Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, has designs to return Cybertron back to its former, Decepticon-led glory. He'll do this by harnessing the evil power of Dark Energon (a sort of evil purple version of your common or garden Energon), capturing the Autobots' home city of Iacon, and infecting the core of Cybertron with great big fistfuls of Dark Energon.
So follows the titular war, an actually quite hefty three-way co-op third-person adventure not tied into any film release and so, by its very nature, not stultifyingly, Bay-grade awful. Nor is War for Cybertron a particularly adventurous title.
It instead marks the gritty third-person shooter boxes with particularly delightful ticks, featuring a huge cast of talking robots (including authentic Optimus Prime voice actor Peter Cullen) throughout both a Decepticon and Autobot campaign, each of which take least five hours to blast and stamp through.
On the fly
With a plot set long before the Transformers come to Earth, War for Cybertron is oppressively metallic at times, and our heroes' vehicular forms are strange and unfamiliar. Optimus no longer werk-derk-derks into a nice red articulated lorry, instead becoming a sort of disappointing hoverboat. In fact, all of the car forms are now hovercars - a concession that's seemingly been made to allow players to strafe left and right while transformed, thereby making vehicle forms far more useful than they'd otherwise be.
Still, the ability to transform at any time - even mid-jump - adds roughly 40mg of pizazz and an ounce of boomshackalack to offset the fact that these robots are clearly no longer in disguise. Flying forms also make an appearance depending on which Transformers a given mission allows you to pick from, but they'll be in a restricted state - you'll be jetting about indoors, through complex tunnel systems and cavernous robo-caves.
Combat is as meaty as the Transformers aren't, with weapons ranging from shotguns and pistols (with suitably sci-fi names like neutron repeating scattergun and Energon pistolotron) to thermal rockets, grenades and miniguns (or ion-displacement cannons, to continue a theme).
Enemy fodder piles in from all angles, with just enough variance to maintain your interest, and occasionally special enemies such as tanks and brutes appear. These chaps require some co-operation to take out, by virtue of their weak spot being a flashing box strapped to their back.
Abilities on the left and right bumpers offer buffs and other tricks. Starscream can hover for a moment, increasing his firepower at the same time. Optimus can give a rallying call to teammates, bolstering their defences. Such things are powered by the profusion of floating Energon shards that spill from downed enemies.
Hit the road
The Autobot campaign is of a startlingly better quality than the faintly mundane Decepticon effort, allowing you get a good look at Iacon by racing through its speedways in car form. Huge sections of levels designed to be driven on change the pace of the Autobot campaign drastically from mission from mission, and the incessantly encouraging chatter between teammates offers a far lovelier atmosphere than the Decepticon's in-
fighting, bickering tone.
Safe from the interfering, exploding fingers of Michael Bay, there's the feeling that War for Cybertron could've been much more than just a competent third-person co-op shooter - especially given the obvious passion High Moon has for the Transformers universe.
The competitive multiplayer is a well-developed addition, as is the survive-enemy-waves-with-friends Escalation mode, but a tiny part of us feels that the opportunity for the series to get its Arkham Asylum has been missed.