Transformers: War for Cybertron has come as a pleasant surprise. I was initially dubious about taking on the review, as I hadn't enjoyed High Moon Studios' previous titles. Moreover, the most recent Transformers movie tie-in was just okay, with the strong point being online multiplayer. In an early interview, High Moon developers said [of Cybertron] that they were designing a solid action game and incorporating Transformers into it. What we've ended up with is a better-than-average title, that takes full advantage of the Transformers license.
War for Cybertron is a prequel to the comic books and it fits into the G1 universe nicely; the characters' personalities are intact, including special abilities and voices similar to their animated counterparts (while Peter Cullen reprises his Optimus role). The license makes this game worth playing for Transformers fans, but as an action game, War for Cybertron doesn't quite get there. That said, it's the best Transformers game thus far.
War for Cybertron's story consists of ten levels split in two; the first five are Decepticon-based, the latter Autobot. Both sides have virtually identical characters types, so no matter which side you are playing, you have a choice of four classes - soldier, leader, scout, or scientist. Each class will pick up the same weapons, so the types will only matter in multiplayer.
This is where the Transformers license comes into play. War for Cybertron differentiates Transformers, with their transformations and special abilities - such as Skywarp's Invisibility and Soundwave's Energon force field. Transformations play a key role in various missions throughout the game - most notably allowing you to move quickly in heated boss battles and being utilized in aerial missions.
The Decepticon campaign revolves around Megatron's plan to harness dark Energon to take over Cybertron, with a boss battle against the massive Omega Supreme. This is one of the instances in the story where you might expect Megatron to kill Omega Supreme. However, in order to preserve canon the Decepticons capture him instead, allowing the Autobots to rescue him in a later level. If you don't play through the campaigns in order, the Autobots will be (ironically) evil and spoil the Decepticon campaign for you.
The story takes you in various locations throughout Cybertron with an almost consistent choice of playing the leaders, while offering a chance to play as every character on the playable roster over the campaign. Finishing the campaigns unlocks the multiplayer only characters of Slipstream and Arcee.
A typical mission will consist of your choice of lead, plus two others to fight alongside. Firefights are what this game does best; unfortunately, they aren't without problems. All too often in battle you will run out of ammo with no refills in sight and die because your team's AI isn't as good as it should be, only to find plenty of ammo a few rooms later. The ammo issue is somewhat alleviated via transforming, allowing you to employ your vehicle mode guns, and gun turrets can be detached to conserve your gun's ammo. Melee attacks are the combat's weak point - you can't chain strikes together, so if one hit isn't enough they will get a few shots in, before you can pull your gun out again, possibly even killing you.
On the multiplayer front, War for Cybertron offers Competitive co-op, Campaign co-op and Escalation; all of these are online only. Split-screen co-op would have been a good idea and it's sorely missed - especially on the Xbox 360, which requires a fee for online play. Co-op is pretty self-explanatory; take a couple of friends on the campaign, score the most kills or just help each other out. In Escalation players fight through hordes of enemies that increase in strength with each round.
As an action game, this can't contend with the top dogs in the genre, but that's a moot point, because it isn't just an action game. It's a Transformers game. And Transformers: War for Cybertron is better than anything else we've seen from the license before. The best reason to get this would be if you like Transformers and want to explore the origins of the franchise.