Whatever your opinions about the quality of the Michael Bay Transformers movies, it’s hard to deny that they’ve pushed the envelope insofar as what’s possible with digital filmmaking and CGI. You can’t really say that for the most recent Transformers games, though. Maybe it’s because they’ve been tied to movie release dates but the few interesting concepts they presented have been buried under half-baked gameplay and presentation.
Out in a few short weeks, the upcoming War for Cybertron game looks like it’s going to surpass those games. First of all, it’s not linked to the movies. Instead, it harkens back to the original cartoon series, affectionately called G1 by hardcore fans, and serves as a prequel to that show. Secondly, it takes place entirely on Cybertron so the developers have more creative freedom to present their vision of the Robots in Disguise. War for Cybertron’s being developed by High Moon and their vision differs a little from other interpretations of the Autobots and Decepticons than we’ve seen before. In both robot and vehicle form, the new designs look sleeker and more futuristic. So much so, that Hasbro’s turning the video game designs into toys.
WFC’s story takes place during the conflict that drove both factions of Transformers from their home planet. In the introductory levels I saw in the demo, Optimus isn’t even the leader of the Autobots yet. It’s a robot named Zeta Prime who leads the good fight against the Decepticons, until he falls in battle. Players will get to see the two most popular Autobots–Bumblebee and Optimus–meet for the first time and will also see Optimus’ first uneasy moments as leader. There’s tons of similar fan service like this in WFC––including a fully translatable Cybertron alphabet and scenes showing the dissolution of the hinted-at friendship between Jetfire and Starscream––so any fears that the dev studio doesn’t grok the source material should be laid to rest. Speaking of Starscream, the Decepticon single-player campaign actually takes place before the Auotobots’. You’ll see the fighter plane Transformer join with the villainous robot faction, as well as learning Megatron’s motivation for being so doggone evil. Oddly, it’s bad-guy leader Megatron’s desire for efficiency that leads him to try and subjugate the robot homeworld. He thinks that free will is unproductive and a waste of time. In order to get the muscle he needs, he goes hunting for the mythical Dark Energon power source. In the Decepticon
The gameplay follows a standard third-person action game template but looks more fluid and polished than more recent Transformers games. High Moon reps said that they focused on crafting responsive gameplay first and then tweaked it to fit inside of the Transformers universe. One of the mechanics you’ll see are class-specific upgradeable abilities like War Cry. Leaders like Optimus can use this team-buffing ability to increase the strength of their squad’s attacks. If that sounds like there’s going to be multiplayer in WFC, then you read right. The Leader class will be mostly comprised of heavy-duty vehicles like trucks–there will also be scientists–essentially repair-dispensing medics who’ll also be able to cloak– and soldiers, the slow-moving high-impact tanks who change into, um, tanks. You’ll be able to designate any of these classes (and more) when you make your own Transformers robot with custom transformations.
With all this going on, War for Cybertron just might be the game to rekindle your Transformers love in the video game arena.