At this point just about everyone knows who the Transformers are. The robots that made children across the world wonder about cars, jets, trains, insects, and dinosaurs got reinserted into pop culture thanks to Michael Bay and his two explosive films that reimagined the mighty bots for the modern day. Unfortunately, more than a few purists were torn by the films because of some unsettling departures from canon, such as a mute Bumblebee, an Optimus Prime with lips, a genital-sporting Devastator, Ebonics-speaking bots, and Shia LaBeouf (although Megan Fox gets a pass) to name just a few. Thankfully the movie's popularity has led Activision and developer High Moon Studios to try their hand at a Transformers game that aims to give fans of the robots in disguise a fun and less unsettling experience rooted in the past. Transformers: War for Cybertron drops you into the Transformers universe as the conflict between the Autobots and Decepticon escalates into the events that led the dueling bots to leave their homeworld of Cybertron to come to Earth. We recently met with Activision and High Moon, who gave us a demo of the game on the Xbox 360, which showed off the Autobots and Decepticon campaigns and showed more promise than we would have expected.
The game's story is split into two narratives that follow the two bot factions as they take shape, with the Decepticon story set before the Autobot story. The Autobot story is set before Optimus Prime assumed the mantle of prime and follows the unassuming Optimus as events unfold and he becomes the greatest leader the Autobots ever had. The Decepticon story follows Megatron, who, unlike Optimus, is well on his way to becoming a robo jerk. The narrative follows Megatron as he sets out to restore Cybertron to what he feels is its former glory, which, not too surprisingly, involves a whole lot of mayhem and destruction. The interesting wrinkle to Megatron's tale is how he gathers together his crew: one of his first recruiting missions has him meeting a promising young bot named Starcream. The Decepticon campaign also shows Megatron clash with Autobot leader Zeta Prime (one guess how that goes).
The demo we were shown highlighted excerpts from the Autobot and Decepticon campaigns. It gave us an idea of what to expect from the third-person action game and made a great first impression. Before we dive into specifics, we'll offer up some general bits of info: the game features a single-player mode, split into two campaigns as we mentioned, as well as an online multiplayer mode that supports competitive and cooperative play. We're especially intrigued by the game's cooperative mode, which supports drop-in, drop-out gameplay for up to two other players so that you can go through the campaign story with two other friends.
The Autobot segment of the demo focused on an early part of the story that set the action up. You will be able to choose one bot to actively control and two others to join your party of three. The segment we saw focused on Optimus, Ratchet, and Bumblebee--all meeting for the first time. One key thing to note about the game, which is a very cool bit, is that the bots have been reimagined in their native Iacon forms, well before they began mimicking cars. High Moon worked closely with Hasbro to settle on a look that is close to the iconic Transformers look but is unique. The result is a very smart, futuristic look for the vehicles that everyone transforms into. The sequence followed the trio as they set out to escort Bumblebee to deliver bad news on the state of the leading bodies of the Autobots. Basically, things are pretty bleak: Zeta Prime has been taken out, and the high council has disappeared. All the three bots can do is head out and try to marshal their forces to deal with the Decepticon threat and help where they can. In the demo, the trio had to reactivate several turrets to help fend off an assault from Megatron's crew.
The race to get to the turrets showed off the stunning metropolis of Iacon, which, despite being under siege, looked fantastic. The journey to the turrets showed off the very cool art direction in the game, which is big on small details, such as showing how the Autobots physically plug into terminals, or even turrets, in order to interact with them. More importantly, the sequence showed off how fluidly the bots switch from vehicle form to robot form, as well as the game's combat mechanics. Basically you'll be able to transform at any time by clicking in the left analog stick, which frees you up to use the robots' other abilities in combat. War for Cybertron plays around with the standard Transformers action formula by mixing up each robot's abilities. Besides the expected melee combat and transforming, you'll be able to use two types of special attacks. One is dependent on resources, namely orbs that you'll collect off of defeated enemies, and the other has a cooldown period you just need to wait out. From what we saw, the resource-dependent attacks are basically different weapons you can pick up (the bots can carry two at a given time and swap them out whenever they find something new). The cooldown attacks were an interesting mix of active and passive abilities. For example, Optimus has a war cry that essentially serves as a damage increase to those near him, while Ratchet has a ray he can use to heal himself or others. The system looks suitably spectacular when you're watching the game, so we're anxious to see how it will play and how you'll combo all the different abilities. The Autobot portion of our demo ended with the massive turrets being reactivated and a Decepticon warship being taken out. The subsequent story cinematic showed off Jetfire, whose history is being tweaked some for the game in order to better fit the story. From what we could see, it's nothing too drastic, just a slightly more logical setup for his joining the Autobots.
The Decepticon sequence showed off Starcream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp in a mission that showed off how jet gameplay will work in the game. The High Moon reps noted that the strafing, hovering, and boosting mechanics were inspired by old-school gem Crimson Skies. The flight action looked sharp and was a smart showcase for the game's variety. The level featured a mix of open spaces that were conducive to proper flying and more cramped areas that required a bot change or hovering and sniping (both of which seemed to be easy to transition to). We were also able to check out the jet barrel roll special ability, which looks exactly like you'd expect. The sequence also showed off an underground area on Cybertron. The second Decepticon bit we saw showcased a boss fight that pit Megatron, Soundwave, and Breakdown against Omega Supreme. As intimidating as the massive Autobot min city looked, the trio was able to take it out in a lengthy multipart boss fight.
Overall the game looked pretty fantastic thanks to its unique art direction. The reimagined transformers look great and shine because of a host of little touches. Whether it's the hovercars the Autobots turn into, the way the turrets and consoles they interface with change to match their color, or the new look for energon cubes, Cybertron looks to be brimming with activity. Besides the impressive detail and effects, the game's performance is impressive. The hectic action, explosions, and transformations look stellar and zip along at a brisk pace regardless of the onscreen mayhem. The audio was pretty much you'd expect for the special effects and musical score. As far as voice goes, Peter Cullen, geek national treasure of the highest order, is back to bring Optimus to life. Sadly, Cullen is the only classic cast member we recognized, so anyone hoping for some old-school Megatron action is out of luck.
While some of this may sound too good to be true, the game is looking like it just might be the real deal. High Moon's approach is benefiting from no movie to tie in with and a respectable dose of geek love. The results we've seen so far seem to be paying off in the most promising Transformers game we've played in years. We're anxious to get our hands on it, especially the online multiplayer, to see if it plays as good as it looks. Look for more on Transformers: War for Cybertron in the weeks to come. The game is scheduled to ship on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 later this year, with Wii and DS versions of the game, from Next Level and Vicarious Visions, respectively, hitting at the same time.