Transformers is a property that has a very dedicated fanbase. People who view characters like Optimus Prime as childhood heroes have grown up clutching those nostalgic memories tightly. It can be hard adding to such a property, and getting it wrong (such as Michael Bay’s movies) can gain the ire of many of its biggest fans .
Now I was born mid-late 80′s so I didn’t really spend much of my childhood growing up with the original show. I’ll admit that I have a bit of a disconnect with a lot of the extreme campiness of that decade’s cartoons. I was a fan of the Beast Wars era of Transformers, though, and do appreciate the iconic nature of the characters as well as the spectacle of “robots in disguise”.
That being said, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, is a game clearly made by fans of the series who do a great job maturing the nature of the narrative while also keeping true to the characters many grew up with.
The game is a sequel to High Moon’s previous Transformers title, War for Cybertron. It tells the tale of the events that lead to the Autobots and Decepticons leaving Cybertron, eventually crashing on Earth. Most of the campaign is acts of desperation from both sides and it does a good job making the player feel the stakes of the war between these factions.
One of the strongest elements of the narrative is the fact that the player takes control of several different characters on both sides of the war. It gives an element of perspective, regardless of the fact that the Decepticons still mostly fall into the category of heartless conquerors.
I will admit, however, that the story is definitely much more geared toward fans who already know the characters. Certain things happen with very little information (such as the introduction of the massive transforming colossus, Metroplex) that unless you know the series well, would seem to come out of nowhere.
As far as the actual game is concerned, when it was over, I felt quite different about it than when I started. Early on in the game I felt a bit disappointed in certain design choices that were made.
Specific guns felt unforgivably weak. The scenery is littered with chest high walls but the game has neither a cover system nor a button that allows you to crouch. On a more personal note, I don’t know that I particularly liked the hover car versions of the characters, the controls feel clunky and they didn’t move like vehicles since they can slide around without turning. Boosting helps a little but even then the controls are clunky and I just found it disappointing.
I also didn’t like the fact that the melee attack seemed tacked on as an afterthought, control scheme-wise, being relegated to clicking the right analog stick.
Of course, as you move forward these issues are lessened by the variety in gameplay that is offered by the different characters. Some are geared more towards stealth, so you try to avoid direct confrontation, like Cliffjumper.
Jazz has a grapple line that makes it a bit easier to move around the battle field and get to higher ground. The flying characters feel a lot more natural as they move like the vehicles they’re emulating for the most part.
The chapter where you play as Vortex is probably where I started to really enjoy the game. There was something infinitely satisfying about touching down and getting into a gun fight on the ground before transforming into a helicopter and taking off while launching missiles in a nigh seamless transition. It was a beautiful thing to behold.
As you move through the game, you also collect energon shards (the in game currency of this title) and can use them to buy upgrades to weapons or general perks such as a speed upgrade. The upgrade effects can be fairly substantial, something the team behind the game made a point of focusing on.
Instead of slowly building up aspects of a weapon, you buy upgrades that significantly upgrade reload time, ammo capacity, etc. Playing late in the game as Megatron with a fully upgraded Riot Cannon felt so very right.
The most different transformers that players take command of are Bruticus and Grimlock. Bruticus is the combination of Combaticons … into one massive robot. Not that it compares to Metroplex but it still towers over most robots in the game.
Grimlock, of course, is the fan favorite leader of the dinobots who turns into a robotic T-rex. They both control similarly, in that they each have a shield to block incoming projectiles, a melee attack that’s actually mapped to a face button, a flame thrower (though Grimlocks is available only in his T-rex form), and have enhanced life bars.
That said, Bruticus is usually more filler because you are supposed to be an unstoppable beast just rolling over everything with very little threat to your health.
Grimlock, while still very powerful, offers more of a challenge to his levels since you aren’t the size of a building, but also offers more variety. His transformation is based on a rage meter that fills up as you fight. It’s a blast to let loose as the T-rex, biting enemies in half, setting them on fire and just generally stomping around like Godzilla.
Along with Vortex and Megatron, Grimlock was definitely one of my favorite characters to control in the game.
The game has some decent graphics, though the setting makes the visuals suffer. Cybertron is a largely mechanical world, and everything looks and feels cluttered. There are points where they literally outline objects or characters with a bright blue or red outline just to get them to stand out from the mess of metal. Some areas later on get a bit more creative visually, but I think the series would benefit from High Moon finally taking the Transformers to Earth.
The sound syncing of the dialogue seems to suffer whenever you see one of the characters talking. There are times during cutscenes when the audio track seems to cut out for a few seconds. There were points when the stuttering actually lead to the game freezing and me having to reset my Playstation. Fairly annoying bugs that marred the experience a bit, but they only happened a few times through my playthrough.
There is an amazing soundtrack throughout the game, giving a great sense of epic proportion and adding the intensity necessary for some of the more intense/ heroic moments. The voice cast do a good job of bringing the characters to life, including Peter Cullen and Gregg Berger (the original voices of Optimus Prime and Grimlock respectively) who add an air of authenticity to the proceedings.
Audio logs and weapon blueprints make up the collectibles in the single player. Audio logs allow you to hear background info from various transformers about the setting, from history to even thoughts from either side about what’s going on in the war. Blueprints allow you to buy new weapons at the store to load out with whenever you reach one. They’re kind of neat and can pad out the experience a bit if you want to go back into a chapter to collect any you missed, but they’re largely unnecessary.
Beyond the single player, the game actually has a fun multiplayer experience as well, and I’m not generally someone who plays online. You get to choose a transformer type, like a tank, or jet, and personalize it a bit for each class.
The more you play and unlock, the more options you have for weapons and physical expression on your character. It may not be the most in depth character creation, since you basically are just choosing parts from other transformers in the actual game to make a Franken-robot, but it’s definitely a touch I appreciated.
Game types are your usual capture the flag, team death match types with a few other options. The real fun just comes with the nature of the territory as you’ve got people playing as robots that can transform into jets, small cars or tanks which significantly changes the dynamic of the average shooter.
In closing, the game starts off slow as far as the actual gameplay, but once it gets going it’s a treat even for casual fans of the franchise. A lot of love for the series went into the game and helps it along as a memorable experience.
There are still a few design choices I thought could have been handled better, and bugs that need to be fixed, but the game is fairly solid and definitely worth the buy, more-so if you like online multiplayer. The only part of playing the game that really made me sad was the fact that we’ll probably never get a game like this for the Beast Wars era transformers. I highly recommend the game.