How do you make a Transformers game that doesn't suck? According to the developer responsible for Darkwatch and The Bourne Conspiracy, you do it by making a good game first and then layering on the characters of the Transformers second. According to Matt Tieger, game director at High Moon, the main reason other licensed games have failed in the past is because they always focused on the license to the detriment of the actual game.
We had a chance to sit down with Tieger at GDC last week and talk to him about the game (be sure to check out the full interview), but in between questions, we also got to see it in action. Although he never let us take control of the robots in disguise, he did highlight many of the game's key points.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, High Moon decided to go with the Unreal Engine for Transformers: War for Cybertron. Don't think this is just a skinned Gears of War 2 clone, though. The gameplay may share some similarities with other third-person shooters, but it has plenty of Transformers influence. The biggest difference that Tieger showed us was the lack of duck and cover. The Autobots and Decepticons are all about in-your-face action. These are massive robots that can dish out the damage — and take it.
Another key point that Tieger highlighted was the ability to transform at any time, anywhere in the world. Level design will favor one form over the other at times, but the game never forces the player into robot or vehicle form. How you attack a level in the world is entirely your choice.
The story driving the game is split into two campaigns: the Decepticon campaign, followed by the Autobot campaign. You'll start by taking control of the Decepticons as Megatron and crew make the push to take over Cybertron. Things then switch to the Autobot point of view as you attempt to stop the destruction of your world. Ultimately the end of the story is set in stone, as the Autobots are destined to leave Cybertron for Earth, but how they get to that point is the story that the game promises to tell.
Along with the exodus of the Autobots, Transformers: War for Cybertron also reimagines some of the early meetings between iconic characters. We'll see how Megatron and Starscream first come to meet, as well as Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. The initial rift between Jetfire and Starscream is shown, as is Optimus' evolution from simply Optimus the fighter to Optimus Prime, legendary leader of the Autobots. From a universe perspective, this is some weighty backstory, and we're excited to see it being addressed in a game. Here's hoping that the story line is given the depth it deserves and not just used as filler between action sequences.
Because the Transformers always fight as a team, each level of the game features three different characters. Who those three are is predetermined, but you can make the choice of who to play. For example, in one of the Autobot levels, we had the choice of playing as Optimus, Bumblebee or Ratchet. Every character is meant to play differently, and this is shown in their special abilities. Optimus has a "leader buff" that temporarily increases his stats. If you move nearby your teammates before firing it off, they gain the buff effects as well. One of Ratchet's specials is that of a healer. He can fix damaged Autobots in the heat of battle.
Once you choose a character for a level, you cannot change it up until the level ends; however, if you are playing online, your friends can drop in at any time and take control of one of the AI-controlled characters. If someone needs to leave, he can drop out, and the AI takes over once again.
Visually, the characters are all sporting an updated look, but their G1 roots are unmistakable. The game's look and feel is heavily influenced by the design of the G1 toys and the G1 cartoon. That isn't to say it's a carbon copy — far from it — but from what little we did see, things looked "right." All of the characters — from Optimus to Soundwave to Bumblebee to Starscream —were immediately recognizable in robot form. Their new vehicle forms were different (after all, these are pre-Earth Cybertronian forms) but not radical departures. Yeah, it was a bit odd to see Soundwave looking like a wheeled vehicle, but Bumblebee's design was reminiscent of a Volkswagen Beetle that had been dreamed up by Moebius.
In short, fans of the classic series shouldn't be put off by the look of the characters. In fact, Hasbro liked them so much, it decided to spin off a line of toys based specifically on the video game.
Voice-wise, Peter Cullen is once again the voice behind Optimus Prime, proving that you just can't do the character justice without his booming baritone providing the requisite weight. Perhaps even more impressive, though, was the way in which the developers at High Moon managed to capture the essence of Soundwave's metallic warble. While we didn't do a side-by-side comparison, upon hearing Soundwave speak in-game, you would swear that it was lifted directly from the old cartoon.
Tieger wrapped our demo with a teasing look at the battle between the Decepticons and Omega Supreme. Nearly three times as tall as the Decepticons, Omega dwarfed Megatron and Soundwave. He also tore up the battlefield with his weapons, literally ripping things apart before our eyes. We only got a short peek at the multi-tiered fight, but it was certainly enticing.
With a summer release on the schedule, Transformers: War for Cybertron has the potential to be a solid hit. Batman: Arkham Asylum proved that gamers would respect a licensed property that was married to a solid game, and the team at High Moon is hoping to repeat the magic (and the sales) that Eidos captured last year.
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