In the interests of full disclosure, I'll get one thing straight as I begin this review: I am a Transformers addict from way back. I had dozens of the toys as a kid, and as an adult collector, hundreds of Autobot and Decepticon robots line shelves in my home office and fill boxes in my closet. I read the comics, watch the original cartoons repeatedly, and though I'm not a huge fan of the new movie series, I was still there for each opening night. So, it's very difficult for me to set aside my feelings for the franchise in order to be as objective as possible when reviewing Transformers: War for Cybertron.
But as a video game fan, I have only to think back to the abominable game based on the 2007 movie the bring my lofty, idealized views of Transformers games crashing down to reality. That game still makes me wince, as I remember hours of excruciating repetition and laughable design choices. Last year's game, based on Revenge of the Fallen, was light years better but still just a short distraction with little lasting value. War for Cybertron would appear to have it all: gorgeous visuals, a compelling robot-centric storyline, and finally, cooperative gameplay in both the campaign and in Escalation mode. Could War for Cybertron be a great game that happened to feature Transformers, instead of just being the best Transformers game, which isn't really saying much?
I believe it is a great game, apart from my fondness for the license. There is much to love in War for Cybertron; the designers borrowed heavily from successful co-op franchises like Gears of War and Call of Duty, then added in a well-integrated transformation mechanic to create a title that is truly worthwhile in and of itself, notwithstanding the iconic robots.
During the storyline campaign, you can co-op online with up to two other friends. I'd have preferred couch co-op, but there is so much going on all the time it would have been very difficult to play on a smaller shared screen. Drop in and drop out isn't supported, but the host can load from a wide variety of checkpoints, which makes it very easy to keep everyone together, or find another fill-in if someone has to leave. There are two campaigns of five levels each, one Autobot, and one Decepticon. The Decepticon campaign takes place first, but Autobot fans like me can skip to that later campaign to begin if they wish.
Each campaign level features a different team of predetermined Transformers. More popular characters like Optimus Prime and Bumblebee appear more than once. Each character in the campaign has a class: Leader, Soldier, Scout, or Scientist. Optimus Prime, a Leader, has a nice "War Cry" buff that can affect nearby teammates. Ironhide is one of the Soldiers, built for war and resilient to damage. Scouts like Bumblebee are quick and nimble, while Scientists like Ratchet can actually heal other robots, an invaluable ability. The interactions between the characters are enjoyable; each one plays very differently from the others and this adds greatly to the feeling of cooperation.
The campaign isn't quite as good as that of a Halo or Gears of War. It is fairly well structured, yet with a merely adequate level of variety. There are escort missions, and a few "defend the area" sections, but for the most part you are wading through small enemies and sub-bosses in order to get to an objective. Each campaign has one chapter devoted to flying Transformers, and these levels are quite unusual and play very differently, really standing out from the rest. I'd have liked a few more sections like these that required the use of vehicle mode. The boss battles are generally well designed and satisfying; there is a particular battle in the Autobot campaign that will bring a smile to the face of fans of the old cartoon. The last boss in each campaign is colossal, making the giant Akrids of Lost Planet 2 look like ants, and each takes multiple save points to defeat.