At the San Diego Comic-Con, designers from High Moon Studios indicated that Transformers: Fall of Cybertron would be a little more atmospheric than its 2010 predecessor War for Cybertron—we were told there'd be more of an emphasis on exploring the decaying homeworld of the Transformers than just shooting bad guys. If you thought that meant Fall of Cybetron would be boring, think again!
Fall of Cybertron does indeed build on the world of its predecessor; environments, characters, and plotlines all feel more grandiose and epic than in this series' first outing. Gameplay mechanics have also developed a bit. Of course, if you're familiar with over-the-shoulder first person shooters, you'll know the basics of this game pretty quickly: armies of bad guys rush at you, you try to shoot them before they do your guy too much damage. Now add on to that a layer of things specific to Transformers—for one, the fact that they can, you know, transform. Also, the game's available weapons are cool sci-fi guns, and unlike more standard military games, your heroes come equipped with stuff like energy shields and nitro boosters.
That's all pretty much been carried over from Game #1. There are a few tweaks to the gameplay here, though, that really put it over the top. For one, take that aforementioned stress on the game's environment; there are stretches of play where you're exploring cavernous Cybertronian chambers seeing the destruction of your homeworld first-hand. These really set the game's bleak mood and contrast nicely with the insane battle scenes. Additionally, an Energon collection system (you get this stuff when you off bad guys; it's kind of like gil in a Final Fantasy game) allows for a level of customization that follows you throughout the game; you can use Teletraan-1 councils placed throughout the levels to purchase upgrades for weapons, armor, and other stuff that makes your robot fighting experience more awesome. Another minor but very cool upgrade in the game engine is the ability to switch weapon-holding hands whenever you want. This makes shooting from behind cover a much more satisfying experience, since you can use the lay of the land to figure out which side of your guy's body he should be aiming with.
How about the story? Well, it's great. Fall of Cybertron picks up pretty much right at the end of War: the Transformers' home planet is in shambles, and the evil Decepticons have basically taken over the ruins. The Autobots, under the leadership of the relatively untested Optimus Prime, plan to leave the world on a shuttle and find alternate sources of Energon throughout the galaxy. Of course, the Decepticons aren't going to let that happen without a fight. In a switch from War for Cybertron, this 12-chapter campaign asks you to first control the noble Autobots as they fight for the survival of their world, then the wicked Decepticons as they try to enslave it. Unlike last game, you don't have a choice of what character you want to play in each chapter; it's pre-set for you, which allows each level to play to the strengths of a specific character. Mainstays from last time like Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Jazz, Megatron, and Starscream return, as well as sure-to-be-favorite new playable characters like Grimlock, Cliffjumper, and, intriguingly, Bruticus, a giant Decepticon made up of five smaller Decepticons (a "combiner" or "gestalt" in Transformer parlance).
Lest you think this game is all rainbows, the only really frustrating thing—which is kind of part and parcel of all these FPS games—is how many times you'll find yourself repeating certain challenges. This game doesn't take it easy on you, and rightfully so—you're in a planet-destroying battle, after all—but after about the tenth time trying to figure out how to clear a specific platform of enemy troops, you might start to feel a little bummed. Added to that, Fall of Cybertron continues the previous game's habit of having really long chapters; each one takes about an hour to complete if you do it without having to repeat challenges. At times, then, you might feel like there's no way out of your cybernetically induced video game depression. Fortunately, these moments pass quickly because, hey, you're Optimus Prime.
And really, saying that a game is difficult and long isn't really much of a negative. High Moon Studios did an excellent job designing this world for all of us to play in. Transformers fans will almost definitely enjoy it, if for no other reason than there aren't very many good Transformers video games out there. First-person shooter fans, too, should get a kick out of playing a Halo-style battle tactics game with a transforming robot twist. Fall of Cybertron is an engrossing and complex sci-fi epic, and it is pretty much the only game ever to make you feel like you're in the 1986 Transformers movie. Well done, High Moon. A-
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