When it was first announced, 2010’s Transformers: War for Cybertron seemed about as appealing as a collision with a planet eating asteroid named Unicron. The High Moon Studios developed third-person shooter was revealed right around the cusp of Bayformers fever, and despite the Soundwave-esque sincerity of the developer’s promises, few fans believed that the final product would actually do justice to the classic ‘bot brawling franchise. After all, how could it with Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox’s blockbuster antics pulling in billions of dollars at the box office?
In hindsight, it turned out that series continuity was the least of War for Cybertron’s problems. While it nailed the characterisation of Optimus Prime and crew, it failed to justify itself as a game, prompting a middle-of-the-road third-person shooter with a lack of variety. Ignoring last year’s slapdash Dark of the Moon movie tie-in, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is High Moon Studios’ second bite at the mechanical cherry – and while it still stutters as a shooter, it definitely makes Metroplex-sized strides compared to its predecessor.
It’s evident from the explosive opening half-hour of gameplay that the devoted developer has really upped its game. A sleek tutorial section told from the perspective of seasoned scout Bumblebee exposes the studio’s ambition, with multiple set-pieces propping up a deferred title screen and a swift introduction to the story.
Fall of Cybertron keeps its narrative fairly basic, allowing the personality of its multiple protagonists to carry the plot. In short, countless years of civil war have drained the Transformers’ home planet of Cybertron dry of energon, leaving each of the warring factions (that’s Autobots and Decepticons for those of you that have been living under a soundproof rock for the past 30 years) in desperate pursuit of a new homeland. If the set-up sounds familiar, it should: Fall of Cybertron concludes with a set-piece that will be instantly recognisable to fans of the infamous television series.
Indeed, the campaign is riddled with nostalgia from the original animated ‘toon – sometimes to the detriment of its own identity. Given its place in the franchise’s lore, it’s a little jarring that High Moon Studios opts to outright retread memorable moments from Transformers: The Movie. The fan service’s brazen implementation just doesn’t gel with the overall vision of the game – and is actually more likely to upset long-term fans than excite them.
Still, at least the single-player campaign is a lot more structured than its predecessor. Fall of Cybertron plumps up for a single storyline as opposed to multiple plots based on the separate factions. The result is an experience that’s a little more rigid than War for Cybertron, but much more cinematic. Each character you play as has a unique skill; from Optimus Prime’s frantic forays on the battlefield, to Cliffjumper’s tense stealth segments – there’s always something new to look forward to.
Unfortunately, while the wrapping has improved, the moment-to-moment shooting hasn’t got much better. Without a cover system to add tactical variety to the gameplay, Fall for Cybertron relies on you disguising your lumbering robotic form behind pieces of chunky geometry to recharge your shield, before taking a few pot-shots and repeating the formula. Rarely does the gunplay capture the urgency of the cartoons, and on the rare occasion that it does, the creaky Unreal Engine backbone energising the experience succumbs to a frame-rate in the single digits.
That said, there’s a lot to like about Fall of Cybertron’s single-player campaign, and most of it pertains to the cinematography of the experience. High Moon Studios has expertly crafted every moment of the campaign to ensure there’s something interesting to capture your attention, be it frightening dust-storms on the horizon or explosive aerial battles in the sky. The visual variety is much better than its predecessor, too, with Cybertron housing a distinctly less grey and purple palette this time around.
As you progress through the single-player campaign, you’ll accrue energon shards which can be invested in Teletraan modules in order to unlock weapon upgrades and gameplay perks. There are also obligatory audio logs and blueprints to collect – many of which are hidden in and amongst each level’s complex scenery.
Multiple difficulty tiers and a concluding moral choice will encourage you to return to the single-player campaign, but once you’ve seen out both endings, you’ll probably find little incentive to reinvest. Thankfully, that’s where multiplayer really stands out.
War for Cybertron’s multiplayer impressed because it offered something fundamentally different, and that sentiment rings true for its successor too. Utilising the same class-based system, familiar Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag game types are injected with new life courtesy of the Transformers’ unique abilities. The option to switch into a vehicle form at any given moment adds an urgency to the action that’s not available in any other multiplayer shooter, and it results in rampant rounds that regularly exceed their score limit within four or five minutes flat.
For less technologically proficient shooters that would leave you waiting around more than you’re actually playing, but thankfully Fall of Cybertron is efficiently constructed. Matchmaking is extremely slick, and once you’re in a room, it will regularly rotate new players into empty slots, ensuring you’re always competing against a full roster of participants.
There’s plenty to unlock, too. In addition to the usual roster of challenges and level unlocks, Fall for Cybertron also boasts a fairly beefy Create a Character component, which allows you to mix and match robot components in order to create your own personal online identity. The feature doesn’t go quite as deep as we originally hoped, but there are more than enough options to create something unique, with the promise of more being added later as DLC.
If competitive gunplay isn’t your cup of oil, then War for Cybertron’s excellent co-operative mode Escalation also makes a welcome return. Once again you’ll be able to select from a range of established Transformers characters, each augmented with a unique ability designed to encourage you to work together as a group. Like Call of Duty’s zombie mode, you’ll earn currency for each kill you make, which can then be reinvested into preparing defences and buying new weapons. It’s mindless but entertaining, especially if you’re playing alongside friends.
Sadly, Fall of Cybertron as a whole is a little too brash to hold your attention indefinitely. It’s a showy, attention starved experience that thrives upon turning things up to eleven all the time – and while that’s enjoyable in short bursts, there are moments where you’ll wish the game would just pull out a Kit-Kat and take a quick five-minute break.
If War for Cybertron was Ultra Magnus, then Fall of Cybertron is Rodimus Prime: slick, confident and explosive, but not quite as refined as the ultimate Autobot leader Optimus Prime. There’s a lot to like about the game’s single-player campaign, but sloppy shooting and some technical issues detract from its cinematic achievements. Once again multiplayer is perhaps the highlight of the package, serving up a punchy competitive and co-operative experience that, while unlikely to consume your gaming attention for months on end, is a lot more than meets the eye.