IGN Review of Transformers: War for Cybertron - Autobots
Transformers: War for Cybertron turned out to be a surprisingly awesome Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game judging by how excited my coworker was for the final game, but the Nintendo DS rendition didn't turn out quite as hot. Now three games deep, the Transformers franchise on the handheld has never been amazing: Vicarious Visions started with a bland-but-ambitious DS rendition of the original film, and then followed up with an improved, tighter version for Revenge of the Fallen. War for Cybertron retains the original game's technical foundation for an even tighter experience, but it's impossible to turn a blind eye to the sloppiness that's sure to frustrate.
Just like Vicarious Visions' last two Transformers games, War for Cybertron comes in two flavors: Autobots and Decepticons. Unlike the past games in the series, War for Cybertron does not feature the interesting "download new missions" online function which pit faction against faction, but it at least retains the local four player deathmatch that works across both versions. The differences between the two versions for War for Cybertron are surprisingly vast: unlike the previous two games which finagled the same missions but rewrote them with Autobots in the Decepticon's position and vice versa, this version actually contains unique missions and storylines depending on which version you play -- even having missions from the other side's perspective. At the very least, when you buy both you're not shamelessly double-dipping.
One thing to note: while I was reviewing War for Cybertron I began with the Autobots version, then booted up the Decepticons edition – both versions of the game feature the same introduction and tutorial mission, told from the Autobots point of view. It's only when you get to the end of the first mission on the Decepticons side where you get a little surprise that takes the game into a new direction. It was a pretty clever twist, but the humor and shock value might be lost on anyone starting with the Decepticons version first.
The DS game, like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 editions, follow the battle on Cyberton right up through the promotion of Optimus as the leader of the Autobots, and all the way until the escape to a new home (for anyone following Transformers cannon, it's Planet Earth). It's an over-the-shoulder, behind the character action game – the Nintendo DS system is far from the most capable gaming platform this generation, but Transformers: War for Cybertron is another game that demonstrates that simpler might be better on the dual screen handheld.
There are glimpses of solid design in War for Cybertron. The idea that you have to swap between two Transformers of your choosing in order to utilize their strengths and to heal wounded teammates is a fun element to wrap a game around. Each character revolves around three types (Heavy, Small, and Flying) each with their own weapon strengths and character abilities – "heavy" Transformers can crash through weak walls, "small" transformers can fit through small openings, and "flying" Transformers can, obviously go airborne, with the weakness that weapons don't regenerate until you're back in robot form. Since opposing Transformers are weak against certain attacks you'll have to switch between characters and their vehicle form in order to find the strongest way of taking them out.
But in these good ideas are some seriously shoddy game and level design implementations, and this has been something that's plagued the Transformers series on the Nintendo DS since the first game. Some missions go on for much longer than others, and yet there's no "level checkpoint" system to save yourself after a death – if you've managed to fight your way to a boss that doesn't force the game to load a new area, dying during this fight will send you straight back to the start. Challenging? Sure. Frustrating? Absolutely. There's also the inconsistency in mission designs: in some, if you fall off a platform into the abyss, you'll die, but in others, you're miraculously brought back to start of the area.
There's just this general "unpolished" feel to the whole thing. The camera gets hung up against walls. Your Transformer can die in the "switching robots" animation without any sort of indication that you've lost your comrade…other than the grayed-out icon on your touch screen. The wonky car physics when shifting into reverse. So while there's certainly fun and challenge in War for Cybertron, you have to put up with a lot of little annoyances that should have been addressed.
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