Transformers: War for Cybertron was a decent, if not derivative shooter that lived and died by its licence. And that’s okay, really. The Transformers licence is a good one with a lot of potential and a hell of a lot of good lore from which to lift interesting and novel game mechanics from. Being able to transform on the fly from a slow and cumbersome yet powerful robot, into a fast and agile vehicle is fun to the point that it would almost enough on its own to pull you through to the conclusion of the game, even if the rest of the gameplay was mediocre. The fact that the game plays and more importantly feels pretty good is just a bonus.
But despite feeling like a Transformers game something just felt wrong. Not bad, just wrong.
And then I realised what it was – the soul of the television show was missing. Sure, Optimus Prime, Megatron and fan favourites such as Tryticon and Omega Supreme were there – but something had changed and I couldn’t help but feel that we, the transformers and I, had grown apart.
So in desperation to save the relationship I went back to the original 80’s cartoons to try and reignite the spark. After all, surely if we’d survived the strain of a few terrible movies we could overcome anything.
So one Friday night indoors, eight boxes of kleenex, three tubs of ice cream, a few mutilated family photos and a dozen episodes later I realised why War for Cybertron felt wrong. There was no surfing.
But its not the surfing per se, but what it represents in the Transformers Generation 1 universe. Simply put, transformers was never meant to be serious. Sure there was the underlying tale of good versus evil and the tug of war that plays out to determine the fate of humanity and the universe, but between that, between those defining moments such as the death of Optimus Prime and the subsequent rise of Rodimus Prime, are whimsical dialogue and situations – such as the scene where the Autobots literally surf to their next battle – that gave the show a more lighthearted feel. It was a children’s cartoon after all. But it was so important in the context of the characters, and it went a long way to making the Autobots and Decepticons unique and personable and likely a reason the licence is endured.
That soul is missing from the game. Sure it has explosions and enough cameos to fill an entire guest book, but the lighthearted nature of the cartoons was lost in translation, and in its place was a dark and serious tone that, while not feeling out of place necessarily, just misses the point. And while I enjoyed the game and it was clear that the developers, High Moon Studios have a ridiculous amount of respect and love for the Transformers universe, I came away with a sense that they buckled to the pressure of conforming to a wider trend in the video game industry and relying on a dark narrative and premise to appeal to a wider audience. Unfortunately in this case it may not have been what the audience necessarily wanted. Either that or it had been so long since they had watched the cartoon that they’d forgotten how fun they actually were.