Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review
Platform | Release Date
360, PS3, PC | August 21, 2012
Developed by High Moon Studios
Published by Activision
Transformers™: Fall of Cybertron™ transports you to the final days of the planet Cybertron where you will experience the darkest hours of the apocalyptic war between the AUTOBOTS and DECEPTICONS. Embark on an adrenaline-fueled journey through a wide range of missions and massive environments designed around each character’s unique abilities. With the stakes higher than ever before, you play as a variety of Transformers characters, including Grimlock’s nearly indestructible T-Rex form and the legendary Combaticons forming into the colossal Bruticus. Fight through both sides of the Transformers’ most epic battles leading to their legendary exodus from their homeworld. Transformers™: Fall of Cybertron™ allows you to go head-to-head as AUTOBOTS and DECEPTICONS with its multi-player online mode. Create your own personalized character and weaponry with the most advanced and in-depth customization ever before seen in a Transformers video game.
Do you like Transformers? The new movies, the old show, dinobots, or insecticons? You’ll probably like this game. What Fall of Cybertron lacks in new mechanics or exemplar gameplay it makes up with gumption and spark. This game is the direct sequel to War For Cybertron and is as solid a game as that excellent entry. While many series tout that you can jump in at the sequel, it often hurts the narrative to do so. For Fall of Cybertron, you can do so with no regret or prior knowledge, except one small spoiler might help:
At one point in War for Cybertron, you fight a Decepticon space station. Instead of blowing it up, you force it to transform by blowing up its weak point. As a humanoid form, it cannot fly and crashes into the planet below, leaving a large crater. Passing knowledge of the characters is completely sufficient for the remainder of the plot. Even if you were a Gobots fan.
In fact, FoC has a better paced campaign than WfC, making it a great start point. WfC‘s campaign supported co-op over the internet, and its extreme difficulty nearly required it. Ammo was scarce, enemies damaging, and there was no cover mechanic to protect you from highly mobile foes. Much to my initial chagrin, FoC has removed the co-op support but balanced the campaign with more set-piece action. While the lack of ammo, low health, and absence of cover are still present and maintains a challenge, it’s balanced by the fact you always play as a specific character with a unique ability. WfC had generic combat abilities, equippable like perks, available across single and competitive multiplayer. FoC keeps these balanced, class-based abilities in multiplayer, but opts to instead build entirely new mechanics in the single player, such as a grappling hook or airstrikes. Even the old standbys like Hover have been altered or the level geometry changed to require using it for transversal. This tailors most of the combat arenas to your current character’s specific ability, making all but a handful of arena encounters manageable.
You can also purchase upgrades for guns, increased health, or other perks at scattered Teletran stations throughout the game. These permanent upgrades carry over between chapters and characters, allowing you to tailor your play even as you are forced to switch characters and factions. There is even a Community Rating system where players can rate each purchase with up to 5 stars, letting you know the community’s opinion before buying. You’ll still die, but a new recharging shield mechanic and fair checkpoints help keep aggravation or lack of progress to a minimum without making the struggle into a cakewalk.
Despite its difficulty, death feels a bit out of place when Optimus Prime is killed by a no-name Decepticon wielding a shotgun. Our nostalgia for these characters and their immortality within our minds does not mesh with the themes and story presented in these games. Death should not be uncommon as Cybertron dies. This is a post-apocalyptic setting of a planet and its inhabitants struggling to survive. It is even bleaker than the previous games presentation of a world literally ripped apart by a global war; It’s the remnants of such a world. That said, most of the mission objectives are standard video game stuff, elevated by this theming.
Being ordered to take out a missile battery in a video game?
Being ordered by Optimus Prime?
“Sir, yes, sir!”
Controlling Soundwave or Jetfire as you do it?
But even with the voice of Optimus and a stirring, operatic main theme, Fall of Cybertron fails to impress. Some texture work and variety have been added, but at the cost of leaving the Cybertronian cityscapes. Their always shifting structures were fun to behold and never failed to bring a smile to my face. It’s pure, child-like glee to watch a pedestal transform into a button that transforms a door into an elevator. While I understand the need to branch out and cover more ground with diverse terrain, normal swamps, caves, and large destroyed ruins in a desert are not that interesting. Certainly serviceable, but lack the spark needed to make me smirk. However, there are some highlights: a few level-spanning vehicles, such as disabling a massive Avengers-like Helicarrier or battling on the Ark. Overall, the levels get more interesting as the game progresses; my suggestion is to keep going as it only gets better.
If you’ve tried the demo, don’t worry: they completely throw away the “bring the fuse over here to fix this” mechanic within just a couple levels. No self-respecting Decepticon would ever do that. This gives way to controlling the Combaticons, more named character cameos, and eventually Grimlock. Despite the extensive pre-release teasing, Grimlock and his melee control scheme are only used for one (longer than normal) chapter. His inclusion is fun, but it feels like the shallow end of the pool; it is here so that the control scheme could be developed and used in a great “Optimus vs. Megatron” final, melee throw-down.
Despite my focus on the much improved campaign, Multiplayer was a highlight in War for Cybertron and it returns here in full force.
The cooperative Escalation mode is back. It brings with it a kill-based economy containing a degree of sophistication you might have thought Gears 3 Horde Mode invented. They didn’t. War for Cybertron did the weapon purchasing, door unlocking stuff a year earlier in their take on Horde mode. Evolution at work. With only 15 waves, it is a faster, more brutal Horde mode than you might be used to. Bring friends with headsets or expect to lose.
The central spark in this package is the Competitive multiplayer. Not much has changed, but what is here is still very good. The core, 3rd person gunplay feels a bit like Halo, right until you transform into a jet and transverse the entire map in seconds. This is balanced by each of the 4 classes lacking some offensive capabilities or making dodging a bit more difficult in these vehicle forms. The result: spawning as a team, rolling out in vehicle form, and as you enter combat some players will revert to robot form in order to engage. This all occurs as part of the natural flow of play; it’s damn impressive and damn fun. Map knowledge is more important here than most FPS titles, as knowing the routes you should take in vehicle form, when to boost for a shortcut and when you are exposed, all result in a lot of early deaths. A Call of Duty styled progression system also locks out all of the good toys early on, resulting in even more deaths as you must fight against players better equipped: both physically with guns and mentally with map knowledge.
I thought War for Cybertron was a great game, and while Fall of Cybertron does not expand or improve on the formula as much as I’d hope it is still quite a bit of fun, mixing old school shooting mechanics with a mobility system unlike anything else. It really does feel like something old made new again. It’s not a fluke, it’s a good reboot. I’m glad Transformers finally got one of those.