images, renders, and level designs. Last time I saw that many Transformers I was at BotCon...or in my basement. But I digress. High moon seriously needs to put out an art book from this game.

After many of our media providers treated fans as an exploitable resource, a foregone conclusion, or an outright annoyance, High Moon’s attitude about the fandom was refreshing and much appreciated.

Know this, my fellow angsty fans, someone at High Moon loves you.

Actually, it’s probably War for Cybertron's Director, Matt Tieger. I could have talked Transformers with him all day. As a matter of fact I tried, they had to drag me out. He likens War for Cybertron to the first Spider-Man movie. A complete journey into the origin of an existing long lived franchise that can be enjoyed on different levels by everyone.

Even if you have do not have any pre-existing interest in the Transformers, this game stands alone as worthy of play. If you are a casual fan, War for Cybertron will be an expanded re-imagining of familiar and memorable themes from Transformers past. Devoted fans will find a Transformers gaming experience unlike any other, full of nods to the past, expansion of underdeveloped themes, and faithful portrayal of our beloved robots in disguise.

And then to top off all this gushing Transformers love, they actually let us play the slagging thing!

It looks amazing, we’ve all seen the shots. It was indicated that the Xbox 360 and PS3 version will not differ in graphics.

Once in control of your character the game is totally immersive. The love that has been put into creating Cybertron as a living real world is evident in every structure and set piece. They could have given me control of a Smurf, and I’d have still have known I was on Cybertron.

Control was so intuitive that I didn’t even know they’d provided us with button maps until I knocked it off the table.

Directional control is tried and true multi analog stick, weapons and abilities on triggers and bumpers. Transformation is toggled by pressing L3. (Fear not fellow heavy stickers, there is another control map which moves Transforming off the stick.) Transformation was placed there in an effort to make transforming something you could seamlessly integrate into play, without sacrificing control or attack. R3 activates your melee attack.

Melee involves your arm transforming into something painful looking and smacking your opponents with it. It comes in handy when you run out of ammo. (Which I did frequently, though that might just be because I’m a lousy shot.)

Once you transform into vehicle mode, you will be in a “hover mode” that will control much like your robot mode. Each vehicle type has its own weaponry. When you wish to accelerate forward, your wheels will contact the ground, or your jets will fire and your character will assume a traditional vehicle control scheme. Transformation is an organic and intuitive part of play. With some practice I would expect to seamlessly transform to fit given situations as often as a real Transformer. The world is built to give you valid non-gimmick reasons to transform.

I can’t wait to run through the co-op portion of this game. The three character dynamic is fun even without cohorts, but with friends this game is going to be magic. The drop-in, drop-out online play will allow friends to join another game in progress seamlessly, and drop out again, with play unbroken.

The multi character theme does more than just provide boots for your friends to fill. High Moon very astutely observed that there is a consistent theme of “Team” in the Transformers. This grouping allows for better dialog and storytelling, as well as giving the whole game a more authentic Transformers feeling.

What limited in-game dialog I heard was great. It should be noted that previous audio clips we’ve featured are test tracks and are not the final performances. Tremendous effort was expended to get each character just right. On occasion whole characters were re-casted and re-recorded because the desired effect was not achieved. The sound effects got no less attention. All transformation noises are all new constructs and vary between character classes and vehicles. I peeked into High Moon’s audio department and found a sound booth with half a car door, a slinky, and a hatchet. I don’t even want to know what sound you make with those.

Everyday at 5pm, everyone at High Moon drops what they’re doing and spends an hour blowing each other apart in multiplayer combat. Nothing like a mandatory daily play session to make you want get a game balanced. The result is tremendous fun. It’s like when I used to play with Transformers toys with another kid, except now things blow up! The game modes I got to try were multiplayer staples. Again the mechanics and effort put into balance really show here.

What really stands out is the customization options. You pick from the existing character models, each of which falls under one of four classes, you can then customize your abilities weapons from an expanding list of modifiable items. Then you can customize the coloration of your Mech to suit you. What you can’t do is play and Autobot character type as a Decepticon of vice versa. This proved to make enemy identification to be too difficult. Also to aid in character identification, weapons picked up alter their coloration to match the character holding them.

The settings you apply to that character class will apply to both and Autobot and Decepticon of that class. Which one you are will be determined by what team you play on.

The only trouble I had during multi-player was with the flyers, the control seemed off in some way. That being said my flying time was brief, and we did not get to control a flying character with in the single player campaign. So I didn’t really get a chance to give flying a fair shot.

It’s hard to separate my fan opinion of the game from my gamer opinion of it. Gaming wise, what I got to see was a solid 3rd person shooter with the promise of great characters and a compelling story. If that sounds appealing, then this game is for you. If that sounds appealing to you and you happen to like the Transformers, then this game should be @#$*ing amazing to you.

Be sure to check out the multi-player video for some character reveals that are too cool for me to mention.

Looking forward to playing this with you online!

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