Transformers: War For Cybertron isn’t more than meets the eye. It’s obvious in its ambitions, both as a game where players shoot stuff, and as a mash note to Generation Y-ers whose first religious experience was the martyring of a giant red robot who could turn into a truck. It does succeed on both fronts, but not unmitigatedly.
High Moon Studios’ War For Cybertron cuts its continuity close to the universe of the 1980s incarnations, making concessions for accessibility while still catering to hardcore fans. War details the Transformer civil war wherein the Decepticons defeat the Autobots, the population evacuates due to a corruption of its renewable energy source, and the Matrix Of Leadership is created for Optimus Prime when he becomes chief good guy. Shakespeare, it isn’t. Nor should it be. A Transformers game’s only story needs are justification to put certain characters in conflict and to render them as familiar as possible. The game’s 10 chapters—five Decepticon, five Autobot—let you control fan favorites (like the boom-box Soundwave) who appear much as they did 25 years ago, albeit as Cybertron-style vehicles instead of Earth machines.
Cybertron is the source of War’s bigger problems. The game is shiny, which would typically be a boon for a robot-civilization game, but coupled with a monochrome palette, the visuals often obscure the action. The setting also means the Transformers lose their impressive scale. On Earth, juxtaposition with humans emphasizes their size and weight. Here, they’re just part of the landscape.
As a shooter, Transformers is purely about running and gunning, and the lack of strategy causes problems with difficulty-balancing. On medium difficulty, jumping into a firefight will get you killed, even though the most fun to be had is from driving into a circle of enemies before opening fire. This strategy works well in the online vs. multiplayer, though, which speaks in its favor as an enjoyable diversion, if not a serious competitive forum.
It was risky to fund a Transformers game free of the detestable but profitable Michael Bay films, and while High Moon has turned in a solid effort, it’s unknown whether it’ll be successful enough to let the company make an Earthbound sequel that would be even more familiar to nostalgia addicts. Would War For Cybertron be a good game without its license? Sure, but not a great one.