Transformers: War For Cybertron Preview: A World Without Michael Bay's Robots

No humans. No Michael Bay. Two campaigns. Three-player online (only) drop-in/drop-out co-op Transformers with a link to the past and a Gears of War amount of gunfire. Happier?

Last week, the developers of Transformers: War For Cybertron began the live demo of their summer game with an audacious claim. "The goal was not to make the best Transformers game ever," Matt Tieger, lead designer of this new game was telling Kotaku. "The goal was to make a great game that was a Transformers game."

War For Cybertron is a fictional fresh start for Transformers, launching as a game made by High Moon Studios and supported by new toys from Hasbro. It's an all-robots take on Transformers that puts the Autobots and Decepticons on Cybertron at the crisis point of their civil war. It is an action game spread across what Tieger said are two entirely distinct, seven-chapter campaigns, one for the Decepticons that sees the forces of Megatron rise to revolution, and one for the Autobots that sees a figure named Optimus lead the resistance and become Optimus Prime.

The game is built in the Unreal Engine 3, rendering the densely-detailed Transformers with the girth and heft of a Marcus Fenix. Action is largely linear, three selectable characters, AI or human-controlled, in combat across Cybertron, transforming at will with the click of a player's thumbstick.

The spirit of the game is old-school. The opening Autobot mission I was shown began with Bumblebee racing down a Cybertron highway, under fire from Decepticons. Fans of the original Transformers cartoon would recognize that homage to the animated series.

There are twists, though. In the Decepticon campaign, Starscream is best friends with Jetfire, neither of them signed up as Decepticons yet. Fans would correctly guess which of them becomes a Megatron follower. Megatron is not a handgun; he's a motorized gun (think tank without a turret). Optimus Prime doesn't have a trailer, though. Sorry. Tieger said the team considered it and it didn't work out. It would have been in the way. Soundwave is a truck. No tapes.

The developers will offer a set variety of Transformers for players to use in the game's chapters. Among them, they can choose three, keeping an eye on classifications: cars, trucks, tanks and jets. The ground vehicles are interesting, because they are hovercrafts. That allows a Bumblebee transformed into a car to tear down a hallway, busting into Decepticons. but also to shift laterally left or right with abrupt precision. Jets can hover or barrel roll, or scream down a passageway. Transforming is meant to be swift, taking about a second and is interruptible if the player inputs shooting commands midway through the transformation (that will speed the transformation even more, I was told).

Transformers: War For Cybertron Preview: A World Without Michael Bay's Robots

I was shown a few missions. That first Autobot one featured Optimus, Bumblebee and Ratchet. Players can control any one of them, their online friends dropping in or out to control the others. Each character had ammo-based and cooldown abilities. For Optimus these included a "warcry" that embolden him and his nearby allies to do more damage. The action I saw, a battle against Decepticons, of course, was rich with explosions and action. Transforming allowed for quick maneuvers to the other side of the battle areas. Enemies transformed less, but kept up an energized assault.

The game might seem like Gears of Transformers in screenshots, but there is no cover system. Transforming isn't quite protection, but it's a fine replacement, no? There are turret sequences. I was shown Optimus transforming and integrating himself into a turret, firing from that — and then transforming back and ripping the turret off to use as a weapon, Halo 3 style.

The game looked straightforward, lovely to gaze at for a Transformers fan and impressively action-packed. The demo I was given climaxed with the Decepticon campaign's ending battle with Omega Supreme. I was shown just a brief bit that conveyed the size of this massive Autobot.

This is an action game but also a game about a quest for power and the hope to overcome those whom power corrupts. "Megatron would likely tell you he is the hero of his story," Tieger said. But what Megatron does, what players will witness, will prove the Decepticons to be this saga's bad guys.

High Moon and publisher Activision say that Hasbro was ready for a Transformers fresh start. They are appealing to old-time Transformer fans with this one, though they won't say clearly why they didn't just make a Transformers game using the original models of the original characters. Maybe that's not 21st century enough. But maybe, just as well, this might be a good Transformers game.

A Wii version of the game is also in development but isn't being shown yet. It's being made by Next Level Games, who made last year's Wii revival of Punch-Out.

Note: War for Cybertron will also include a competitive multiplayer mode that Tieger said would please gamers greatly, but no details were offered.

View gallery »