This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Transformers: War for Cybertron.
I never watched Transformers; as a kid I exclusively watched black-and-white Eastern European cartoons where everything was an analogy for capitalism. I say this to give the following review context, because I know there are going to be some nostalgia-blinded viewers who slept each night safe in the arms of their Optimus Prime duvet right up to the age of 28 who will take offense when I say I feel somewhat uninvested in the argument of whether my stereo could beat up my microwave.
What I don't get is why people get so affectionate and defensive of Transformers when literally the only reason it existed was not to enrich or inspire you, but to sell you gimmicky toys. Hey, fanboys! Transformers only loved you as long as you had limited control of your parents' disposable income! It's like you were all hooked up to milking machines, and instead of complaining, you all painted your milking machines different colours and put stickers on them, and argued over whose milking machine was best. But I suppose these days, the entire entertainment industry regards most individuals as nothing more than a big, consuming mouth wearing designer jeans full of money, so what the fuck. Transformers: War for Cybertron. Gather 'round and consume away, you big jeans-wearing mouth-cattle-things.
Seven billion light-years from the nearest relatable character, there's a big robot planet that looks like a Magic 8-Ball had sex with a diesel engine where war has broken out between the Autobots and the Decepticons, colour-coded "Proud Red" and "Faaaabulous Purple", respectively. Bearing in mind my ignorance of Transformers canon, the reason for this war as far as I could tell was a largely-ideological one. The Autobots think everyone should be nice, and the Decepticons think everyone should be dick-pistons, a doctrine to which the Decepticons seem almost religiously-devoted. Megatron in particular can't string two words together without sounding like a panto villain. Even if he were complementing his mother on her potato bake, he'd still threaten her with disintegration if the apple crumble's not up to standard.
It's a third-person shooter split between two campaigns, meaning you spend five missions wrecking shit as the Decepticons and five missions fixing it all again as the Autobots. The differences between the two campaigns are subtle. In fact, you could be forgiven for saying there aren't any. But while both sides have the same weapons, face the same enemies and basically just spend all their time jogging back and forth into cover shooting anything that's shooting back, the Decepticon characters all constantly repeat the same asinine, self-aggrandising dialogue until you want to funnel hydrochloric acid down your ears, while the Autobots...oh, wait. You know, maybe it's not too late to get everyone around a negotiating table. The Decepticons are all trying to corrupt everything with today's plot-convenient substance, Dark Energon. Although this corruption only ever seems to manifest as big black spikes growing out of things, it's like saying my lawn has been corrupted by dandelions.
Transformers, of course, must transform or they're just shouty drama students with cereal boxes on their feet. The residents of Cybertron all have the ability to turn into vehicles. God knows why this was necessary on their home planet - maybe everyone just got sick of dealing with second-hand car salesmen. There's potential in this for unique duel gameplay, maybe switching between third-person combat and stunt driving, like Jason Statham in every movie he's ever made. This opportunity was left starving in its crib while the rest of the game sat and drank itself to death. In car mode, you control exactly the same as in biped mode, including the ability to strafe, bizarrely. Except you can go a bit faster by holding down the left trigger, so basically, transforming is just a needlessly complicated sprint function. There are one or two levels where you play as flying robots, but that just feels like swimming did in a 90s FPS, and you can't look all the way up, so when I had to ascend a vertical shaft I could only smash my face into a wall and grind my way up. You know what? Dark Void was a better Transformers game than Transformers is. All you need to do is replace the main bloke with a big, chunky robot that you can't relate with, which wouldn't even be that much of a shift.
The game borrows somewhat from the aesthetic of the Transformers movies, which is rather like borrowing the aesthetic of a naked homeless man doodling on his stomach with his own shit. So the robots are all big, clanky, dirty monsters, and while this looks perfectly fine...well, while this looks distinct, at least, against human cities and Shia LaBeouf's big, stupid, chubby, gormless, incredibly punchable, "ooh, I'm only in this because the producers think we need a character the audience can identify with and isn't that just a massive implied insult" face, in this game we have dirty robot monsters fighting against a background of dirty robot environments. Do you see how this might cause an issue? The visuals are such a fucking mess, you can't tell what's an enemy and what's an air conditioner until one starts maintaining the temperature and the other calls you rude names.
And do you remember two weeks ago when I said Shadow of the Colossus is good because the giant monsters actually feel big? That's exactly what Transformers lacks. You fight a big lad called Omega Supreme as the Decepticons, and he just moves like a big, ambulatory inflatable and his voice just sounds like a normal bloke droning into your ear at a crowded party.
People will say I didn't like the game because I don't care about Transformers. Well, the point is this was the game's chance to make me care about Transformers, and it cocked it up. Tie-in games in the past have been good enough on their own merits to make me interested in the subject matter. All I'm seeing here is a bunch of tumble dryers bumping into each other under overblown disco lighting. The only possible recommendation I could give it is that there's a certain, absurd humour to be found in hearing all this overblown, dramatic, Lord of the Rings dialogue coming from the mouths of what appear to be boxes on legs. But apart from that, it's as ugly as a radiator covered in robot sick with the physics of cardboard balloons, and the one solitary thing that makes Transformers special - the whole "transforming" thing - lies smothered like Pavarotti's wife beneath rolls of a dull, repetitive third-person shooter.
There. You may now e-mail me to explain in close detail how the death of Optimus Prime was your generation's Othello.
Actually don't email him because he doesn't care: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
What? Identify with Indiana Jones? Don't think so, he's over thirty! Here's Shia LeButtFuck. HE IS YOU.
The only toys I was allowed were stones and bits of old twig