The Transformers series is one with a lot of history, and in the world of gaming the more history a franchise has the more problems it tends to run into. After all, there's only so much developers can fit into a game. It would need to have all the popular characters, settings, and drama that makes the series so successful, while at the same time making the game enjoyable for anyone new to the series. On top of that there's the whole 'transforming' thing, as the Autobots and Decepticons both share the ability to turn into vehicles on the spot. There's a lot of potential for things to go wrong, and most fans are well away that other Transformers titles haven't been so successful for a number of these reasons. So how is it that Transformers: War for Cybertron manages to do everything right?
Most of the time, when developers have ever sought to bring the Transformers from their cartoon roots to a videogame format, they've opted to settle them on Earth. It's where most of their battles take place after all, and where almost all of the storyline is based. War for Cybertron immediately breaks this trend by attempting to bring the home world of the Transformers, Cybertron, to life. The game starts amid the civil war between two Transformer factions, the Autobots and the Decepticons, letting players take control of notable characters through missions designed to explain the back story of the Transformers world.
To the developer's credit, they did a wonderful job at making a world that is made up entirely of robots and metal feel very alive and natural. Much of this is due to the games art style, but having characters that look like they belong in the world helps too. Players control their chosen Transformer much like any old third person shooter, though oddly enough there is no real cover system. Instead, each Transformer has its own special abilities such as dashing, cloaking, or hovering, oriented around what 'type' of machine they are. There's also a melee button which can be used in a wide variety of ways, including mid air.
The real bread and butter of the game though is the actual robot-to-vehicle transformations, which are fluid and extremely easy to control. Moving from third person into a tank and back into a robot is incredibly satisfying, and even better is the fact that each transformation feels so well designed for its class. Succeeding as a Transformer doesn't mean just sitting around as a car for the car parts, then switching for the shooting bits. It means being able to navigate both modes, for offensive and defensive purposes. And being able to do so freely is what turns War for Cybertron from a 'good' game to a 'great' game.
Unfortunately there are a few things that keep it from turning into an 'excellent' game. Some fights can feel a little repetitive, and though the game tries its hardest, the third person shooter aspect of it just doesn't feel quite as honed as it should. Part of this may be the lack of a real cover system that most similar games have adopted, but it ultimately boils down to many of the fights either being an overwhelming victory or accidental defeat. Not enough parts of the game truly challenge players, and while the ride is incredibly fun it also winds up being just as short.
Graphically the game is extremely well designed, taking a very wide range of classic Transformers characters and bringing them to life in an art style that really honors the G1 retro feel. Even more impressive is the sound, as each character is just as defined by their iconic voices as they are visuals. Heavy hitters such as Optimus Prime and Starscream sound great, but even better is seeing the lesser known characters contribute just as solid performances. In a series really defined by its audio cues, players couldn't ask for anything more.
Where Transformers may disappoint in length, it certainly makes up for in multiplayer modes. Online versus modes are very well fleshed out, featuring a class/level system that feels like a nicely blended mix of Modern Warfare and Battlefield. For those less interested in fighting other players, War for Cybertron also has Escalation maps that pit players against large waves of opponents. It's a lot of variety for sure, which is nice because the game doesn't exactly play like a traditional shooter. Classes and transformations alone make the online worth experiencing, and the fact that all of online is very teamwork-oriented is a massive bonus.
Despite its faults, Transformers: War for Cybertron winds up being an absolutely fantastic game. Any fan of the series should find it to be fun, but even better is finding it to be informative, detailing the characters that the animated series never really covered. Co-op and online multiplayer modes also extend the game's life significantly, which is great because the only thing better than being a killer truck is hanging out with your killer jet friend. Though a bit short, War for Cybertron really is a solid game that finally does the dynamic world of the Transformers justice.