Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review
When I attended a preview event for Transformers: Fall of Cybertron back in February, the one thought that kept running through my mind was, "Damn. Those guys from High Moon Studios know their Transformers." Regular readers of this site know just how deeply I've dug into the property over the last few years, reviewing nearly every Transformers game and DVD to hit the market since 2005 or so. Even with all my franchise knowledge, High Moon Studios, specifically game director Matt Tieger, wowed me with the team's attention to detail in crafting this sequel to Transformers: War for Cybertron. During the entire preview, listening to Tieger and crew talk about their new game, it was clear as crystal that they should be to the Transformers what developer Rocksteady is to the Batman franchise; both developers pair encyclopedic understanding of the property and seriously great game design, elevating their titles beyond the usual licensed game laziness. Skip ahead a few months, months mostly spent impatiently waiting for this and Darksiders II, and the new Autobot/Decepticon battle royale is finally here and finally ready to be played. Though I'm fairly sure that it isn't a universal sentiment among other critics and fans, I see Transformers: Fall of Cybertron as one of the best, most intense action titles of 2012.
Fall of Cybertron picks up the story of the Autobot/Decepticon war right where things left off in War for Cybertron. Optimus Prime is struggling to hold the Autobot forces together in the face of a massive Decepticon assault led by the almost ridiculously evil Megatron. As planet Cybertron is falling, Optimus elects to use the last bit of Energon (Transformer go-go juice) to escape the dying world via a space bridge to... who knows where? What is interesting about this sequel's plot is that it ends literally seconds before the events of the original Transformers animated series, which kicked off right as the Autobots arrived on Earth. Just like we all knew the boat would sink in "Titanic," we know the Autobots will succeed in their last-ditch effort to escape Cybertron. That doesn't slow or stop the narrative as it speeds along at a breakneck pace, painting a picture of the very sad final hours on the Transformers' home world. It needs to be mentioned that there are some plot holes here and there, but only the severely nerdy will pick up on them. For example, Autobot Grimlock (yes, the Tyrannosaurus) was created on Earth in the official timeline, but he appears and plays a big role in this game's depiction of the last hours of Cybertron. See? Nerd stuff. Don't let it bug you.
Though Fall of Cybertron never lets you forget its core as a third person shooter, each subsequent level brings something new and fun to the mix. The opening segment has players controlling Bumblebee, with gameplay nearly identical to the first Cybertron game; swapping between vehicle and robot modes, blasting away and using some melee attacks here and there. It's just as fun as ever, but High Moon Studios clearly heard the main criticism of the first game, all the Transformers played essentially the same way, and took the sequel clear to the other end of the spectrum. No two levels or modes of play are quite alike, and getting through to see the next concept becomes just as engaging as following the story. Levels featuring Autobot Jazz or Decepticon Swindle are as much about traversal as they are shooting. This comes via a grappling hook mechanic that feels like what the Bionic Commando remake should have been. Personal favorite Starscream's levels also have the verticality, but incorporate a stealth mode that is kind of shallow but a blast to play. Cliffjumper also relies on stealth in his starring role, but can't fly like Starscream. Autobot Grimlock's segments are almost entirely melee-based, with a Rage meter that can be unleashed that transforms him into a figurative whirlwind of robotic jaws, fire breath and tail swipes. Finally, levels featuring the absolutely huge Autobot Metroplex and equally enormous Decepticon Bruticus have a sense of scale that is almost too big; this is the kind of spectacle people use to show off their fancy new HD television sets. All the different modes of gameplay incorporate the shooting mechanic equally well, though the change-ups mean things never get old. If you don't care for a certain segment, you know a change is right around the corner. Fall of Cybertron manages to stay "first 15 minutes" fresh right up until the closing battle, an accomplishment in and of itself.
Here is where most critics and myself will disagree: the multiplayer. War for Cybertron featured a campaign that could be played entirely alone, or with a friend in co-op. Fall of Cybertron eliminates this altogether. Some may argue it was a big mistake, but the insightful will realize the co-op opt-out actually serves to make this sequel a stronger game. The changes in gameplay through the adventure wouldn't have been as entertaining if concessions needed to be made to accommodate all the Transformers' play styles; and too-similar gameplay was a major issue with the same folks decrying the lack of co-op in the sequel. You can't have it both ways, people! Personally, I'm much happier with a stronger single player experience than I would have been with a neutered, vanilla shooting gallery.
The online competitive multiplayer, not usually my cup of tea, offers a tantalizing feature that superfans like myself just will not be able to pass up. In Fall of Cybertron you can create your own Transformer. Yup, you heard that right; it was the sound of your inner child's dreams coming true. There are a ton of interchangeable parts to play with and no two creations will be the same. Even better, these pieces aren't just cosmetic, they actually affect your stats and weapons in battle. I found myself playing in online deathmatches, one of my most hated aspects of modern gaming, for hours just because I was behind the wheel of a seriously awesome Decepticon named Nimertron. For the same reason that co-op was left out, I understand why I couldn't take Nimertron into the single player campaign. That doesn't mean I can't dream about it for a sequel, right?
Like with the jump from Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum to Batman: Arkham City, High Moon Studios took a well-known but gaming-challenged property and made a title that rose above almost all licensed games. Then, not only did they turn it around and do it again in a sequel, they managed to take something great and make it even greater. To say Fall of Cybertron is the best game ever might be a stretch, but it is certainly the best Transformers game fans have ever seen. The Create-a-Transformer system is every child of the '80s wish come true. The campaign is varied, always fun and a spectacle that puts even the biggest, loudest Michael Bay films to shame. And, best of all in my book, Fall of Cybertron understands the lore of the Transformers universe and the treatment of these classic characters is both fresh and familiar. If you can cue up the Transformers "transformation" noise in your memory with no problem, or you just want a shooter with a little more variety and style than your average first-person Clone of Duty, then Fall of Cybertron is deserves a place on your shelf.
Final Rating: 92%. Fall of Cybertron is the best Transformers game fans have ever seen.