Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep mini bong. If you have no idea what that last sentence meant, then it’s pretty clear you’re not exactly the demographic that High Moon Studios had in mind when creating Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. A direct sequel to 2010’s War for Cybertron, which made a ‘Shockwave’ in the world of licensed games, this sequel aims to ‘Ratchet’ up the tension and deliver an ‘Onslaught’ of thrills that ‘Ravage’ your expectations. However, is this game truly ‘Prime’ material, or is it bad enough to make you a ‘Cliffjumper’? Read on to find out. (no more Transformers puns, I promise)
I’ll admit right off the bat that I have not played War for Cybetron, which is practically heresy when considering how big a Transformers fan I’ve been all my life. This all means that I went into Fall with fresh expectations, unable to negatively compare it to War. If I ever play War for Cybetron and completely rethink my opinion on this game to the detriment of informed consumers everywhere, feel free to crash the Autobot Ark into my house.
Fall of Cybertron takes place before the Transformers’ arrival on Earth. Their homeworld, Cybertron, has been decimated due to prolonged conflict between the Autobot and Decepticon factions. Now, both parties want nothing more than to flee the planet and go to where the grass is greener, or rather, where the Energon is more plentiful. The majority of the plot is driven by the need to gather more Energon, creating various scenarios for the player to partake in. Most of these feel like self-contained subplots, but an ultimate goal does exist, which is to gather enough Energon to power each side’s space vessel to Earth.
Admittedly, Cybertron’s story is not revolutionary stuff. None of the characters or their motivations are very complex, and there are no philosophical themes to be found within. At the same time, there doesn’t need to be. Fans know exactly what to expect, and for the most part they get it here. The dialogue is dramatic when it wants to be, funny when it wants to be, and is generally sharp and witty throughout. The personalities of the characters, while often one-note, are also enjoyable. There’s also a fun twist on the origin of Grimlock and the Dinobots, which smartly explains their speech impediments and Jurassic transformations. The being said, the game’s scope is bit too ambitious for its own good. So many subplots, characters, and references to the 1986 animated film are utilized that the plot is spread much too thin, never focusing on one thing long enough for it to make an impact on the player. The bond between Bumblebee and Optimus that was hinted at in the trailers is practically nonexistent, while the Autobot Matrix is merely mentioned in brief. Other characters like Metroplex and the Insecticons make their grand debut, but the overstuffed plot ensures that they go underutilized. The last act of the game also tries clumsily to tie up loose threads and link the various plot points together, creating a few holes in the plot. That said, the final mission is incredibly climactic and even innovative in its storytelling techniques, which I won’t spoil here. Even though the campaign is around 10 hours long, the game has enough material to fill three games. The effect is a lot like watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy condensed into one film; still enjoyable, but you feel that the whole thing is in a hurry to show you everything it has to offer. For this reason, Cybertron’s story disappoints.
The core gameplay can be best described as that of a linear third-person shooter. Each level will have you play as either an Autobot or Decepticon, and will give you unique abilities that pertain to that specific character. The first few levels have you control Bumblebee and Optimus, and play like a very standard shooter. However, the variety of weaponry, smooth controls, and large open-ended levels still keep the gameplay engaging. The weapons are certainly some of the more creative firearms seen in quite a while, such as the explosive Riot Cannon and the Corrosive Slime gun. All of these weapons can be swapped out on a whim as well as upgraded with Energon by visiting the various store terminals throughout the game. A lot of flexibility is added to the gunplay because of this, as you’re allowed to customize your arsenal, and in turn your play-style, to a degree not normally seen in shooters of this type. The fact that you can rate the weapons as part of an online community is also a nice touch and helps newcomers out.
After the first few missions, the game puts you in control of Transformers with more unique abilities. The stealth sections play like a very simplified version of Arkham Asylum’s stealth, and although they do play smoothly and help the game’s pace, they’re not terribly challenging. Luckily, the grapple characters pick up the slack. Many of the battles in these sections allow for seamless movement around the elevated environment thanks to the grappling hook, which lends firefights a lot of flexibility. The flight missions, meanwhile, might be the most fun of all, as they take place in non-linear areas that allow for freedom and a great sense of speed. These flying missions make the most of the Transformers’ vehicle forms, which aren’t as necessary in the other missions thanks to your more-than-capable arsenal of weapons. You’ll really only need to Transform into vehicle form in a few specific parts during the game, but the option to do so is always there to provide even more variety. The vehicle forms have their own weapons, which are balanced nicely against the others. A few nitpicks I have are the unwieldy melee attack that you’ll thankfully never have to use, a few obnoxious waypoints in linear environments that don’t need them, and a few too many moments where you must pry open doors; they aren’t challenging or engaging in the slightest and feel like lazy stopgaps that were thrown in to distract the player. All-in-all, the single-player is remarkably paced, throwing enough surprising moments in to keep the player guessing. I’m also hard pressed to remember any frustrating segments during my playthrough. Actually, there was one…
If there is one aspect of Fall of Cybertron’s gameplay that is truly disappointing, it’s Grimlock’s chapter. In an attempt to deviate from shooting, his levels mostly incorporate melee combat, with his dinosaur form relegated to a ‘Rage mode’ that can be activated after enough enemy kills. The problem here is that Grimlock moves at a snail’s pace while his enemies, some of which are airborne, are a lot more agile. Worse still is that there’s no homing system incorporated into Grimlock’s sword strikes, forcing the player to swing randomly in the vain hope that they’ll hit something. Repetitive enemies and mini-bosses are constantly thrown at you in this section, and so are annoying ‘puzzles’ that involve clumsily throwing objects. I simply did not have much fun playing this section of the game; it was a neat idea, and welcome to the game’s pacing, but it simply needed more time and polish.
Escalation mode has returned to the game, in which players must hold out against increasingly difficult enemies, all the while using points to buy weapons and open up further areas of the map. It’s a mode that’s clearly meant for cooperative play; not only does the amount of enemy opposition not scale when playing alone, the mode also can’t be paused, as it runs within the same matchmaking system used for online matches. When you do play online, the experience is far more enjoyable. Players must pick one of four classes, each of which possess a unique ability like healing companions or setting up turrets, which adds an element of teamwork to the action. Even then, however, the enemies are too overwhelming and the map layout too simplistic to be of much fun. Couple that with some serious framerate issues in later waves, and you have a component that won’t extend the game’s value by much. Split-screen isn’t available for this mode, but it’s understandable; the framerate is having a hard enough time as it is.
Fall of Cybertron’s visuals may not be inherently impressive from a technical standpoint, seeing as it still uses the somewhat dated Unreal Engine 3. However, the game’s depiction of a war-torn, mechanized planet is still something to behold. Color schemes are well-chosen throughout, and the scale of some environments, like the Autobot land carrier, will leave your jaw on the basement floor. It’s not all sunshine, though: The game froze up on me three times, two of which occurred during the same level. The enemies have a weird dissolve effect when they die, which looks strange. Occasionally, the blue highlights around characters and objects, which signify interactivity, can get distracting. Explosions could also look a bit better. However, those are mostly nitpicks, and in general Fall of Cybertron looks just dandy. Seeing the new artistic direction is really what it’s all about.
The sound design of the original Transformers cartoon has become iconic, if nothing else. The synthetic whirs and clicks that occur during Transformation, the focused squeak of a laser baster, Peter Cullen’s commanding voice passing through Optimus Prime’s mouth (if he even has one); these are sounds that have stayed with fans for years, and for the most part, Fall of Cybertron recreates them wonderfully. Voice actors both familiar and new lend their vocals to the robots in the game, with terrific results. Every Transformer sports a personality that fits them, even if you hear Steve Blum voice a few too many of them. The transformation effects are excellent, and the bombastic orchestral score fits the planet’s downfall nicely. Hearing the iconic track “You Got The Touch” during the credits is icing on the cake. There are few instances where characters’ voices aren’t in synch with their steel lips, though, and the guns sound a tad bit too weak. I know they’re supposed to be sci-fi doodads, but come on.
Fall of Cybertron is like a weekend reunion for Transformers fans. The solid pacing, varied gameplay, and rich, faithful atmosphere makes for an enjoyable ride that fans will love and be familiar with. However, also like a weekend reunion, it feels like a lot of catching up has been fit into only so much time. The game’s plot is simply too rushed and overstuffed to feel satisfying for longtime fans of the series, and a few gameplay elements, like the Grimlock level, needed more work. Still, few licensed games are this polished and consistently fun to play, and for that, High Moon Studios deserves Prime status. If you’ve ever had Transformers bedsheets, you’ll have no problem transforming your cash into this game.
(Reviewed on PS3. Review copy generously provided by Activision. Thank you!)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 8.5/10
Visuals – 8/10
Sound – 8/10
Lasting Appeal – 7.5/10
Overall – 8/10
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: High Moon Studios
Rating: Teen (ESRB), 12+ (PEGI)