Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review
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On 08/31/2012 at 12:00 PM by Julian Titus
If you enjoyed War for Cybertron you'll enjoy the follow up. I would like High Moon to really take a look at what makes the Transformers unique and leverage that for all it's worth, but this is a decent shooter that hardcore TF fans will love.
Everybody has that one especially cherished thing that defines their childhood. The Transformers fills that role for me, and sitting in a small movie theater in 1986 watching my hero Optimus Prime die before my eyes was a traumatic event. I’ve followed these Robots in Disguise through various cartoons, comics, and movies over the years, and I’m very protective of how they’re represented. High Moon Studios clearly respects this property as much as I do, which they proved with 2010’s Transformers: War for Cybertron. While I enjoyed that game quite a bit it was by no means perfect, and now High Moon is back with Fall of Cybertron, a game that tries to address the issues of the original. It’s a relief to see Cybertron have more variety in its design, and the problem of scouring the area for ammo in the heat of battle is no longer present, but these ‘bots need to let Wheeljack tinker with them just a little bit more.
Just like War for Cybertron, this is a third person shooter set entirely on the war-ravaged home planet of the Transformers. The conflict has taken its toll on the cybernetic world, and Optimus Prime has ordered a planet-wide retreat of all Autobots. It’s now the zero hour, and only one ship remains to take Prime and his most loyal warriors to a new home—the Ark. Of course, the evil Megatron won’t let his arch enemy escape without a fight, and it is in this high stakes scenario that Fall of Cybertron is set.
The story unfolds in a much different way than War for Cybertron. Instead of choosing to play as the Autobots or Decepticons in independent campaigns, the twelve chapters of the game are broken up with transitions between the two factions, sometimes mid-level. Each chapter focuses on a different character, many that are completely new to this take on the classic Transformers story.
The three player drop in, drop out co-op mode is gone, which will undoubtedly upset quite a few gamers who enjoyed the first game with friends. The advantage of the removal of co-op is that each level is perfectly tailored to the featured character, allowing them to feel much more unique than they were in the previous game. Cliffjumper, for example, uses his cloaking ability to sneak by tougher Decepticons, closing in for a silent one-hit kill. Vortex, on the other hand, rains death from above in a huge open level that allows players to use his Cybertronian helicopter/jet mode to its full advantage. This adds a lot of variety to the flow of the game and gives each of these characters their time to shine.
However, High Moon doesn’t go far enough with this notion. One of the defining traits of the Transformers was the individual personalities and abilities of each of the Autobots and Decepticons. Even with the character-specific levels there’s still a tendency for the different characters to feel a bit samey. A large part of that has to do with the concessions made to the game to fit into its multiplayer modes. By necessity, the game needs to hit those multiplayer shooter beats with its weapons, which means the iconic and individualistic weapons from the TV show and comic book aren’t present here. There is something off-putting about Optimus Prime using a machine gun instead of his trademark pulse rifle, or Megatron lacking his tried and true arm-mounted fusion cannon. Similarly, there is little difference in the weight and speed of a small character like Bumblebee when compared to a bruiser like Grimlock.
This cookie-cutter feeling extends to the vehicle modes, which tend to move and handle the same way, no matter what the alt-mode actually is. The car forms still hover and strafe, making them control identically to the robot forms. This makes transforming rarely important, other than the fact that you take less damage in this form. The handling of the alt-modes also suffers from feeling too similar between ‘bots; Megatron’s bulky tank mode is just as maneuverable as a smaller car.
Controls in vehicle mode are also an issue. Since the alt-modes move exactly the same as the robot forms, I found myself having a rough time whenever I was in car mode, desperately wanting to control it like a racing game, hand brake and all. It’s also rare that the levels accommodate the vehicle modes very well, with the flying levels feeling far and away more suitably designed for experimentation. Most of the time it seems like vehicle mode is reserved for very specific situations, taking away one of the things that makes the Transformers such a unique video game property.
Thankfully, the designs and look of the game go a long way to improving one of the main complaints I had with the first game, namely that the environments and enemies looked nearly identical. Each level explores a different area of Cybertron, from the war-torn ruins of Iacon to the depths of the Sea of Rust. These environments have a unique look and feel to them, and are far removed from the silver, black, and purple aesthetic that permeated War for Cybertron. Things are much more detailed this time around, with the scars of war adorning the walls and buildings, and various relics and statues hinting at the storied history of the planet. Objects in the environment also stand out nicely now, so the issue of missing vital ammo and energon pick-ups is a thing of the past. Ammo is also more plentiful, which was a big problem in the first game, where running low on bullets was a constant issue.
While Fall of Cybertron is a far better looking game and the variety of the levels and characters is a huge improvement from the previous title, those improvements sadly don’t extend to the shooting. Fall of Cybertron is at best a competent third person shooter that does little to leverage the Transformers license. Even though you’re controlling massive robots as large as ten stories tall, they feel remarkably feeble, dying in mere seconds under concentrated fire. High Moon prides themselves on having made a shooter that doesn’t rely on taking cover, but this only applies to player-controlled characters; enemies take full advantage of cover and lob grenades, another toy that players don’t have access to. Shooting rarely feels as precise and accurate as similar games, and I was often just slightly off the mark, emptying entire clips into the wall an enemy ‘con was hiding behind.
The difficulty is wildly inconsistent, and it’s rare that the power of these characters is felt. High Moon allows you to control the massive combiner Bruticus and the Dinobot leader Grimlock, and these are the only levels where the sheer destructive ability of the Transformers is felt. Most of the time the designers funnel you into rooms where you’re running down a gauntlet of enemies constantly pelting you with fire, and the fragile nature of the robots results in many frustrating deaths. It shouldn’t be possible for Optimus Prime or Megatron to die after a couple shotgun blasts or sniper shots--but they do--and often. I would have liked to see High Moon embrace the power of these characters, and structure the levels in such a way that utilizing vehicle mode is a sound and useful tactic.
Multiplayer is once again a huge component of the game, and even though the core game modes are pretty much the same as the first time around, players have much more choice in creating their characters. You can mix and match different body parts, which can be unlocked with energon shards gained from multiplayer matches. Progressing through the multiplayer ranks will allow you to upgrade your ‘bot with newer parts, abilities, and weapon mods. This weapon mod system is also featured in the single player campaign, but the progress in each mode is separate from one another.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron improves on the solid foundation of the first game in some vital ways: It tells a great new version of the exodus from Cybertron that does a better job of explaining the appearance of the Dinobots, the graphics and detail are far and away better than before, and the emphasis on character specific levels adds variety to the adventure. However, the average shooting mechanics, poor vehicle mode implementation, and inconsistent difficulty level results in a game that I can only recommend to fans of the franchise. High Moon is on the cusp of making something truly great, and I hope that their next take on the Transformers is that game.