Eyes On War For Cybertron09/03/2010
Last month, IGN’s own Hilary Goldstein wrote about Transformers: War for Cybertron, set to release for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this June. The ambitious action romp is developed by High Moon Studios, best known for the stylized first-person shooter Darkwatch and more recently The Bourne Supremacy. And it has very little in common with any Michael Bay helmed Transformers movies, as we recently learned when publisher Activision demoed several portions of the game from a private suite in Las Vegas.
In a cinematic cut-scene, Bumblebee races alongside a destroyed path directly through the middle of the Autobots’ capital city of Iacon as Decepticon drones give chase. He turns and cuts them down and then transforms, but several more drones appear. Out of nowhere comes Optimus Prime — his trademark red and blue design immediately recognizable within the carnage — and blows several pursuers out of the sky before screeching to a halt on the pavement. He dons no trailer — it’s not in the game.
“You’re a skilled fighter, but you shouldn’t be out here alone,” he says. “Ratchet, this Autobot needs repairs.”
The yellow Transformer declines. “There’s no time. I need to find the autobot called Optimus.”
We learn that Zeta Prime is dead and that the high council has gone into hiding, its forces completely directionless.
“The council will emerge when it’s safer. In the meantime, Ratchet, Bumblebee — you’re with me,” says Optimus.
This is how Bumblebee and Optimus Prime meet. It’s at the tail end of a robot war that has been waging for millions of years on Cybertron, the home planet of the Transformers and a location not often explored in previous media — whether TV, movie, comic or videogame — based on the universe. It is the entire setting for High Moon Studios’ new title, which precedes the robot adventures on Earth.
For the developer, the setting was intriguing from the start because it remained so mysterious throughout the years. “What were the Transformers like before they came to Earth? This is something we think old and new fans are interested in,” says game director Matt Tieger, who hopes the team has succeeded in offering further insight and layering depth atop the famous robots. “We’re telling a lot of character relationships that have never been explored before.”
The story spans two campaigns — one for the Decepticons and another for the Autobots — and strives to explain the relationship between the two factions without demonizing any of the so-called bad guys. Even the good guys are not exactly as they seem. For example, Optimus Prime begrudgingly takes on the role of Autobots leader after he realizes that nobody else is capable. And Megatron is not evil incarnate, but misguided — he believes that Cybertron has fallen from grace and seeks to restore the planet to its former glory by any means possible, even a brutal war.
The Decepticon campaign is a prequel to the Autobots one, but they can be played out of order if you prefer. According to Tieger, the setup works perfectly because you first wreak havoc as the Decepticons, unsettling the balance of power, and then you come in as the Autobots when all seems lost and fight to undo the damage. “The bad guy hatches an evil plot to take over universe. Then the good guy resets balance of power back to neutral,” he says.
Where graphics are concerned, High Moon Studios has unabashedly stayed true to some winning conventions. The title runs on the Unreal 3 engine, which allows for gigantic, detailed environments and equally enormous robots complete with gritty realism. “There have been some significant challenges in making an all-metal world,” says Tieger, but the presentation generally satisfies. The city is very interactive. You will often see citadels crumbling in the background as the battle intensifies and as you ride never-ending elevators down into the planet’s core, you will marvel at the scope of it all. Indeed, in a boss fight with Omega Supreme, you strafe around a huge arena as the truly epic enemy shoots missiles your way — you’re about as tall as the ball of Omega’s ankle. It all looks pretty good. Still, if you were to ask us to describe the style, there’s no getting around the fact that War for Cybertron looks like an Unreal-engine game with Transformers, for better and worse.
You control the Transformers with the left analog stick and aim with right. They move as you might imagine the big robots would — they’re heavy, but they’ve also got speed, especially with regard to transformations. “We needed to make sure he game felt tighter, snappier, and that you’re transforming more as a combat strategy,” says Tieger. And you can transform at any time and anywhere by pressing the L3 button. If you want to run down a forever-stretching hallway instead of race through it on wheels, you can do that, but it’ll take a lot longer. Although the transformations are incredibly fast — really, really zippy, in fact — you can interrupt them with melee or shooting if necessary, at which point the animation blends perfectly into your chosen action.
“The foundation about everything we put together was about controls feeling tight and snappy and even where we put the transformation button,” says Tieger.
You can carry two different weapons and up to three grenades, assigned to a button, at ay time. And you’ve got two skills — the cool down and the resource. For example, Optimus can slide into foes and also execute a war cry, which will power him up, layer a new reticule on-screen and then enable him to target away. Melee combat is assigned to R3 button like the Call of Duty series. It seems a little weird to push in the thumbstick to trigger an energon blade attack, but it works and the controls are customizable if that’s simply not for you.
Transform into cars, trucks, tanks and jets at will.
Here is where War for Cybertron is nothing like Gears of War, though. There’s no cover system whatsoever. And there’s not much of a lock-on mechanic, either. Certain weapons like the rocket launcher allow for auto-targeting, but for the most part you’ll be aiming on your own as you make your way through the war torn and battle-scarred universe — not necessarily a bad thing given the controls appear to be tight and responsive. You can also jack into turret systems, which is really well done. As you do, your Autobot or Decepticon becomes the turret — a literal extension of the gun. If you prefer, you can rip the massive weapon from its station and carry it around until the bullets run dry.
In lieu of taking cover, High Moon wants gamers to transform and there are all kinds of vehicle types at your disposal. Cars, trucks, tanks and of course jets. To answer your next question, yes, Jetfire and Starscream are in the game and fully playable. So are the impressive likes of Skywarp and Thundercracker, for that matter. All the craft — even the cars — can hover when necessary. High Moon felt it pertinent to implement this feature so that gamers could easily get around the environments, effortlessly strafing left and right. As soon as players drive forward, though, the vehicles drop back to the pavement, their wheels lock into place and they drive as normal.
The cars are exceptionally fast on the ground floor, allowing for drifts and big air over jumps. All of the characters have been completely redesigned compared to either the Bay movies or previous Transformer cartoons or games. The Autobots all look like concept cars — smooth, sleek. Meanwhile, the Decepticon models have more on common with big, menacing muscle cars. Controlling the jets looks particularly fun as you can float in the air, then zoom forward toward a platform, transform mid-flight, land on area, jack into a turret and shoot down some enemies, disengage and then take off into the air again. It’s seamless and incredibly quick.
War for Cybertron is not a single-player-only affair. The entire game can be played cooperatively by up to three players. Indeed, even in the solo campaign, the artificial intelligence controls your two remaining party members as you run, drive, fly and gun you way through missions. “I believe the campaign level reaches its zenith when you’re playing with real people,” says Tieger of the cooperative play.
And then, yes, there is a multiplayer mode. And of this, High Moon Studios is staying fairly quiet. What it will say is this. “We have been all about multiplayer since the first minute we started. It’s not tacked on. It’s one of the pillars. A full chunk of what we’ve put together here. A serious hardcore gamer multiplayer experience that people will playing long after it ships.”
The team has the Unreal 3 engine in its side. It has also created every asset to work over a network. Tieger adds that the group plays multiplayer every day from five o’clock to six and confirms that a plan to extend replay value through future downloadable content is already underway.
We will have much more on War for Cybertron as the game draws closer to release, but everything we’ve seen of it so far has our hopes high for a licensed title that delivers without sacrificing on lore or gameplay.
“Our goal from the beginning was to make a great game that was also a Transformers game,” says Tieger. Here’s hoping the team succeeded.
Don’t forget to watch the new trailer. It’s a pretty amazing treat for Transformers fans.
Source: xbox360 IGN