Builds on its predecessor, but not always in the right way
It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to suggest that Transformers: War for Cybertron is the best Transformers game to date. That doesn’t necessarily speak of its quality since the popular robotic toyline and multi-billion dollar movie franchise doesn’t exactly have the strongest line-up when it comes to video game tie-ins, but that’s also not to say War for Cybertron is purely the best of a bad bunch - there’s just definite room for improvement. Fortunately High Moon Studios is back with the sequel,Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, that brings with it a similar formula whilst introducing new mechanics and shaking up the foundations of its structure.
The ongoing civil war between the heroic Autobots and the nefarious Decepticons rages on with their metallic home world of Cybertron on the brink of collapse. Desperation fills the air and both Optimus Prime and Megatron have their own plans for leading their factions, whether it’s trying to fix their dying planet by any means necessary or escaping the impending destruction altogether. Many familiar faces return, Dinobots appear and Space-Bridges are discovered, each moving part combining to create a frantic and enjoyable narrative that would feel right at home as a story ark in any number of the Transformers’ incarnations – and it even manages to justify the inclusion of the Dinbots in a prudent manner. There’s an obvious reverence for the source material that manages to tell its own story and isn’t afraid to reference fan favourite moments to glean any amount of nostalgic glee from its targeted audience. You can tell there’s a lot of love for Transformers here, and that’s certainly reflected in its story.
It also helps that the newly formed structure of Fall of Cybertron’s campaign maintains the cohesion of its narrative. Transformers games in the past - including War for Cybertron - had opted for two separate campaigns: one for the Autobots and another for the Decepticons. Fall of Cybertron scraps that conceit entirely, having you switch between characters and factions on a chapter-by-chapter basis throughout its seven hour campaign. Besides the more focused story this also eliminates the need for multiple tutorials and introduces improved character progression and difficulty scaling. There is no longer two different first, second and third chapters that make you feel like you’re starting over when switching from one faction to the next, but a single fluid campaign that’s tightly designed.
Each Transformer, while controlling the same, has their own unique one-button ability, so each level design is geared specifically around one character’s particular skill set. For example, when you’re Cliffjumper you can utilise his cloaking mechanic to move stealthily and perform executions on unsuspecting enemies, while Jazz’s grappling hook allows for more freedom of traversal as his chapter opens up to wide open spaces with various platforms and nimble enemies. When combined with the multifarious collection of vehicle forms, each ability lends Fall of Cybertron a sense of variety that was notably absent from its predecessor; though, the shooting has remained largely the same.
There’s a generous assortment of light and heavy weaponry that apes your average arsenal of assault rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles, each augmented with a robotic spin. Arrays of rocket-based armaments also come into play and there are other weapons more befitting of the universe like the Dimensional Decimator and the Energon Harvester. But the shooting remains a fairly standard third-person affair, satisfying as it is. Given the ability to transform into vehicles, there’s a focus on movement and mobility. When you’re in the wide open areas, Fall of Cybertronencourages you to transform and roll out, so to speak, using your vehicle form to dash out of danger or employ each transportation’s particular brand of heavy weaponry. This works fantastically, especially when you’re a flight-based Transformer able to blast into the air in these gargantuan environments. When Fall of Cybertron goes big it goes very big with some chapters showcasing tremendous scale and unbounded freedom.
But it encounters issues when that scale is lost and it begins to mimic a corridor shooter. Its shooting is tight and accurate but a lack of any cover mechanic and the frailty of your character leads to frustration. A single close-range shotgun blast is enough to kill even the likes of Megatron so you’re susceptible to a quick death with any venture away from safety. While your allies and foes alike are able to crouch and hide behind cover, you’re left to make do with manually standing behind it. The solution? To tutorialise hand switching, a mechanic a lot of games never use, but one that’s pushed to the forefront here. You can switch your gun, and thus the camera, to either the right or left side of the screen enabling you to see around whichever obstacle you happen to be standing behind. Fall of Cybertron’s focus on mobility and using your vehicle form to outmanoeuvre enemies is a solid approach, and it’s certainly true that not every third-person shooter requires a cover mechanic. But when you’re as fragile as you are, the alternative should be more elegant than this.
The only time you feel a sense of empowerment is when taking control of one of the larger Transformers. Both Bruticus and Grimlock tower above their enemies, allowing for some wanton destruction when afforded the opportunity. These chapters provide a change of pace from the regular shooting, favouring melee attacks over firearms, but this turns into a tedious affair of button mashing that isn’t particularly entertaining. Turning into a prodigious robotic T-Rex certainly has its charm but there’s a simplicity to the gameplay that accompanies it that leads to quick monotony.
Fortunately, one such chapter is followed by a finale of wonderful proportions. Its scale and frenetic pace encompass the ensemble as you quickly switch from Transformer to Transformer, Autobot to Decepticon. It’s cinematic and combines everything that’s good about the game, from the adoration for the fiction and its characters, through to the expansive environments, the joy of its flight and the satisfaction of its shooting and variety of abilities. It may end all too quickly but it offers a glimpse of what High Moon Studios are capable of. Ample use of the ensemble in any sequel would be greatly appreciated.
Of course, this focus on specific characters and their abilities means campaign co-op is sadly missing, but if you’re still in the mood for some multiplayer Transformers action there are a plethora of competitive and cooperative online modes available. You have your regular agglomeration of Team Deathmatch and objective based game types like Conquest and Capture the Flag. There are four specific classes to choose from and each comes with its own vehicle form and specific abilities. The Scientist, for example, can fly and heal other players, while the Titan is a large unit capable of transforming into a tank to unleash his intrinsic brand of carnage. There’s a playstyle for almost anyone, whether you want to be fast and agile to get into the action quickly, or soar into the sky to level the playing field with would be campers. It discourages immobile snipers and encourages close quarters combat as you use your vehicle form to zip into the action.
And these character classes play a large role in Escalation, Fall of Cybertron’s wave-based survival mode. Direct from the Call of Duty school of thought, this allows you to earn currency that can be spent on more ammo, new weapons and to open mystery boxes in rooms that offer up a random weapon or new ability. You’ll need to work together, utilising your specific four-bot team to succeed by deploying gun turrets, using team damage buffs and healing each other when the time calls for it. It’s an enjoyable aside, much like the competitive multiplayer, though it remains to be seen how sufficient its longevity will be. Player counts are low in objective-based game types and the bland, metallic and grey maps are a far cry from the vibrancy and variation on show within the single-player campaign so it’s not the most appealing world to immerse yourself in for an extended period of time.
You can, however, design your own Transformer from a specific set of body parts. This is a kid’s (and probably a lot of adult’s) dream come true as you’re able to assign different heads, torsos, shoulders and so on to create your own robotic concoction. Each piece determines the look of the vehicle you transform into, and the various colour schemes match each faction so you can really create something unique for each character class. A lot of the time it will just look like Starscream with a different body, but it’s a welcome inclusion that adds flavour to the competitive multiplayer.
The carefully selected combination of useable colours for each faction should tell you all you need to know about High Moon Studio’s veneration for the Transformers universe. There’s no doubt fans of the series will ascertain the most enjoyment fromFall of Cybertron and its deluge of references and new, faithful material; and there’s certain enjoyment to come from its third-person shooting, even if its clumsy cover system (or lack thereof) and fairly one-note combat are clear flaws to see. It may be in competition with its predecessor but the disappointing world of Transformers video games has a new top dog. Perhaps not the crowning achievement but a steady improvement that will hopefully continue with any future instalments.