Back in the early 80s, we had boring toys. Sure, they had action features like battle-damage armor, firing missiles, and real Skunk smell; but after we told all the jokes about Ram-Man and Snow Job we could think of, there wasn’t much to do with them. That’s when a magical company called Hasbro got together with a wizard from a far away Eastern land called Takara and brought Transformers to the good boys (and cool girls). They were robots! They were vehicles! They were BOTH! They had firing missiles and they could change from action figure to truck (or sports car, or plane, or FRICKEN GUN!) and back! Many boys become men the day they discovered the Autobots and Decepticons, I can tell you that.
Over the years, many stories were written, some animated, some in comics, some in funny languages that everyone pretended to understand (but really didn’t). Nearly all were well received, and the tales of the Cybertronians grew in our minds, a collective mythology was born. But with so many voices, the warp and weave of the tale became confused – no one knew what version to believe anymore. Until Simon Furman came along and said “Yo, the warp and weave of the tale is confused. No one knows what version to believe anymore. I’mma gonna fix it.”
(Excited now, aren’t ya? Bet you can’t wait to find out what happens next, eh? I’m on pins and needles!)
So Mr. Furman wrote a comic. Just like he’d done for Hasbro and Marvel back in the 80s. But not just any comic, he wrote War Within – a tale that filled in the gaps for all those Generation 1 (G1) characters that we knew from back in 1984. Instead of trying to tie together decades of confused continuity and dubious motivations, he went back (to the future!) and gave us a Unified Cybertronian Theory (OK, he didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was) in which Optimus Prime and Megatron actually fought the war that ravaged Cybertron (rather than just giving it lip service and whining about how they fucked up their home planet whenever humans ask them politely to stop tearing up Earth and go home). It was rife with political backstabbing, surprising alliances, and lots and lots of ‘splosions. It was the “mature” Transformers story that every boy of the 80s had wanted since they grew up and realized that the original story they’d mooned over was pretty damn silly. Then Dreamwave went bankrupt – ending the third War Within series in mid-run, abruptly ending our hopes for seeing more of our favorite characters committing regular acts of Awesomeness.
So, when Michael Bay’s Transformers movies were announced as being “darker” and “grittier,” we geeks were cautiously optimistic that he was going to use War Within as the jumping off point for the movies.
Suffice to say, that is not what we got. (I’ll leave the TF Movie universe alone for now, lest this turns into a five page rant. I believe the tag on the left says everything you need to know about my feelings on the matter.)
Enter Activision and High Moon Studios. Like knights of old, they have ridden in to save our beloved franchise from the medusa of pop-culture. War for Cybertron is War Within in video game form. While it’s not the full extension of the story that we’d hoped for; it does allow we Nostalgia Junkies the opportunity to run around in the War Within universe that Furman created eight years ago. The designs are most-definately Don Figueroa-inspired, with a little bit of movie-universe nonsense in there (but we can allow that as long as racist robots don’t start heckling minorities in the game). And it looks Epic. The characters are instantly recognizable as our beloved 1984 crew (If you tell me you don’t squee upon seeing Soundwave, I will call your a dirty damn liar.) and the gameplay looks to be as satisfying as the designs. For every kid who made wooshing sounds with Starscream in one hand and Sunstreaker in the other (hint, it was me), here’s the best opportunity we’ve ever had to recreate that magic, but with a decidedly modern twist. I have to say using the HUGE bots like Omega Supreme and Scorponok as end-bosses for the levels is a stroke of genius. I know that they were always the “deciding factor” between me and my brother whenever we had our wars (the Bedroom Salvo of the Summer of 85 will be discussed by scholars for decades to come).
What’s it come down to? I’ve resisted the lure of the “Next Gen” systems from Sony and Microsoft since they launched, neither of them offering a truly “killer app” to convince me to drop the cash. War for Cybertron slides in past all of those mental blockades, transforms into a wallet-killing robot, and carpet bombs my resolve into submission.