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Transformers War for Cybertron 360 Review

26/11/2010 Thinking Story Gamer Review
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Transformers War for Cybertron 360

Transformers War for Cybertron




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Transformers War For Cybertron 360 attempts to give the iconic giant robots the same dark, fan-pleasing makeover that Batman received in the acclaimed Arkham Asylum. While it isn't quite up to that standard, it is still the best Transformers game yet, and a surprisingly challenging third person shooter.

I love Transformers, the comics were one of the great sprawling narratives of my childhood. Optimus Prime is one of the purest hero figures in fiction, sacrificing his life for the sake of mankind and rising again on not one but at least half-a-dozen occasions.

Also, unlike most potential saviours or heroes, he can turn into a truck.

Anyway, suffice to say I absolutely adore Transformers, even if some of the recent interpretations have been lacking.

While putting tiny humans and giant robots in the same frame is a major part of the concept's appeal, for me the recent movies have erred too far towards human characters, with a very odd emphasis on war-on-terror military carnage with the Autobots and Decepticons treated as little more than big, talking weapons.

I love Transformers, the comics were one of the great sprawling narratives of my childhood.

Someone involved in War for Cybertron either agrees with me, or at least thinks there's a fan base ill-served by films about Shia LeBeouf's love life, because this is a game that cuts out the puny carbon-based lifeforms altogether in favour of pure robot Sci-Fi.

Set in the early days of the eight-million year civil war on Cybertron, the game presents a dark (often too dark, if played during daytime) world of giant mechanisms and huge furnaces.

Arkham Asylum seems a strong influence here. While it's a completely different genre of game - Arkham was about exploration and hand-to-hand combat, while War is a third-person shooter in the mould of Gears of War - they both endeavour to please two audiences usually badly served by licensed games, fans of the property and dedicated gamers. It isn't as great a game as Arkham Asylum, but War for Cybertron broadly succeeds in redeeming Transformers as a videogame brand.

Adult fans can hardly complain that the game treats the war between Autobots and Decepticons as lightly as some of the cartoons, or as incoherently as the movies. If anything, War for Cybertron is a bit too bleak in its pandering to eager grown-ups - with enemy robots smashed into scraps of broken metal and an overbearingly dark aesthetic that sometimes seems to stray into Dead Space territory. While the combination of cold, neon-fierce strips of light and burnished metal makes for a strong hi-tech industrial atmosphere, a little more colour and fun wouldn't have gone amiss in places.

There's a real sense of stepping into the shoes of the toys you played with as a kid.

While the tone can feel a bit grim - perhaps because the game opens with the Decepticon campaign, setting a ruthless, violent mood from the off - there's still plenty of fun to be had, mainly because this is a game that really utilises the fact that you're not playing a human or other biological organism, but a giant robot that turns into a vehicle. It's not just fan-pleasing fun to switch your character from robot to vehicle mode, it's also a game play element: in robot mode you have more combat options but have to trudge around on foot, while in vehicle mode you're swifter but restricted to a single weapon.

The high points come from using your powers as a Transformer to their full potential - charge at a group of enemies in vehicle mode, bombarding them with your built-in cannon, then transform to robot mode (with the requisite flurry of metallic sound and animated, morphing metal) and unleash a powerful melee attack, knocking the remaining enemies to bits as you reel around swinging a mace.

At these moments, there's a real sense of stepping into the shoes of the toys you played with as a kid, of fulfilling a childhood dream.

It's in attempting to be a serious triple-A shooter that War for Cybertron grinds its gears a bit, and the fun level occasionally drops. While the game is certainly very heavily polished, and the controls, combat and weapon variations are as generous as many major shooters, it doesn't quite have the blockbuster spectacle and control of pacing of, say, Gears of War 2.

For grown-up (or even just mid-teenage) Transformers fans, this is the game you've been waiting for.

In trying not to be too lightweight, the game occasionally tips from challenging into over-bearing, a trudge between waves of tough, repetitive enemies. Most players will battle their way through the more grievous skirmishes eventually, and very skilled shooter fans will probably breeze it, but War for Cybertron does at times feel like a bit of a slog, punishing rather than demanding.

Which is not to take away from the game's considerable merits. War for Cybertron is a worthy investment for anyone looking for a polished, enjoyable SF shooter, but for grown-up (or even just mid-teenage) Transformers fans, this is the game you've been waiting for: from the control system that gives a palpable feel of playing a malleable killer robot, to the arcane continuity references and spot-on voice acting, this game drips with love for these characters and their stories.

For those fans, myself included, this is an absolute must-have.

Written by Mark Clapham

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Mark Clapham writes the Story Gamer column.

"I love a good story. Games tell many different stories: the stories told through cut scenes and dialogue, but also the stories that emerge through gameplay, the stories players make for themselves."

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