A noble effort.
I was a big fan of War for Cybertron, despite it's numerous issues. It was the first Transformers game in a long time to capture that G1 feeling perfectly, with a modern-era HD-sheen. The storyline was effective, and adopted as canon, and the multiplayer had longer legs than anticipated. The sequel kicks off almost immediately after the end of the first and continues the story of the demise of Cybertron and effectively explores the motivations of both factions.
Gameplay and graphics
Gone is the squad mechanic from the first game, and I for one feel that this is a benefit. It means that level-design takes precedence over player-freedom, which for me is necessary to drive a powerful narrative. In this way, the game is able to mix up the game mechanics and keep things reasonably fresh throughout. Yes, there's some repetition of abilities between the two factions, but the developers were pretty smart about it - for example, the level where you play as Cliffjumper with his cloaking ability is pretty long, but when you play as the Decepticon with the same skill, the stage is much shorter and does not outstay it's welcome.
The shooting is just as frantic as the first; the guns are big and loud, and differ enough to enable players to find a weapon that suits their play style. All weapons can be upgraded at store terminals scattered throughout the game, and each Transformer can carry two support skills, one offensive and one defensive, as well as choose to buy upgrades such as improved shields or discounts at the store. All of the upgrades stay permanent throughout the game, and if you don't use one of the support items you've bought, you get the cash back at the end of the level. If I had one complaint about this system, it would be this: I found the weapons I liked to use really early in the game, upgraded them as much as I could and then used them as exclusively as I could. This meant that any time I was put in the shoes of a character who did not have that primary weapon as a default (all secondary weapons have to be acquired every time you switch up characters), I felt that I was putting up with a sub-standard gun until I could find a store and get my 'proper' guns on. This could have been solved by having a store at the beginning of each stage. Additionally, there are times where weapons are very obviously left around; you can almost see a big sign above them saying "HEY, BUDDY, YOU SHOULD USE THIS!" And you'll struggle if you don't. The rub is, once the part of the level where that weapon was genuinely useful is over, you're stuck with using it in other, less-than-ideal situations until you can find a store, or trek back to pick up the gun you swapped it out for, which is not always even possible. Not to labour the point, but I personally found the short-range weapons utterly useless. They may pack more of a wallop, but by the time you're in range to use them, you're usually in amongst more hurt than your bot can handle - picking enemies off from long range is a much more viable strategy, especially as a the problem of limited ammo dumps is gone from the first game.
There will occasionally be bouts of button mashing and certain buttons to press to initiate situation-specific actions. These usually result in the game's cooler moments, but could have been handled a little more elegantly. You don't just see the button, or combo of buttons that you have to press, like most games: it's a whole sentence! "Press R3 to destroy ********" took me out of the experience a little and seemed clumsy, (I mean, it tells you what is going to happen!) especially as there are other times in the game where you do only see the button, with no distracting text.
My last comment on the gameplay is easily my biggest gripe with the experience. One thing that does make an unwelcome return from the first game are the insane difficulty spikes that you will encounter. These don't ramp up gradually, but hit you like a freight train in some sections. Struggled to take down one of these dudes? Here's five of them. Trained yourself to use cover effectively? Here's a section where there isn't any. Feel like you could use a different weapon to get through this bit? Here's a bunch of weapon-pods with no opportunity to get anywhere near them. At one point (and I'm not pretending to be very good at the game, completed it on normal) I had to replay earlier levels just to earn enough credits to double my health. And I still seriously wrestled with the bit I was stuck on, again because I was locked to weapons that I struggled to use effectively and upgrades that weren't useful in that situation. Eventually, to my great reluctance, I had to restart that entire level to equip myself more to my taste. And it still took me five tries after that. Be warned.
The graphics are much more colourful this time round, with a noticeably richer palette all-round and very specific colour-schemes and designs for the principal characters. The texture pop-in on the PS3 version is straight-up unforgiveable, though, and it will often take upwards of 30 seconds for everything to load. For some bizarre reason, the characters are often the last thing to fill in, which completely breaks the immersion at critical moments. It's extremely annoying, and the phrase 'lazy port' can justifiably be applied to this game. It's still playable, although I did encounter one glitched save necessitating an entire chapter restart, and after the patch, if a host disconnects from an online game, you're going to be resetting your system. This is shoddy work from High Moon.
Storyline and characters.
The plot benefits enormously from the use of specific characters and abilities, and each level is peppered with awesome moments. The characters feel very different and their personalities shine through. The writing is very much in keeping with the overblown nobility the series is known for, which I like, and the pacing is generally excellent throughout. There's no part that feels over-long or too short and each chapter contributes something important to the overall storyline. Like the first, there are little extras that fans will appreciate. My personal highlight was discovering how Shockwave lost one of his hands, and there are a ton more to discover. It builds towards a suitable and great conclusion, although it does end incredibly abruptly - an epilogue would have been an excellent addition.
Some licence is taken with the franchise, and I guess High Moon have a right to put their own stamp on it and not be completely tied to the 80's, but Shockwave and Swoop's voices were completely out of place for me, just did not suit the characters at all. Sounds like I'm on a Shockwave hate, but in the comics and cartoon, he's one of the larger, more powerful Decepticons - in the game, he's much closer to Bumblebee-size which, coupled with the lack of a menacing voice, makes him less of a character than he should be. Maybe this is a personal feeling, but seeing one of the top-ranking Decepticons towered over by just about everyone else, and reduced to a mad scientist stereotype was too much for me.
I'm not a huge online fan, I'll be honest, although I have been addicted to the Mass Effect 3 horde-mode for months now! The equivalent mode here, Escalation, seems far easier than it was in the first game. The trouble is, it's very short-lived. There's only four maps to choose from, with a trophy for each one, and you are locked to a single character class. This means experimentation is not possible. Using Mass Effect 3 as a comparison, if you want to see if it's possible for 4 adepts armed with pistols to survive, you can set that up. Here, you're locked to one of four classes, and if you are last to connect to the game, you might get left with a class that you don't like or play well as. This leads to a lot of players just logging out when they don't get the character they want, which is annoying. Also, once you've got the trophy for each stage, and the one for spending money in the store, there is no reason to go back to this mode, and it'll take you 2-3 hours at most. Also, for some reason, the default difficulty for Escalation is easy, which just struck me as odd. There's no benefit whatsoever to playing on harder difficulties, so you're as well sticking with it.
The competitive modes can be unforgiving at first, but that might just be my lack of experience. Overall, map design seems better than the first, and I did find myself improving over time. I still found everything outside the standard deathmatch more interesting, and not so underpopulated this time round. I'm finding it slow to level up, but like I said, I'm not that great at it anyway. It's fun and has kept me occupied over the last week. I can see myself putting in at least a few more hours on it, but the trophy requirements will need a severe time investment to meet, if you're into that. The much-lauded character creation scheme seems not that great to me. Mixing and matching parts often results in a robot which looks a little ridiculous, and most people I've played online with are playing with full armour sets (Jazz, Shockwave) with few changes, if any. Again, the action is so frantic, you're unlikely to notice subtle touches, so the effort put into creating a character seems like wasted time on both the part of the player and developer.
As a fan of the series, I still really enjoyed this game, and I'll admit I reacted strongly to Jeff's review when I first read it. As time goes by, however, I'm finding myself agreeing with just about every point he makes. Fall of Cybertron is a good game, and it occasionally touches greatness, but not often enough to lift it above most other experiences. I'd say this is strictly for fans only, or those who wish to play as a 20ft, fire-breathing mechanical T-Rex, which, by the way, is just as awesome as it sounds.