On December 16th, 2009, a new Transformers video game was announced by Hasbro and developer High Moon Studios. With the then-recent release of the Transformers Revenge of the Fallen game, surely it could not have been another movie game. No, this one would come to impact the fandom, the franchise, and the way we see the Transformers very heavily. Transformers: War for Cybertron was set to be the first video game and indeed the first major piece of media in franchise history to focus entirely on the details of why the Transformers left Cybertron in the first place without simply being a flashback or special episode of any kind. However, it not only revolutionized the lore of the Transformers, but its gameplay was almost completely unprecedented with little influence to draw from in terms of mechanics. On June 22nd, 2010, Transformers War for Cybertron was released for Xbox 360, Play Station 3, and PC.
War for Cybertron started players off in the thick of the battle as the Decepticons, a furious Megatron demanding Brawl and Barricade ram their star cruiser into the Autobot’s space station in their quest for Dark Energon, leaving them without backup and fresh out of star cruisers to tunnel their way any further. Dark Energon, something the fandom had never seen before, was said to be uncontrollable and that “it dominates and destroys everything it touches.” But when has that ever stopped Megatron? After becoming the dominator and destroyer himself, now infused with the power of Dark Energon, Megatron set out to unlock the Omega Gate which served as the entrance to the core of Cybertron and ultimately succeeded in corrupting the planet’s core, but not after quite literally going through Zeta Prime and toppling the mighty Omega Supreme who stood as the guardian and true key to the core’s entrance.
Following what would be Megatron’s move that put the Autobots in check, a soldier named Optimus led a rescue mission with the medic Ratchet and the messenger who informed them of the grim news of Zeta’s demise, Bumblebee, to try and save the Autobot leader in hopes he may yet function. On their quest they discover a transmission that is most assuredly a trap…but when has that ever stopped Optimus? After venturing through the Decepticon prison Kaon, they find a weak but still functioning Zeta Prime being tortured by the prison’s warden, Soundwave. Unfortunately, the Autobots are too late and return to the high council with Zeta’s lifeless chassis, where Optimus begrudgingly takes on the mantle of Prime and leads the Autobots through the rest of their struggles. Now with the quest of saving Cybertron’s core set in their minds, the Autobots make the journey there, only to find themselves too late and now in need of an escape plan. Megatron of course has other ideas and orders the orbital station/giant space laser cannon known as Trypticon to fire on Optimus Prime. But after a wild and potentially disorienting venture through space with Jetfire, Silverbolt, and Air Raid, the mighty Trypticon transforms into the massive, T-Rex-like death machine we all know and love and plummets to the planet’s surface where the final boss battle of the Autobot campaign and the game itself comes to a close after five chapters for each faction’s “sub-campaign.”
As for the previously mentioned mechanics, War for Cybertron was revolutionary in that no matter who or where you were or what you turned into, as long as you weren’t imprisoned, in a cut scene, or in too small a space, you could always transform at will and change back at any time with the click of your analog stick. While you could travel faster in vehicle mode, they were not just for getting around. If one was adept enough, they could move around the battle field changing back and forth as needed while still firing weapons in both modes continuously. In addition to having an entirely different form, which had its own abilities that varied from class to class, each campaign level provided players with ammo, health, and overshield crates along with crates containing random weapons or grenade types (frag, healing, or stun) and players could pick up new ones at any time, though Prime and Megatron could only swap one weapon as they kept their Ion Blaster and Fusion Cannon respectively throughout the game (with one minor exception for Optimus). Each chapter also had three characters for players to choose from such as Megatron, Brawl, and Barricade for one level, Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp for another, or Megatron, Soundwave, and Breakdown for the remainder of the campaign; and on the Autobot side of things one could choose from Optimus, Ratchet, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Ironhide, Warpath, Jetfire, Silverbolt, or Air Raid depending on the specific chapter. This of course opened up the possibility for co-op campaign, one of the three online features the game held, as players could play online with friends and other players to progress through the story as a trio or duo as opposed to single player with two friendly AI helping you along. This mode featured competitive scoring for kills, revives, and other stats. The other co-op feature was Escalation, a horde mode that produced endless waves of enemies on maps specific to the mode itself where players could spend points gained from kills to either buy weapons, ammo, health, overshields, or even open new areas of the map until every area was unlocked. In this four player mode, players could choose from either any of the campaign, multiplayer, or DLC Autobots or any of the Decepticons depending on the map and try to last as long as they could with wave 25 being the achievement benchmark for more casual players.
The multiplayer is where mechanics and engineering really shine. In this mode, players got to create their own transformers in a sense by picking character models (aka chassis) based on characters from the game and equip them with abilities and weapons that were specific to the class and over time unlock new weapons, abilities, and second and third slots for each class as they leveled up via experience from matches. Finally, each class contained its own killstreak rewards which could turn the tide of any fight or match. The ultimate component to this customization however was the color sliders used for primary and secondary colors on each character and the colors were separated by faction as each slot allowed one Decepticon and one Autobot each due to the teams in any given match being Autobots vs. Decepticons. The classes available were Scouts who turned into cars, Leaders who turned into trucks, Soldiers who were the tanks, and Scientists who were the jets/fliers. Abilities ranged from a personal cloaking device, to an inspiring battlecry that buffed team damage,to a devastating blast damaging others in the immediate vicinity, to a spy ability that changed the player’s colors to the opposing faction’s until they were found out or attacked. Multiplayer also featured a number of game modes, some of which are rarely seen translated into other games. There was of course Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch, team-based and free-for-all modes that focused on kill counts, Capture The Flag, Countdown To Extinction which saw teams fighting over a bomb and trying to plant it in the enemy’s base to detonate before it could be defused, Power Struggle which served as the game’s King of the Hill equivalent where players fought to hold control over a single point longer than the enemy, Conquest which was the three-point version of Power Struggle, and Code of Power which was much like CTF, but teams took turns attacking and defending to try and get the highest score after two rounds.
War for Cybertron may not have been perfect, and indeed saw many of its flaws amended in the sequel, but with its entry into the franchise, we saw Cybertron and its inhabitants in an entirely new light. It gave us a new view of the Transformers’ home planet and of the Transformers themselves in their Cybertronian forms. The game was indeed heavily influenced by G1 aesthetics, but it brought some characters back to the surface either from G1 itself, such as Onslaught, Breakdown, Brawl, and Dead End, or from the Unicron Trilogy with Demolishor and Scattershot and breathed new life into those nostalgia-filled designs. We even saw Slipstream unlocked as a reward for completing the Decepticon campaign with Arcee being the Autobot counterpart, continuing the former’s presence in the franchise after her debut in Animated. Elements such as Dark Energon (adopted in Transformers Prime), Cybertron itself (most recently evidenced by the Bumblebee film), and even the title “War for Cybertron” (which we now see reflected in the current Generations line) are just a few major elements that have had a lasting impact on the franchise to this day as the game has shaped how we view non-Earth designs for our beloved sentient robots and set a new standard for Transformers games that only its sequel has managed to meet if not exceed.
Sadly, over the last few years we’ve seen the entire Activision catalog of Transformers games pulled from Steam, Xbox Live store and the PSN store, making it nigh impossible to obtain digital copies of War for Cybertron, Fall of Cybertron, Dark of the Moon, Rise of the Dark Spark, and Devastation, and earlier this year we saw the online/multiplayer servers for all of them officially shut down, leaving players with only the single player campaigns to enjoy. But despite that, today we celebrate this paramount entry into the Transformers franchise and the memories some of us have of logging on after a long day at work or school to play with friends and wage a chaotic war across Cybertron, and encourage those who are newer members of the fandom to pick up a used copy if possible and experience the story for yourselves, because there simply is nothing that beats enjoying the game firsthand.
We’ve got a discussion going over on the boards, so if you’ve played or enjoyed from the sidelines, feel free to drop in and share your experiences with the game and show some love!