Preview: Transformers: War for Cybertron (single player)


What have you heard about Transformers: War for Cybertron? That it's kind of like Gears of War, except that it has Autobots and Decepticons instead of muscle-bound meatheads for main characters? Well, that's not far from the truth. It is a third-person shooter, and it does feature your favorite walking, talking automobiles in lead roles. Just leaving it at that would be selling High Moon Studios' work short, though. And they have done a lot of work on this game. It shows, in everything from the art direction and attention to detail to the tight game control and inviting multiplayer action. But what would really sell this game short is gamers writing it off as just another movie license game.

It's not just another movie license game. If there's one thing I came away with from my visit to High Moon Studios last week, it's that these guys are passionate about Transformers as fans, and about making a good game, as fellow gamers. Because of this, I think Transformers: War for Cybertron will surprise you.

Transformers fans need not worry about High Moon Studios as they're also followers of all things Transformers. In fact, it seems that they're fans of the highest order. Their work on the franchise's pre-history is so good that Hasbro, owner of the IP, got behind High Moon's work and has made their story the official back story of Transformers. Hasbro also loved their robot designs so much that they're also making them official, in the form of toys. If you're still not impressed, get this: the guys at High Moon took some strange glyphs from a single screenshot of an episode of the cartoon and reworked them into a real working font and in-game alphabet.

War for Cybertron tells the story of the Transformers' world, and marks the first time fans will get to fully explore Cybertron in any form, whether it be in games, comics or even television and film. The stage is set in the last parts of the Transformers long-running civil war, right before they decide that they need to leave their home planet.  Fans will tell you that this syncs up nicely with the beginning of the first generation of Transformers cartoons.

There are two separate campaigns, one Decepticon and one Autobot, and they're totally distinct from one another. This means different stories, different levels, and different characters. The Deception story is actually a prequel to the Autobot campaign, though you can choose to play them in either order. The Decepticon side focuses on leaderMegatron, who believes he is trying to reset Cybertron to its former glory. Of course, the Autobots do not see it the same way, opting for freedom and choice instead. The line is clear: the Decepticon's story is about the quest for power; the Autobots' story is about hope and freedom.

I was able to play a level from each side in single player. I got to control Bumblebee, Optimus and Ratchet in a couple of experiences that felt really short. Maybe I was having that good of a time. Or maybe it was that on one stage, which featured a high-action, bullet-heavy stand-off on a grand staircase, I was prevented from going any further after clearing a checkpoint.

No worries. In that short time I was able to see and appreciate several game aspects. There's very tight movement and overall control in T:WfC, with aiming that compares nicely with the best third-person shooters out there. Some fellow game press in attendance said that the aiming felt a bit loose, but I had no problem with it. Almost all of the button mapping as just as you'd expect from any other third-person shooter: reload, jump, and a dedicated grenade button are on the face, triggers aim and fire, and sticks move. There is one key move mapped to a control that you might feel is unnatural, though. You're free to transform at any time you'd like by clicking in the left analog stick. While it was fine for me, those that have put in a lot of time towards games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will be expecting that button to do make your character run. Even I caught myself expecting a run at first, but once I got into freely switching forms based on my combat needs, I really appreciated the instant access that this control provided.

Every and every level is a three-player co-op experience, and each support the constant ability for jump-in/jump-out three-player cooperative play. You'll always have a choice of three characters in every level, and they all vary in skill and strength. Some of the levels differ in design, and urge you to play as a different vehicle type. For example, some of the levels have you playing as jets, with the game play centering around totally different ideas than ground-based game play.

Even though you're in huge robots, the world is also huge, which plays with your sense of scale a bit, but also makes War for Cybertron feel pretty grand. Cinematic, even. You got a real in-your-face sense of power when taking down enemies, even in the distance. Bam. You feel it. Enemies go down big, too. Whether I was in big, open spaces like the previously mentioned grand staircase, or in tight corridors, it felt like my surroundings had much more impact in setting a real sense of location. The transform-y locales didn't feel like set pieces or back drops, and that's really a tip of the hat to the art and design team. You have to remember that no one has ever seen Cybertron before; these guys came up with all of this themselves.

Even with the short amount of time I had with single player, I did pick up a bit of strategy for War for Cybertron. For example, I learned that large enemies drop large guns that you can equip. (The equipping looks fantastic -- you actually transform into the weapon in a sort of fusing process.) In the stand-off section, I found that taking them out first to nab their guns for the added firepower helped a lot. What also helped were the large guns' snappy aim assist ability, which you won't find on your standard weapons.  In another session I was up against a mini-boss of sorts. This Decepticon War Machine was placed in the center of a round room, leaving me to strafe around and take him out while dodging his projectiles and attacks. Its worst attack is a light beam that chases you around the room. I quickly realized that transforming into my car form (as Bumblebee) let me use the car's boost to quickly get out of the way of the beam. Once clear, I switched back to bot form, took out the legs of the boss, and then took the core down. Fun stuff.

For as great as the short single player session was, High Moon teased us plenty with what's to come with some hands-off demonstrations. I'm still looking forward to trying the campaigns with the assistance of two friends in co-op. That's sure to be a blast. One of the things I'm really hung up on is the massive boss battles they keep showing off. I saw a quick peek at one during the 2010 Game Developer's Conference, and last week I saw another. This latest one features Trypticon as the final boss in the Autobot campaign. I only saw a few minutes of a section that was said to be three quarters of the way through the boss fight, but it fully impressed. There was certainly a huge wow factor even though they were quick to shut off the action at only two minutes in. Optimus, Ironhide and Bumblebee were all teamed up against this huge boss, but scale-wise, they looked if they didn't have a chance at all. Trypticon was massive, with his gleaming metal looking body almost photo-realistic at times. I can't wait to dig into one of these boss battles.

Transformers: War for Cybertron has a lot going for it. For the Transformers fan, the appeal is obvious. But I think that even those with a casual interest will be pulled in after watching a bit of it in action. I think that the game is good enough to draw in those that just like shooters, and have little to no interest in Transformers. Of course, I'd like to play a bit more of the game to make a definitive call, but what I've seen so far of T:WfC was surprising and impressive. I think we'll finally have that good Transformers game with this one.

Thankfully I got to spend much more time with the multiplayer aspect of T:WfC. Check it out now!

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Dale North
Dale NorthFormer Dtoid EIC   gamer profile

I am Destructoid's former Editor-In-Chief. I love corgis. I make music. more + disclosures



Filed under... #Activision #Previews



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