A couple of years ago (in a galaxy far far away) High Moon Studios developed a Transformers game that had nothing to do with Michael Bay or any of his Hasbro franchise movies. Transformers: War for Cybertron was a refreshing take on the universe that was very much in a middle of its own resurgence. It did well to distance itself from the movie craze that was sweeping the nation and instead capitalize on the more nostalgic qualities of the franchise. While not perfect, the game was entertaining with a very interesting take on multiplayer. Now, two years (and one movie tie in game that we’d rather leave unmentioned) later, the franchise is back, with Fall of Cybertron. Does the sequel warrant for one last journey to the doomed world of Autobots and Decepticons, or is it best left to die on on it’s own means?
You start the second game with Cybertron in ruins (if the title didn’t ruin that for you yet) and Autobots working hard to get off the planet. Meanwhile, the Decepticons will stop at nothing to run these well laid plans and lay waste to their enemies. All of the usual elements of the franchise are there, as well as the marquee characters we’ve come to love. The wise leadership of Optimus Prime, the loyalty of Bumblebee and the always on-going jealousy of Starscream. If you’re a fan, you know all those things, and it covers a lot of bases, bringing in a lot of the old school bits.
All of this is told in Chapters. As you progress though each chapter you will be controlling a different robot at a time. Instead of being able to chose a good or evil campaign like you did in the last game, this time around you will follow a progressive story in 13 distinct chapters, controlling a different transformer throughout. It is a welcome change of pace and it does contribute to a more cohesive single player story experience. Rather than having to manage concurrent events you will instead absorb the story in a very well proportioned chunks.
The voice work is good throughout the main story and cut-scenes. Peter Cullen is back as always to reprise his iconic role as the voice of Optimus Prime. All of the other cast-members do an admirable job, and a few new additions from the last game (oh, hello there Nolan North) pick up the slack. The score is very suitable to the new direction of the franchise, hitting the action cues and the sound effects are stellar, with the all too familiar transformation sound being the highlight. At the same time, some of the in-game direction falls short and a bit lackluster. Peter Cullen is a legend as Optimus Prime, and having him repeat same three lines one after another in close succession? Seems like a waste of the man’s talent.
Visually, the game is very pretty, capturing the vibe of a fallen planet very well. All of the environments are particularly well detailed and the constant progression in action means that there aren’t too many repetitive environments to get lost in. The character models are exceptional for all the main players, the transformations look smooth. Taking a closer look you will notice an array of moving parts as you move any given character across the screen, a pretty detail that holds up even through constant transforming.
Much in like most other games however, the game is full of very generic enemy types, probably between 5-6 different ones. Yes, it is pretty much the staple of the genre but I can’t help but feel that given the rich opportunities for robots transforming into different kinds of machinery to spring to life on their dying homeworld.
The gameplay is your standard 3rd person shooter affair with a few exceptions. Overall, the action is very smooth and free flowing. You will generally get two weapons (regular and heavy) with opportunities to upgrade them throughout the game. Similarly, depending on the character, you will also get a special ability (some repeating for some characters) suited to your particular level. All of this is upgradeable if you save up enough energon cubes to use at the teletraan store.
Each level is tailored to the ability of the transformer you’re controlling, but most of them will still come down to pop and shoot mechanics as you traverse through the level. As a transformer you will have less health, but a full access to your abilities. As a vehicle, your mobility will be more limited (unless you’re a jet), but you will get a trade off in better health. In general, you will progress from encounter to encounter with similar enemy types in confined spaces. During these times you will often have to pop in and out of cover to disperse of the whole army.
Unfortunately, this is made increasingly difficult by the absence of a cover system. Sure, these are robots, and yes, it could be a very welcome change in the genre to abolish or rework one or two of the staples, but this is increasingly frustrating when enemies and allies are able to go in and out of cover effortless. This creates a problem of vision as you often will surrender visibility when popping into cover, unable to judge whether or not your enemy is going to flank. In robot form with less health and more frequent pit stops behind the nearest pole, this becomes too much of a hindrance.
The character specific segments on the other hand are extremely engaging and what makes them pop are the slight nods to the old school cartoons, really focusing on the characters in questions. This makes for a varied and diverse experience that never falls particularly short or gets repetitive, forcing you to constantly change up your play style. Most upgrades stay consistent through the game as well, so unlocking something with one character will always make it available for the next.
The multiplayer is a lot of fun. The co-op mode is surprisingly absent (but that allows for a tighter campaign experience so I don’t mind), instead you get a number of competitive modes and Escalation mode [read: horde]. All of this is very much fun and games. The highlight of the multiplayer mode is making your own transformer. You get to define the vehicle type (mostly class type) by the torso, but the rest is up to you. To a lifelong fan, this is a life long dream. The fun in multiplayer comes mostly from the ability to swap back between forms, making each encounter unpredictable, and in a way deeply strategic, allowing you to escape out of a tight jam or add some extra firepower and torque to the equation.
Verdict: As a whole, Fall of Cybertron is a very complete and cohesive package. A memorable campaign with varied playing style progression, tied closely to the canon is the highlight here. The game makes you forget about the God awful third film in the Bay era and focus on the good sides of the franchise. Certain issues still hold it back from being a sure fire hit, but as it stands it is a very solid game with an engaging and fun multiplayer component that will have you playing for days. If you’re a transformers fan this is a must have. For all others, this is a good way to pass the time until the fall releases come in.