Posted on August 21, 2012 AT 10:04am
I know this may come as a shocking statement, but games based on popular licenses are often pretty terrible. When a company knows they have a game that will sell itself simply due to the name on the box, a dedication to quality doesn’t always come as a priority. As somebody who grew up during the 8- and 16-bit eras, I’ve seen—and played—my fair share of terrible shovelware foisted upon unsuspecting fans.
I’m not sure that Transformers: War for Cybertron was the best game-based-on-a-popular-property that’s ever come along, but damn if it wasn’t near the top of the list. There had been a few decent attempts at games crafted from the Transformers franchise—most notably Melbourne House’s much-beloved 2004 Transformers release for the PlayStation 2—but War for Cybertron was the game that finally captured the series in the way that all fans saw it: As an epic, larger-than-life war between the heroic Autobots and the villainous Decepticons.
Now, two years later, High Moon Studios returns to the series with Transformers: Fall of Cybertron—but whereas the original blew expectations away, this sophomore effort might not always be able to live up to the new level of expectations the previous game helped to create.
One place my expectations were met (or even exceeded) is Fall of Cybertron’s single-player campaign. The structure of the campaign has hugely changed from War for Cybertron; where before you had five strictly Autobot and five strictly Decepticon chapters that stood as solo—yet occasionally intersecting—stories, this time around, the campaign is one long, 13-chapter tale that goes back and forth between focusing on the two sides. Where previously players could pick between one of three main character offerings for each chapter, now you’ll be given one specific character to play at any one time.
Initially, this may sound like a huge downgrade in player choice—and yes, in some ways, it is. However, this change allowed the folks at High Moon Studios to make a far more focused storyline, and I think that Fall of Cybertron is better off for it.
For Transformers fans, the tale we get to see in the campaign is outrageously interesting. The game kicks off with a now-legendary moment in series mythos: the launching of the Arc, the Autobot transport ship that ends up being overrun by Decepticons before making a crash-landing on a distant planet that we know as Earth. In War for Cybertron, players were given a glimpse of what played out before the era of the Transformers saga most are familiar with; here, we’re put smack-dab in the middle of six days that not only bridge those two worlds, but also forever change the history of the two warring factions.
Fall of Cybertron’s campaign isn’t an enjoyable ride just because of its interesting premise—High Moon also put a lot of work into keeping gameplay fun, varied, and exciting. You’ll get the chance to play as a wide variety of Autobots and Decepticons, each of which have their own special abilities that help shape their chapter’s playstyle. In one moment, you’ll be running around as the stealthy and nimble Cliffjumper—who, by the way, provides one of the funniest moments in the game for me when considering his voice actor, Nolan North—and the next you’ll be casually blasting your way through hordes of Autobot cannon fodder as the menacing Megatron.
I also can’t forget to mention one of the most-hyped additions to Fall of Cybertron: a playable Autobot by the name of Grimlock. I really don’t want to spoil much about what part he and the rest of the Dinobots play here, but let me say this: The way they’ve been integrated into the storyline is seriously cool, and playing as Grimlock is absolutely one of the highlights of the game. When I first saw how the campaign’s chapters broke down in terms of playable characters, I was really worried that the tease of Grimlock’s inclusion wasn’t going to pay off in the end. Let me just say that everybody’s favorite robotic T.rex gets a nice chunk of screen time—and, man, is it ever satisfying.
When you combine the reworking of Fall of Cybertron’s style of storytelling with chapters more tailor-made for the specific abilities of the Transformers they focus on, you get a campaign mode that feels bigger, badder, and better than before. There are, however, some catches. Moving from separate stories focused on the Autobots and Decepticons to a larger, combined Campaign means your allegiance will be switching back and forth. In one chapter, there I am, fighting to protect the Arc and its goal; the next, I’m purposely trying to sabotage the Arc’s launch. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge deal—but it is, at times, hard to come to terms with knowing that you’re constantly working against your own efforts.
The switch also has an obvious impact on gameplay. For those who enjoyed the three-character team aspect of War for Cybertron and its selectable main characters, Fall of Cybertron’s shift to a solo-character narrative might not be a welcome change. That change also means that the original game’s three-player campaign co-op is gone—with absolutely nothing to replace it. It makes sense why that mode didn’t survive under this new direction, but it feels a little weird to have what was a decently major feature of the previous game totally absent from its follow-up. However, that feeling of missing features crops up even more in Fall of Cybertron’s multiplayer modes.
I’ll be honest: Online multiplayer was by far my favorite part of War for Cybertron. I mean no disrespect to its single-player portion, but the game’s competitive modes just clicked with me instantly. Spot a member of the opposing team, transform into vehicle form, go racing in their direction, and just as you’re about to reach them, transform back into a robot and blast away for a kill—”awesome” is how I’d explain moments like those, moments that other multiplayer games can’t offer.
For Fall of Cybertron, War of Cybertron’s competitive modes have been reduced from six to four; previous modes Deathmatch, Countdown to Extinction, and Power Struggle have been replaced by Head Hunter, where you’re tasked with destroying opponents and collecting 30 of their dropped Sparks. Though the class names may have changed a bit, the four basic character types are present once again: Infiltrator (Scout), Destroyer (Leader), Titan (Soldier), and Scientist (er…Scientist). Players can customize characters for each of the classes—more on that in a moment—hop online, and wage battles to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons. Or, the heroic forces of the Autobots—you know, all depending on which side you end up on.
For the sake of full disclosure, my time with Fall of Cybertron came before the game’s official release, and thus before players existed to play online against. So, all of my experience with its competitive multiplayer has come via the multiplayer beta demo, hands-on time at Activision’s recent event for the game, or by setting up a private multiplayer match in a retail copy of Fall of Cybertron for the benefit of testing various aspects solo. Thus, I cannot speak from having played hours and hours of multiplayer via the final build of the game—but I can tell you that from everything I have played, I found Fall of Cybertron’s competitive modes to be nearly every bit as fun as my time spent with War for Cybertron. The action is fast, furious, and delightful in how different it feels from so many other games, where often the only variety in their multiplayer are weapon choices or map design.
However, I did say “nearly every bit”—and that catch is one of my disappointments with Fall of Cybertron. Like the missing co-op mode, other aspects in War for Cybertron have either been simplified or removed. Each class can now only have one active ability versus their previous two (though those can now be supplemented by one passive ability), double jumps are gone, extra vehicle-mode maneuvers like barrel rolls and U-turns are missing, weapons are no longer salvageable from downed foes, and grenades now exist solely as a special ability for the Infiltrator class. None of these aspects stop Fall of Cybertron’s competitive multiplayer modes from being highly enjoyable—but they do make those modes feel more like a precursor to those in War for Cybertron instead of a follow-up to them, which is not at all what I was hoping for.
One of my top wishes did get granted, of course: a far deeper and more expanded character creator. As we all know, I love me some custom characters—and after War for Cybertron teased the idea of letting me make my own Autobots and Decepticons, I wanted to see that idea put into practice on a serious level. A wide array of parts and pieces are available for every section of your custom bot, pieces that are available from the start, earned via winning multiplayer battles, or purchasable with your hard-earned real-world Earth dollars. And, yes, Dinobot and Insecticon body parts will be coming along for the ride later—we all know that if such options hadn’t been included at some point, people would have rioted. (And while I’m sure I’m one of the few people who care about robotic gender equality, hopefully we’ll be getting parts for female Transformers via DLC as well.)
Unfortunately, there’s that old saying: Be careful what you wish for. The trade-off for having a far deeper selection of character-customization options is that those characters will look the same no matter if they’re Autobots or Decepticons. In War for Cybertron, the robot choices were more limited, but each side’s warriors had a unique visual design to them that fit in with the theme of their chosen team. Here, with the right parts, choices, and the proper paint selection, you can have a Decepticon Bumblebee or Optimus Prime, and an Autobot Megatron or Starscream. In terms of actual gameplay, this can be confusing for some players who are used to using Transformer models as the cue to identify friends from foes. On a more personal level, however, I simply cannot excuse this being allowed to happen in Fall of Cybertron’s character-creation options. It takes what were two sides of a war and turns them into a more generic hodgepodge of robots—and is akin to having a game based around World War II where Axis and Allies soldiers can be swapped between sides at will. As much as I was glad to hear of the game’s robust character-customization options, if given the choice, I’d rather have fewer options per faction and keep each faction unique.
The final aspect of Fall of Cybertron is a mode that I’ll admit to having little interest in: Escalation. As is the rule in 2012, every major release that has online multiplayer must have some sort of Horde mode, but here, too, what we’re presented has changed from what existed in War for Cybertron. In the previous game, 2 to 4 players were able to pick from a roster of character choices and band together to see if they could survive wave after wave of continually escalating enemy threats. This time, the character choices are limited, so that in every game, all four classes are represented. It’s an interesting change—it forces every match to have a particular dynamic, and players who might normally only stick to one class may now have to try out other options if their class of choice is already taken. I’m never one to be against a game offering more content, so for those who enjoy modes like Escalation, I’ll be curious to see how this change is received. For me, a small arena being flooded with foes to destroy isn’t really the situation I want to experience with a robot whose main claim to fame is the ability to transform into vehicles that have little room to let loose in such cramped quarters.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a somewhat frustrating game. In so many ways, I found it to be a fantastic gaming experience—one that would and could have been so much better if a few of its aspects were reworked. I don’t think any of the game’s various pieces that I disliked exist due to incompetence or disinterest on the part of High Moon Studios—I simply believe the men and women who make up the studio may have not fully understood what would and wouldn’t be important to fans when working on this project. (That, or maybe my opinions run counter to those in the community who have the loudest voices.)
On one hand, even with its blemishes, I still consider Fall of Cybertron to be a recommendation for both fans of giant transforming robots, and those simply looking for something a little different from the norm. Its strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and what it does wrong never negates all of the things that it does right. On the other hand, I’m now terribly curious to see how a third (inevitable) chapter of this series turns out—both in terms of what directional changes the developer will make based on feedback from this game and the fact that, given how Fall of Cybertron ends, the next game is going to have to take place on Earth. Anything less would be an absolute cop-out.
SUMMARY: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is another fantastic adventure to the world of Cybertron by the folks at High Moon Studios—but one that combines some excellent new elements and gameplay offerings with a smattering of peculiar omissions and design choices.
- THE GOOD: A more cohesive and developed single-player campaign filled with characters you’ll love playing as.
- THE BAD: The game’s multiplayer portions don’t feel as robust as War for Cybertron’s did.
- THE UGLY: Anyone standing in Grimlock’s way after he’s done with them.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS3.
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