Review: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (PS3)

Title: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (8.6 GB)
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Publisher: Activision
Developer: High Moon Studios
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $89.99 (Ultimate Edition)
ESRB Rating: T
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

The life of a Transformers fan hasn’t been an easy one.  No, I’m not going to begin with a fan-rage about the Michael Bay movies, because I appreciate them for their popcorn, Summer movie, Bayhem.  In fact, that those movies exist, is what made games like War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron even possible.  You see, no one but the die hard fans even cared about Optimus and company, prior to those movies bringing awareness back to the brand.

Seven years ago Transformers was not what it is now.  Fans of the age-old television cartoon were treated with poorly-dubbed Japanese imported anime, a few decent comic books, and a list of horrible games based on the franchise (most of which never made it out of Japan).  The robots in disguise finally caught a break when the PlayStation 2 received Transformers (Armada).  A beautiful game (seriously, it still looks good) that finally gave fans of Transformers what they had always wanted: a chance to play as a robot that can transform into a vehicle.

But there was still something missing (despite the game’s technical achievements).  For those introduced to the franchise via the Michael Bay films, you will find that you are only being told a fraction (if even that) of the Transformer’s lore.  This isn’t just about a bunch of living robots being pissed at each other.   I will even venture to say that the movie “The Matrix” borrows heavily (not on purpose, I’m sure) from the original Transformers mythology that some of us grew up with (look up the word Quintesson for more on this).  That is to say that the rabbit hole for where Optimus Prime and crew came from hasn’t even been slightly breached by the recent live-action movies.

The new Television show, Transformers: Prime, has finally managed to take the franchise seriously enough to present a show that is both accessible to kids, but also entertaining to adult fans.  But one question remains unanswered by all of the available “motion” media:  What really happened on their home world of Cybertron?  What did they look like before they came to Earth and took the form of  Earth vehicles?

High Moon Studios looked to change all of that with their first entry into the Transformers Universe (War for Cybertron).  It was embraced by most of the fanbase, not to mention the gaming world, as being a solid game.  True to their game-plan, High Moon chose to make a good game first, and add the Transformers to it secondly, whereas studios taking on franchises like these tend to do the opposite and bank on the name of a game to sell copies.

War for Cybertron finally gave fans a visually-stunning version of the Transformers history that was interactive.  And now they have come back to further the story with Fall of Cybertron.

With respect to those who might be reading this review in order to gauge whether or not to dive into this game, I will steer clear of spoilers (seeing as if you already had the game, you would have already made your own mind up about it).

Transformers begins almost immediately where the last game left off.  The Autobots are getting their shiny metal asses kicked, and now it’s time to throw in the towel and get the hell out of Cybertron.  But the ruthless Decepticon leader, Megatron, is intent on not allowing this to happen, thus he leads his minions to destroy any escaping Autobot ships.  We begin the game with somewhat of a flash forward (as told by the recently-released demo).  This is where I will stop with the story element, because the game goes in many different directions from here, allowing the player to experience the game as, not only the Autobots, but their own opposition, the Decepticons.

While this method of gameplay was introduced in War for Cybertron, the former was divided into two even halves of gameplay throughout the campaign.  Fall of Cybertron takes this type of flip-flopping and makes it a bit more sporadic.  One moment you might be playing an Autobot spy, and the next you switch roles, finding yourself on the opposite side of the same fight.  While this certainly makes things interesting from a level design standpoint, it does tend to blur the lines of war a little.  You might be, for example, laying into Decepticon troops, while cursing their names, only to switch over and be forced to play their side, seconds later.  Where as before, you might be mourning the loss of an Autobot soldier, the next minute your contributing to their demise.  It confuses the emotions, but it’s sure as hell cool to experience.  After all, the actual story of the Autobots and the Decepticon uprising is less black and white than the Michael Bay movies convey.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 284 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Fall of Cybertron gives you a gameplay style that rewards playing as a robot, as well as a vehicle, by smoothly incorporating elements in the environment that almost “advise” you to change form.  For example, Optimus Prime’s vehicle mode’s primary weapon launches powerful missiles at the enemy.  One hit from these babies, and the cons break apart into body pieces that struggle to stay together in a display of metal and electrical snakes of energy (an amazing visual to behold).  Sometimes you might find yourself surround by enemies, but only have a sniper attachment for which defend yourself.  No problem.  Transform into vehicle mode and unleash the cluster.  Other more obvious level integrations are simply larger maps that are easier to traverse with wheels, thus encouraging you to change forms, and not play the entire game as a robot.

Of course, most of the fun gun-play comes from running around as a made-for-destruction robot, and High Moon has improved on this play mechanic.  Since the game strays away from the cover system introduced by other recent third-person shooters, Fall of Cybertron offers the player the chance to quickly change weapon hands (literally).  Thus, if you have a building to your right, but your weapon is also on your right hand, switching to your left affords you better aim without compromising your entire body.  I found myself using this feature more than I thought I would, particularly when I was trying to be a bit more stealthy.

And speaking of stealth, Fall of Cybertron once again improves gameplay by becoming more than just a third-person shooter extension of its prequel.  You will embark on stealth missions that involve cloaking in order to sneak by very aggressive sentry bots.  You will take on the role of a lightning-quick Transformer with a Zelda-like grappling hook that has you zipping across the game’s vertically-vast environments.  You will even drop the guns altogether and wield a giant sword, in a very Darksiders-sort-of-way.  And yes, you will fly around as a chopper that turns into a jet as well as a robot.  This is why I love these things.  One would think that with these varying gameplay elements the game might suffer in one of these areas.  While the melee levels won’t trounce some of the best slashers and hackers out there, Fall of Cybertron manages to deliver the thrills of plowing through enemies, with a sword the size of a small house, in a very satisfying way.  The same goes for the other gameplay variations.

Another improvement to the gameplay comes in the form of Teletran-1 kiosks.  These immediately reminded me of the Ratchet and Clank games.  These kiosks not only provide you with access to any weapon in the game (so long as you purchase it first), but also allow you to upgrade each gun, and yourself, with added perks.  These upgrades transcend characters and factions, so you don’t have to frustratingly-rebuild for each character and/or faction.  I found myself enjoying a certain weapon and devoting my money (energon) to building it up.  These upgrades, as well as the money-earned, migrate into future campaign sessions (in a New Game+ sort of way).

Visuals:
Once again, High Moon listened to fan-reaction regarding the original game and spiced up environments, by introducing gamers to different locals on Cybertron.  Some of these exotic locations might have been hinted at in comic books, others invented by High Moon themselves.  What this makes is for amazing vistas that don’t bore with repetition.  What stands out most about Fall is how vast some of these environments are, and how far you can traverse within them, particularly when your character has the gift of flight.  The robots themselves also have a charm to them, and I’m glad that once again their bodies are always in a state of flux (almost implying that a Transformer has to keep himself from just breaking apart).  I mentioned before the subtle details of exploding bodies.  Most of the time, downing an enemy results in them falling to the ground and dissolving (TRON style).  This time, however, blowing up an enemy results in an amazing visual that harkens back to the PlayStation 2 Transformers game.  When a robot explodes in Fall, its individual limbs fly apart, but the energy that was keeping it whole struggles to keep the pieces together, making for an amazing visual display.  I love using rockets for this reason alone.  Additionally, I believe High Moon used the more-robust character-creation tool to make “cannon fodder” that has individuality.  After all, these robots are supposed to be individuals, not Clone Troopers.  By mixing and matching body parts, the game conveys that all of these troops you see running around are more than just assembly-line canon fodder (even though they technically are supposed to be…again look up Quintessons).

I can’t move forward without mentioning the texture pop-up that creeps in from time to time.  It can be a little distracting, particularly when this happens during an intense real-time cinematic scene.  I noticed that a recent patch looks to have addressed the issue a bit (I replayed a certain area and observed that it was no longer present) but I still witnessed it happening from time to time.  This is unfortunate, since the game looks amazing otherwise.

Audio:
It’s a war, and you can hear it.  Everything from distant gun fire to random soldiers crying out commands and cheering your arrival.  It’s all there in magnificent splendor.  This includes the clanking and shifting sound that accompanies your robot as he walks and transform.  Pick up the “Throwback” Blaster to hear a blast from the past (once again…literally).  The voice work is top-notch, with a sound-alike giving nods to Jazz’s original voice actor, Scatman Crothers.  Another thing worth mentioning is how bloody-epic the score is this time around.  I have to admit that one of War for Cybertron’s strongest weakness was the musical score.  It didn’t really compliment the epic scale that was represented by the visuals and narrative.  This time around, the score almost overshadows the events surrounding it.  But this is not a bad thing.  It simply balances things out.  I feel like bigger things are at stake because the music tells me so.

Online/Multiplayer:
Moving onto multiplayer.  Fall of Cybertron once again returns with its many forms of multiplayer.  Players of War for Cybertron will be familiar with the various deathmatch modes, and of course, the popular escalation mode (I’m a sucker for co-op).  The deathmatch modes are a fast-paced romp through ruined Cybertronian landscapes.  Based more on run and gun than stealth and cover, Fall still provides an opportunity to play smart with abilities designed specifically for each of the archetypes.  Unlike War for Cybertron, Fall allows you to create your “unique” Transformers, with dozens of individual limbs and heads to choose from (not to mention color schemes).  This encourages pride in one’s own creation rather than the feeling of everyone looking the same.  I only wish that these characters were also usable in Escalation mode, as I would love to build up my character outside of simply deathmatch.  Multiplayer does tend to favor players who have spent a lot of time with the game.  So be prepared to take a beating before finally figuring things out.  Keep moving and take advantage of your vehicle mode.

Escalation once again allows for up to four players to take on enemies in a horde-like gameplay with a unique difference coming in the form of multiple room and weapon unlocks.  Escalation isn’t only about defeating the waves of enemies.  As a group you must decide which doors to open in the environment.  These passages lead to more weapon options that can help in surviving waves upon waves of enemies.  The hand-switching I mentioned prior certainly helps in these scenarios, as does having friends.  The AI enemies in this mode are ruthless, but that’s why surviving is part of the enjoyment.

Conclusion:
It was a challenge to place a letter grade on this game.  I didn’t want my life-long fandom to interfere with my critical eye.  So I asked myself what I would have awarded War for Cybertron, the Transformers (Armada) PlayStation 2 game from a few years back, and then the abysmal games that came before it.  My fanaticism did not cloud my judgement back then from recognizing certain flaws even in War for Cybertron.  So I found myself genuinely enjoying Fall of Cybertron, not just as an excellent Transformers game, but also as an amazing third-person shooter with plenty to offer in both campaign and multiplayer.

Score:
9.0

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