The campaign is where WfC actually has one up on Gears. All the levels support three-player co-op which is kind of a weird number, but it nonetheless enhances the experience, like all good co-op can. Once you’re done fighting over who gets to play as Optimus or Starscream (our favorites, depending on which campaign we were playing), it makes the game much more fun, and the occasionally painful difficulty spikes more manageable. It would have been even better if being revived by a teammate brought you back to full health instead of just a sliver of it, but most games don’t give you the option of exploding as you bleed out, so we’ll call it a wash.
In the competitive online multiplayer modes (outside the co-op campaign), WfC steals from a different game: Call of Duty, or more specifically its leveling system and weapon-loadout options. The difference is that here, you determine the loadout for each class you want to play as, and can switch between them every time you die. The only bummer is that you can only play as ”generic” Transformers with color schemes you can alter, not as any of the marquee characters. But all the standard multiplayer modes are there, and they’re all fun, making the mode much more than an afterthought.
While the regular online is fine, but we had more fun with WfC’s variation on Gears of War’s Horde mode, called Escalation. It takes what’s fun about these smaller, focused bits of co-op, namely you and three friends battling increasingly powerful waves of enemies, but gives it a new wrinkle: money. Instead of just finding ammo or healing drops, you purchase those items with the points you get from kills. Teamwork comes into play when you come up short when trying to buy some needed health, as your more successful friends can spend their own credits to help a brother out. Now, if only there were more maps… but that’s what DLC is for, we guess.
Just like the Batman film series went back to square one after some horrid films endangered the franchise’s legacy, War for Cybertron gives the bots a clean slate to work from. The story takes place four million years, give or take, before the modern setting of the original cartoon series, when the conflict between the Autobots and the Decepticons for control of their home planet of Cybertron was at its peak. Optimus isn’t the Autobot leader yet, and Megatron is trying to find a weapon to turn the tide in the battle for the planet.
Thanks to the time and setting, no puny humans can get in the way, there’s no terrible acting by a tiny digital Shia LaBeouf, and no lame levels were created to match a scene in the movie. It’s just a full-on war between robots that hate each other on a techy, sci-fi planet that can transform, just like its inhabitants. And since the Transformers continuity is pretty malleable after all the films and different cartoon series, developer High Moon Studios can use the mythology to fit its needs, instead of being a slave to it.
All the redesigns for the characters look great and reflect the game’s setting, as the robots haven’t gotten to earth yet, and therefore don’t look like modern cars or jets – they’re more like futuristic versions of their normal selves. It also feels like a restart because, outside of Optimus and a couple others, all the voices are done by new actors, including some work by the inescapable Nolan North. It all adds up to a feel that is both fresh and familiar.