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Game Review

Sometimes, in my unguarded moments, I wonder what life on Cybertron must've been like: Did Autobots go for hikes? Did Decepticons shop for flattering decals? Did these robotic beings—after a hard day of blowing each other up—flop on the couch, crack open a can of motor oil and flick on the tube?

You'd think they'd need to do something to unwind, because the world we see in Transformers: War for Cybertron is pretty stressful.

In Transformers franchise lore, Cybertron is a distant memory now, effectively obliterated in a war between the good-guy Autobots and the evil Decepticons. Forget about raging against the machine: In Cybertron, the only sentient beings were machines, so they raged against each other.

But in the game—a long-distant prequel to the two Transformer movies—the place is really motoring. We see here the origins of the war which destroyed this world—and why Optimus Prime and Megatron never send each other Christmas cards.

Love It or Lube It
Autobots and Decepticons are mortal enemies, but folks who play the 10-chapter War for Cybertron can easily hop from one team to the other. For the first five chapters, you play as the dastardly Megatron or one of his mechanized minions. For the second five, you're allowed to play as Optimus, Bumblebee, Grimlock or any number of other Autobots. Don't want to provide Megatron with any human muscle? Then jump in at Chapter 6.

In terms of gameplay, that kind of decision doesn't matter much, 'cause whatever chapter you're in, all you're really doing is shooting a bunch of other robots.

There is a plot here. Megatron is trying to get a powerful, almost magical substance called "Dark Energon" (coming soon to a filling station near you), which he believes will bring a new golden age to Cybertron. Once he gets it and effectively destroys the planet, Optimus, new head Autobot, must marshal his troops to evacuate Cybertron.

But great storytelling has never been a hallmark of Transformers: It's always been about action, action, action—and that's what this admittedly derivative game offers in gluttonous shovelfuls.

A Few Loose Screws
Sex and drugs aren't a problem in Cybertron. And the robots in this far, far away place a long time ago manage to keep a pretty civil tongue. Language, in fact, is far better than what fans heard in the two  Transformers movies, with "jerk," "punk" and "idiot" being just about the worst of it.

Gameplay is simple and, as far as it goes, rewarding. You shoot. They shoot. Sometimes your mechanized opponents blend in a little too much with the equally mechanized landscape, but that's a quibble. And, because nothing in the game is, technically, alive, the T-rated game sidesteps some of the traditional pitfalls of third-person shooters: Though Autobots and Decepticons are dispatched, they don't really and truly die. (One must assume Cybertron has a robust recycling program.) There are no rivers of blood to contend with, though some 'bots do shed some motor oil. And while dismemberments are not infrequent, they're about as gory as you'd see at your average commercial garage.

But while these machines can't die in the biological sense, they do cease to exist. And they all seem to have a full understanding of what death's all about—a concept aptly illustrated when Megatron bellows, "Going against my will is death!"

You're still terminating sentient beings, whether they've got the same set of internal organs as you do or not. And you're terminating them in a number of really violent ways, from gunning them down to slicing them open to blowing them up. And there are other issues: The Dark Energon feels vaguely mystical. And Megatron is about as evil a bucket of bolts as you're likely find this side of Darth Vader, so playing the game as him (or his evil henchmachines) raises a few questions, too.

Like this one: Why can't Cybertron's residents just play a game of ultimate Frisbee or something? Winner takes all.

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Crude or Profane Language

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