As a child of the '80s who grew up loving the “Generation One” Transformers, this game stimulated the nostalgic nerd center of my brain to dangerous levels—I nearly fell into a coma when I heard Soundwave say “Laserbeak: eject!” War for Cybertron is an amazingly loyal modernization of the 1984 Transformers cartoon, and it's everything the abominable Michael Bay movies are not. Even though it's grafted onto a somewhat generic third-person shooter, reverence of the source material makes this a must-play for anyone who wore the red-blue paint off their Optimus Prime action figure as a kid.
Set during the civil war for control of the Transformer homeworld of Cybertron (millennia before the shapeshifting robots came to Earth) the single-player (and optionally cooperative) campaign has Megatron out to harness the forbidden power of Dark Energon, which will tip the balance of power in the Decepticons' favor. Cheesy? Hell yeah.
The action is good, but a little disappointing in that it's not as memorable as the characters. You run around picking up guns, ammo, health and shield power-ups and use them to blast the other team, in single-player and multiplayer. The only thing that really sets it apart is the ability to transform into a vehicle (a hovercar or jet, depending on your character), though other than faster movement, vehicle form usually does more harm than good—especially in the move-or-you're-dead multiplayer, where transforming into vehicle mode makes you less maneuverable and allows enemy rocket launchers to lock on.
But animations, especially for transformations, are spectacular. I love the rhythm of transforming into vehicle form, hitting the turbo boost, jumping at high speed and transforming back to robot form in mid-air to hit the ground running and slash an enemy bot to pieces with an energy sword that lightsabers out of my wrist. If not for distractingly low-quality textures, I'd call this a beautiful game. Also, I wish not all of it were set on Cybertron, since spotting high-tech metal robots against high-tech metal backgrounds is like playing Where's Waldo on a sci-fi construction site.
After completing the Decepticon campaign and starting the Autobot missions, I expected a few differences in gameplay, but only the tingly nerd-joy of hearing original Optimus Prime voice actor Peter Cullen's authoritative dialogue made the Autobot campaign different. Both campaigns are linear, checkpoint-save gauntlets of smashing the same four or five types of robot with a few mini-boss battles, culminating in mechanically cliché but epically presented fights against the mega-Autobot Omega Supreme and Decepticon Godzilla-alike Trypticon.
Yet it's still the best damn Transformers game ever made, and distinguishes itself with excellent presentation and unwavering fan service.