Transformers: War for Cybertron

This time the giant robots are disguised as a very average Gears of War-wannabe...

What is it about the Transformers franchise that videogames companies find hard to get right? On the surface it's as simple as getting together a bunch of 30-foot tall robots that transform into a variety of vehicles and unleashing them on each other. It's the kind of premise most developers would die for.

But, for whatever reasons, ever since the toys first started making an impact in the 1980s, fans have been continually let down by dismal video outings for Optimus Prime, Megatron and the rest of the gang (the sole exception being the rather lovely PS2-exclusive Transformers: Armada-inspired game that surfaced in 2004). Even the evolution in console technology over the years hasn't helped things, with the most recent Transformers games were every bit as insipid as the lame-brained movies that inspired them.

Old school thrills
Which brings us to ...War for Cybertron, Activision's attempt to reboot the Transformers franchise, kicking things off with this look at the civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons that ravaged their home world. It certainly starts out very well, with a cracking intro movie that allows old-school fans to wallow in nostalgia while exclaiming things like, 'Ooh, they've got Peter Cullen doing Prime's voice' and 'Is that... Yes, it's Omega Supreme'! Very cool stuff if you happened to grow up with the '80s comics and cartoon series. And then the game begins and it all goes a bit Gears of War.

Choosing to play through either the Decepticon or Autobot missions, this third-person blaster positions you as one of three bots (the other two being AI-controlled in single-player, or other players in Live co-op) carving their way through enemy forces. And on a basic level it's pretty good fun charging around as a giant robot spraying laser fire everywhere and solving the odd puzzle (usually of the 'Stand Here, Press X Button' variety).

Artificial intelligence
Unfortunately, it also has a number of problems that really stop it from being as much fun as you might hope. First of all, because you spend most of your time running around corridors made to accommodate them, it never really captures the feeling of being a giant robot (surely part of the key appeal of the franchise). You really could be any old humanoid robot. And as for the transforming aspect of gameplay, while jets can be a bit of fun, most of the ground craft are dull, dull, dull and will end up only being used to move you faster through the corridors that link the arenas together. It also doesn't help that ammo can be very sparse. In a game like this you want to go in all guns blazing, but (presumably in an effort to cover up some poor enemy AI) here the main challenge seems to be conserving ammo rather than having fun.

It's a real shame, because Transformers: War for Cybertron definitely contains the seeds of a much-needed rebirth for the videogame franchise. Control over your robot is tight and effective and the production values are top notch. It also serves up some very enjoyable multiplayer options outside of the main campaign (both cooperative and competitive) including its own twist on Gears of War 2's popular Horde mode and a rewarding class structure that will keep you coming back for more to check out all of the different possibilities.

Xbox 360 (tested)/PS3/PC/Wii, Activision, £49.99, On sale now