Transformers: War for Cybertron Playstation 3 w/ DLC Video Game Review

Publisher: Activision
Developer: High Moon Studios
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: June 22, 2010

    For the first time in.... forever, I'm pretty sure, a Transformers video game has been created that, although "G1-centric" in the fact that most of the events and characters are centered around the original series, it pretty much stands on its own. The video game first and NOT a toy series-- not the other way around. This has created advantages for the developers of War for Cybertron, given that they have more creative freedom and time to do what they want to in a Transformers game-- and it shows.
    As with most Transformers games, the genre of game for War for Cybertron is a third-person shooter. Most of the shooting controls are pretty standard, from what I hear (I don't play many shooters, as I tend to be pretty bad at them)-- but standard in a good way. They apparently borrow very heavily from Gears of War, but add in an additional control to toggle transformation by pressing in on the right analog stick. Sadly, I think this is the only weakness High Moon Studios has with their control scheme-- it's VERY easy to accidentally transform with the controls this way, and often at the most inopportune times. Thankfully, this can simply be corrected in the Options Menu by selecting a different control scheme from the default, and then all is right with the world.
    I'll go through each of the various aspects to the core gameplay first. First off, everyone has an Energon "Health Meter" in the upper-left corner of the screen, which consists of anywhere from three to six bars, depending on who you're playing as in Multiplayer (though in Single Player, there's always four bars). If you get hit and take cover, after a short period of time you'll begin to regenerate health up to the end of your current "bar". If you get damaged to the point where you drop below a particular bar, however, you won't be able to regenerate that health until you find an Energon pickup later in the level. In the upper-right corner is displayed your current weapon and its ammo-- any ammo pickup is applied to all your current weapons. All of the standard shooter guns are here-- grenade launcher, sniper rifle, machine gun, big blaster, etc.-- though of course, they have more "Transformer-y" names. Your transformer has two different interchangable weapons they can carry in robot mode, and one fixed weapon they can also use in vehicle mode. Beyond just going faster or being used for specific vehicle segments of levels, this offers a great strategic element-- out of ammo in your traditional form? Simply convert to vehicle mode and continue the fight on that way! Each Transformer also has two different special abilities, which vary from 'bot to 'bot. One is able to be activated by collecting a certain amount of energon bits from defeated enemies, while another just regenerates its use over time. These abilities can vary from simple dashes to devastating punch attacks to cloaking, so each Transformer is truly unique. You also have a fairly strong melee attack in robot mode if things get rough.
    As far as actual combat goes, it's fairly standard (but good) shooter fare-- the targeting reticle in the middle of the screen will turn red when an enemy is right in your sights, and if someone's firing on you outside of your field of vision, a brief red arrow will appear showing you the direction from which you're being shot at. Cover isn't used as extensively here as in most other shooters, the rationale for it being that you can simply use your vehicle mode to outrun many attacks, which is true for the most part-- your vehicle mode can also strafe, as every Transformer has a "hover" variation of their vehicle mode which makes for easier shooting. Still, overall you'll probably want to stick to your robot mode in most combat situations as it's a bit more versatile. Your enemies usually have vehicle modes too, which they use to good effect-- they really pull no punches in reminding you that this is a TRANSFORMER war, not a human war, and they fight as such.
    The graphics are simply jaw-dropping, especially in certain areas like orbital stations (see above picture), plazas in huge Cybertronian cities, and in boss fights. In addition, pretty much every enemy in the game transforms to some extent, and even when they're "locked" in one mode, you can still see panels shifting slightly on them, almost as if they were "breathing" to some extent. Even the world around you transforms-- doors will transform out of your way, roads will transform out in front of you (which is REALLY awesome), elevators will transform into crawling death machines, and the like. It really makes Cybertron come alive and feel like its own planet, as opposed to just a "metal Earth". However, the one downside to this is that, though this is certainly a canonical and accurate depiction of Cybertron, it's never been known for its varied environments in fiction. There's some attempt to mix things up, but you're always metal entities fighting in a giant metal playground, which can make some enemies a little hard to see sometimes given the extraordinary attention to detail. The "red neon lights= Autobot, purple neon lights= Decepticon" differentation is always there, though, which makes targets a bit easier to pick out than they otherwise would have been. The sound is just about as impressive, amping up and getting quite epic when the fight sequences commence.
    The enemies are also fairly varied, running the gamut from anywhere from simple car and jet troopers to cloakers to heavy "brutes" with shields and clubs (their weakness is in their back) to REALLY big tank-bots that require a ridiculous amount of shots to take down. The only downside is that the enemy types are re-used for the Autobot and Decepticon sides, the only major differences being the colors emitted from their chassis and some minor aesthetic changes.
    As for the single-player campaign, it's divided into 10 "chapters" (aka levels)-- 5 Decepticon, 5 Autobot. Chronologically the Decepticon campaign comes first-- and it is a bit simpler and eases you into the game mechanics a bit more-- but you can start either campaign right off the bat, so you can play through as the Autobots first if you so desire. There are three difficulty settings for the Campaign chapters-- Easy, Normal, and Hard-- and unlike most games, these really ARE descriptors of how tough each difficulty level is. With the exception of a few brief segments, easy really IS easy (even for a guy who isn't experienced at shooters), hard is pretty punishing (though not ridiculously so-- they're still beatable if you don't pull off EVERYTHING perfectly), and normal is somewhere in the middle. For those of you fretting about only 10 levels, fear not-- 4 of the 5 levels for each campaign will take about an hour to beat each, with the fifth for each campaign being the big boss level (10-15 minutes for each of those, in my experience). Though it's not exactly a LONG shooter game, it's certainly a longer experience than you'd think from just 10 levels. There's also several achievements/trophies and hidden allegiance symbols to find that will give you incentive to back to the chapters multiple times to find/do everything. In the chapters, you'll travel from orbital stations to Cybertron's core to prison complexes, so for a metal world, they at least try to vary things up as much as is reasonable for story purposes. The story itself, though fairly basic, is still solid, and picks up a bit more in the Autobot campaign than in the Decepticon campaign, where it drags a little during the last couple of chapters. Some elements aren't explained all that well for non-Transfans playing the game-- some bits practically require you to pick up the game's companion book, Transformers: Exodus-- so some things may seem a bit weird for the uninitiated, but it's all pretty backed up pretty solidly in Transformer canon (except for Dark Energon, which is new to the Transformers universe and is honestly a bit cliche).
    In each level, you can pick between one of three different set characters to play as-- either the AI or online friends can play as the other two. The AI does a competent job, but not as good as a human, and it's really a blast going through entire levels with your online buddies. The banter between the different characters is also very well-written, often humorous, and really helps build up the characterization of the 'bots you're playing or fighting.
    At the end of each level, there is, of course, the requisite boss. These range from "normal" Transformers we all know and love like Soundwave and Starscream to giant defense systems/robotic organisms to each side's ace-in-the-hole, Omega Supreme and Trypticon at the very end of each campaign. Some of the boss fights-- like Soundwave-- are pretty darned creative in how you're supposed to approach them, while many are of the standard "dodge their attacks until they leave themselves open for damaging for a few seconds before repeating the process" type you find in many games. Still, this standard method of boss battles is mixed up enough to make most bosses at least interesting, and fighting behemoths like Omega Supreme and Trypticon are surely going to be in gamers' memories for years-- they're REALLY ones to remember, especially Trypticon's. I won't spoil exactly how they go down here, but they're pretty mind-blowing.

    As with pretty much every shooter game today, War for Cybertron has a significant online component that goes far beyond just playing the main campaign with your friends, and is probably where you'll spend the bulk of your game time after you get used to the controls. The first mode is Escalation, in which you can choose from any characters in single-player campaign mode (that are on the side you've chosen to play as) and play with up to three friends through waves of enemies that get increasingly tougher as you progress. Eventually you'll die, it's just a matter of how you long you stay alive-- generally speaking, after about Wave 10 or so things start to get pretty darn tough. What differentiates them from most "fight off the horde" multiplayer game modes, though, is that you can also use energon collected from defeated enemies to purchase powerups-- such as better weapons, more energon/ammo, and the like-- or open doors to areas that allow you access tougher upgrades and expand the playing field. It really helps to mix things up and make the mode more interesting-- though I'd highly recommend you play with a group of three other friends as opposed to just random online people, though. Many strangers online, in my experiences, either drop out of the game too soon for whatever reason or refuse to coordinate and go off on their own-- which is a death sentence for this mode, though once a player is down, you do have a limited time to revive them with a small amount of health if you go right up next to them (though you open yourself up to attack by doing this).
    There's also a "standard" Multiplayer component to the game. As oppposed to the other modes where you play as the characters themselves, here you can just use their chassis and have some limited color-change options, but you're essentially "repainting" a game model and making it your own character. (It does bug me, however, that the name of your character doesn't show up above your avatar in Multiplayer, but rather your online name.) Your characters are seperated by vehicle mode class here, and don't have the same abilities that they do in single-player. You get to pick which abilties they have to start out with, and as you level up (level 25 is the max, though then you can "reset" all your characters and enter "Prime mode" with new achievements and a special badge that appears next to your name). There are standard achievements-- such as destroying so many opponents with a particular weapon or using your vehicle mode weapons against another certain vehicle-- that can help you level up quicker before (and after) you get to Prime Mode, though you still level up REALLY slowly once you get past level 10 or so unless you're playing during a special XP multiplier weekend. As you level up, you can pick from a wider array of tougher and tougher abilities-- they do make a bit of a difference, but not so much so that a "n00b" at a higher level can easily beat an experienced person at a low level.
    The four different classes in Multiplayer are:
    -Leader. All truck/van characters fit into this category. Leaders are the second-toughest units on the battlefield in terms of raw strength, and have many abilties that boost the stats of or help out fellow team members. (List of Leader chassis included in with the initial game: Optimus Prime, Ratchet, Ironhide, Soundwave).
    -Soldier. The straightforward tank brawlers that, though slow, have lots of abilities to dish out a ton of straightforward damage at the enemy. (List of Soldier chassis included with the intial game: Warpath, Brawl, Megatron).
    -Scout. A bit of a weaker class, sportscar Scouts are great for sneaking around in their cloaked mode and hitting enemies in the back. They're also the fastest ground-based class. (List of Scout chassis included in with the initial game: Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Arcee, Breakdown, Barricade).
    -Scientist. The weakest class physically, Scientists are the sole class able to fly in alt mode and have several great special abilites to make up for their fragility, such as the ability to take on the colors and name of the opposing faction for some great back-stabbing action or deploying turrets. They're also the only class that can heal other Transformers. (List of Scientist chassis included with the intial game: Air Raid, Silverbolt, Jetfire, Starscream, Slipstream).
    There are several maps that come with the game, though they tend to be rather symmetrical in their design and not true "masterpieces" like I've heard about the multiplayer map designs of such shooter big hitters like Call of Duty. There are also several different modes of play you can use for each map, including the self-explanatory mainstays of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, as well as:
    - Conquest-- There's three different fixed nodes to control on the board. The more nodes your team controls, the faster the number of points you gain. First team to 400 points wins.
    - Countdown to Extinction-- Your teams take turns between being the defenders and bomb planters. Your goal is either to take the bomb and plant it in your enemy's base (or guard the person who is doing so) or prevent the enemy from planting the bomb in your base.
    - Power Struggle-- One single periodically-moving node is on the map that both sides struggle to control and gains points for when they do so. First team to 400 points wins.
    - Code of Power-- Barely anyone ever plays this, so I don't really have a good feel for it, having only played it once. Teams vie for control over a mega-weapon during timed sessions.
    Generally Conquest seems to be the most popular game mode, given that it gives out the most XP for each match, while Countdown to Extinction and Code of Power tend to barely get any players for whatever reason.
    It's worth noting here War for Cybertron's biggest problem-- connection issues. There are quite often connection issues with various players where they'll drop out without warning (though at least if you drop out, the XP you'll have gained up to that point in the match will be saved). When a host quits, there is also no "host migration" where someone else takes over as the host-- everyone is simply kicked out of the game, which can be a particular problem if the host is a sore loser and quits the game when it's clear he/his side is going to lose. There's also some DLC connection problems, described below. You also don't have the option to host your own game unless there are no games with empty slots currently in progress. These connection issues seem to be more prevalent for some players than others-- I seem to be one of the lucky ones-- and these connection issues can be lessened by making sure you only connect to Regional hosts, but it can still ruin a really good multiplayer session, and unfortunately, it's never been fixed as it's apparently part of the core engine used for the game (the Unreal Engine). It's gotten so bad for some people that they've barely been able to enter any MP sessions at all and have sadly simply given up on those modes.
    There are two DLC packs released for War for Cybertron, both of them focused entirely on Multiplayer and Escalation-- sadly, there are no additions to the stellar single-player campaigns here. Both are $10 U.S., and the contents of each DLC pack are listed below. New character models can either be played as the actual characters themselves in Escalation, or the chassis used with different colors in multiplayer:

DLC pack 1:
New characters:
-Demolishor (Decepticon soldier)
-Jazz (Autobot scout)
-Onslaught (Decepticon leader)
-Scattorshot (Autobot soldier)
-Shockwave (Decepticon scientist)
New maps:
-Havok (Multiplayer)
-Fortress (Multiplayer)
-District (Escalation)
-Forsaken (Escalation)

DLC pack 2:
New characters:
-Dead End (Decepticon scout)
-Zeta Prime (Autobot leader)
New maps:
-Horizon (Multiplayer)
-Sector (Multiplayer)
-Metropolis (Multiplayer)
-Pulse (Escalation)
-Static (Escalation)

    For $10, both of these DLC packs are of moderately good value-- the character models are solid, and the map designs are overall better and more complex than the game's "default" maps. However, there is one significant problem with them, at least when it comes to the maps-- if you're playing with other people who do NOT have the DLC maps you do, it will boot them out (or, conversely, if you're playing with people who have DLC maps you don't, it will boot you out). This is done without warning as soon as the game is launched, and there is no filter option to only play with people who have the maps you have. This is a huge bummer, and given how it seems relatively few people purchased the DLC (especially the 2nd one), this leads to the DLC maps almost never being used, since as soon as they show up as next on the list to play, everyone who doesn't have it will veto the map (which is usually a majority-- hence it's vetoed). Despite playing dozens of games after the DLC pack #2 was released, I only played each multiplayer map once (and Horizon twice). That's a major bummer, and a disincentive to purchase them. Thankfully, all of the "DLC" characters are included (locked) on the initial disc, so there is no such problem when it comes to characters-- if you play against people who don't have your characters, you can still play as your new guys.

    The main PS3/360 console version of War for Cybertron is definitely greatest Transformers video game ever released up to the point of this review (11/10), with great marks across the board. It doesn't reinvent the shooting genre wheel, but it adds a few nice twists to it that could only come courtesy of Transformers fiction. The backgrounds are awe-inspring, many of the fights are memorable, there's a solid (though often brief) story, lots of things to do... multiplayer connection problems are the only real smudge on an otherwise stellar game. If you're enough of a Transformers fan to be reading this review, I highly HIGHLY recommend you pick at least the core game up. As for the DLC, unless you purchased the game soon after it came out and thus were able to take advantage of a robust multiplayer community, given the DLC's focus it's probably not worth it.

Graphics: 10/10
Music: 10/10
Gameplay: 19/20
Storyline: 9/10
Level Design: 9/10
Cutscenes: 10/10
Controls: 20/20
Replayability: 10/10
Technical Issues -5

Overall Rating:91/100 ...Wow.

(Screencaps taken from

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