Believe the hype. Fall of Cybertron is the best Transformers game ever made. As a sequel to War for Cybertron, High Moon Studios has created a triumph that improves on its predecessor in every way.
The story picks up right after the end of War, with the Autobots rocketing away from their homeworld on the Ark, a massive transport that’s their last hope for survival. After a dramatic turn of events, we rewind a few days to the Autobots’ attempts to prepare and fuel the Ark, and the Decepticons‘ relentless attempts to stop them. (Just ’cause they’re crummy like that.) It’s their last chance for survival, because Cybertron is nearly out of the Transformers’ life-giving Energon, and Megatron is relentless in his pursuit of the Autobots’ destruction.
This looming deadline gives the whole game a darker edge, and a heightened tension and sense of urgency. For every mission you undertake across this dying world, it’s impossible to forget that the Ark is leaving the planet in just a few days’ time, so it feels like you might miss your ride if you don’t hurry. It’s a strong step up from past Transformers games, or even your average game-based-on-a-toy-franchise. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s compelling and smart.
The gameplay is a broad mix of styles, ranging from your standard run-and-gun or stealth infiltration, to sniping or aerial combat. High Moon wisely mixes things up by switching to a different character for almost every level. Since every robot has a unique special ability, this goes a long way toward keeping the game interesting. Cliffjumper‘s cloaking ability makes for a very different kind of gameplay than Jazz‘ grappling hook, for example. (Speaking of Jazz, Fall of Cybertron manages to erase any lingering bad memories of Jazz’ cliched depiction in Michael Bay‘s first movie, making the character bearable and relevant again. Kudos, High Moon.)
High Moon’s policy of switching you from Autobots to Decepticons still feels a little unsettling. I get it; there are cool characters on both sides, so why limit fans? But I always feel kinda like a traitor when suddenly I find myself playing for the opposing team. At least the characterizations are spot-on, upping the nostalgia factor and proving that High Moon Studios really knows how to service Transformers fans.
The inclusion of the Dinobots is a welcome addition, but Grimlock is such a powerful character, the devs felt they had to limit his ability to transform in order to aid game balance. Grimlock splends most of his time in robot form — and you don’t get to play as him until very late in the game — but as you accumulate “rage points” from kills, you eventually send him into a kind of berserker rage where he Hulks-out by transforming into his T-Rex mode. Again, I get what the devs were thinking, but including a character as cool as this, and not letting you transform at will (like you can with all the other characters) is a bit of a letdown. This change in Grimlock’s character is a big one, and it feels like it was forced for gameplay’s sake and not for any character-driven reason. But it’s still a blast to play as Grimlock, because in either mode, he’s a powerful brute that smashes his way through everything he encounters. After all the shooting from previous levels, it’s pretty cathartic to run around wrecking everything in sight. Grimlock doesn’t have a gun, but then, he doesn’t really need one. He uses a sword instead, though he can also throw things.
Metroplex‘s inclusion is handled in a very cool way. You don’t get to play as him, but while you play as Optimus Prime, he walks alongside you in the distance, attacking targets you designate. He also gets some of the best moments of drama in the game. He’s a gargantuan presence, massive on a scale that dwarfs every other character. It’s just plain fun to watch him destroy things with his bare hands.
Bruticus, another new addition, is the combined form of the five evil Combaticons. He’s easily the biggest character you get to control in the game, so he’s far more powerful and harder to kill than any other. The trade-off is that he moves very slow, like a big, metal Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Ant-sized Autobots run around beneath him, trying to shoot him down while not getting squashed beneath his feet. He also has some spinning helicopter-like rotor blades that he uses as a shield to both deflect incoming shots and bash his way through obstacles. It’s yet another enjoyable change of pace, in a game that serves up one change of pace after another.
There’s loads of gear to buy with Energon shards, including new weapons, power-ups, shields, grenades, and much more. The level design is fantastic, with with smartly designed, humongous outdoor spaces that give snipers plenty of cover while allowing tanks to blast their way through whoever gets in their way. One memorable level is set under the belly of an enormous transport vehicle that rolls along over patches of acid; taking down the transport while avoiding the acid and killing your enemies requires no small amount of strategy and intelligence from the player. Another level puts you in Starscream‘s shoes as he attacks a city that’s about a mile-high up in the sky. You can run from platform to platform, or transform into his jet mode and fly around the entire space, going over, under, around, and through anything you like, at will.
High Moon’s attention to detail is impressive. Just watch the third-person character you play as — his parts will undulate even while standing still, almost like he’s breathing. Every animation in the game has been improved, particularly the transformations, which are cooler and more fun to watch than before. (Letting players transform anytime they want, even though it’s something carried over from the first game, remains one of the smartest decisions the developer made.)
The balance of fighting is surprisingly fine-tuned, always providing a real challenge but not so much that you feel it’s impossible to overcome. It’s always a mark of a good game that dying isn’t detrimental to the experience. So even when you die in Fall of Cybertron (and you will), it just spurs you on all the more to go back and defeat the level.
I really enjoyed the multiplayer’s new customization option, where you can mix and match metal parts to build your very own Transformer, with nearly infinite combinations possible. Four character classes provide plenty of variety, and most of the multiplayer levels are perfect for whatever kind of player you are. There’s also Escalation mode, which challenges you to survive endless waves of enemies for as long as possible.
Every single thing about Transformers: Fall of Cybertron eclipses the first game in quality and scope. It’s an epic tale of war and tragedy, and it ends with an abrupt cliffhanger that sets the stage for a potential third game. (A game that would most likely follow the Autobots’ and Decepticons’ arrival on Earth.) Several characters’ fates are left in jeopardy, so it’s an understatement to say that the game leaves you hungry for more.
Lifelong Transformers fans will get more out of the game than anyone, but it’s such a blast to play, I can’t imagine any kind of gamer not finding something to enjoy. It’s a winner.