Review: Transformers Fall of Cybertron
24th Aug 2012 | 20:31
When High Moon Studios told CVG a few months back that it was hoping for an 'Arkham Asylum-like reception' to its origins story
While Transformers: WFC was a fun but vanilla third-person shooter, Fall Of Cybertron prefers to carry itself like a contemporary console blockbuster should, its thirteen campaign missions encompassing everything from high-octane chase scenes to moments of quiet contemplation, via collectable audio logs shipped in direct from BioShock. By increasing its wingspan however, Fall for Cybertron meets with as much grief as reward.
Let's start with the good, because there's an awful lot of it. The one area in which Transformers: Fall of Cybertron undoubtedly stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Batman: Arkham series is its reverence and appreciation for its source material.
Like Rocksteady's Gotham, High Moon's depiction of Cybertron is more than just a digital carbon copy of existing Transformers lore. Instead, High Moon's efforts build upon and expands the existing Transformers universe, rather than clinging onto the back of it like a limpet.
The sights you take in over the course of Fall of Cybertron's campaign are testament to the game's ambition to create Transformers history, rather than just report on it. While most associated media over the past 28 years has largely dismissed the Transformers' metallic homeland, T:FOC burrows deep into Cybertron's outer shell and finds beneath a thriving, varied and interesting world of varying topography.
Sights range from the optic-searing sandstorms of the Sea of Rust, to the jagged, pulsating tunnels of the innermost Insecticon hives, to the piercing purple lights and sense of foreboding that consume Kaon, the oppressive Decepticon capital. The visual variety is matched in the way each level plays, due to a busy storyline that hops from robot to robot - and from Autobot to Decepticon - almost on a chapterly basis.
Like pretty much every Transformers game ever made, T:FOC recognises that the series' strength lies in its vast assortment of characters, and flits between them at every opportunity. Unfortunately, the three-way co-op that proved so popular in War For Cybertron is out, which means that the choice of 'bot before each stage has also disappeared. You're stuck with whoever High Moon want you to play as.
On the flipside, this means that the level designers have been given the green light to build each stage around the 'bot's specific abilities. Cliffjumper and Starscream for instance can use their cloaking device to turn invisible temporarily, paving the way for some of the loudest stealth missions you've ever experienced.
Jazz (and the Combaticon Swindle) on the other hand come equipped with a grapple hook that enables them to swing from ledge to ledge like Tarzan. At first this mode of travel seems rather scripted and unnecessary, but as their chapters meet their exciting climaxes the levels open out gloriously into multi-layered free-form battlegrounds where swiftness of movement and thought are essential to survival.
Kineticism, in fact, is a key skill across all twelve stages (bar the cathartic section where you give the Autobot defenses a good pounding as the Combaticon gestalt Bruticus, natch). To incentivise you to give the Transformers' weaker but infinitely more mobile alt modes a work out, T:FOC expands the scale of the battle areas and adds new more powerful enemy types that require you to get in behind the enemy, such as the Decepticon Leapers who can only be dismantled by shooting their vulnerable power core, or the Autobot Titans who pack enough firepower to make a frontal assault all but impossible.
When it all comes together, which is more often than not, it's scintillating. It's particularly gripping when you're on the verge of death. Taking a few pot shots and then transforming and burning rubber towards the nearest replenishing Energon cube is breathless stuff - you daren't even pan the camera back behind you.
The balancing that allows this to happen, however, lends itself to occasional pockets of frustration - sections that would make even Soundwave curse. The problem is that your 'bot is too fragile. Attempting to engage the enemy in close-quarters combat will see your energy empty like a punctured gas tank. You can go from healthy to dead in a matter of seconds.
As such, T:FOC has to be played like a cover shooter with no cover system - instead you spend much of your robot life cowering behind metal panels, taking pot shots from afar. It's not particularly aspirational. Combat feels rather tinny too, considering the scale of the gladiators - compare the limp manner fallen robots vanish from existence to the meaty spray of shrapnel which greets each blow in Sega's Binary Domain.
At least we're no longer starved of ammunition, as was War For Cybertron's want,. While the number of weapons is small, there's a nice spread and each weapon is satisfying to use in their own way. Furthermore, they can be upgraded at the Teletraan stations dotted around each level. Here, you can also buy perks (yes, like Call of Duty) which grant permanent abilities.
It takes about nine hours to complete Fall of Cybertron, and while it delivers on interesting and entertaining moments, they are not so expertly bound together to provide a sense of journey. Events and scenarios feel scattered, due to the constant quantum leaping from perspective to perspective. It does come together somewhat in the impossibly grand final level, which recreates the assault on the Arc from 'More Than Meets The Eye'. The final battle between Prime and Megatron however is all style and no substance - a disappointing finale with a disappointing ending to match (although the credits are great!).
The lack of co-op also (surprisingly) does more harm than good to the narrative - those familiar with the G1 cartoons will know that more often than not, missions play out like buddy comedies and it felt a bit sad clunking around as Grimlock, Optimus et al on our lonesome. The Jazz/Cliffjumper double act that spans chapters four to five only serve to reinforce what's lost.
And it really is too linear, too often. By that we we're not saying we want an open-world Transformers game - we've ridden that horse and it wasn't comfy - but rather that the battles are at their greatest when we have room to stretch our wings (or wheels) and improvise.
Oddly the closest we got to 'feeling' like a Transformer was in the superb Team Deathmatch multiplayer, where players create their own customised robots and the powers that get fleeting cameos in single player intermingle. It's perhaps too slow to crowbar the masses away from Call of Duty, and it can be tricky to determine who is on what side at a glance, but it's a worthwhile distraction that's likely to support a small, dedicated community.
For all its perceivable shortcomings though, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is an easy game to forgive, and an easier game to love. Clever tributes to the classic G1 series (see the dialogue between Kickback and Grimlock, or Starscream's farcical coronation) mix with familiar yet contemporary character design to leave the package feeling warm and nostalgic, but this is very much a Transformers universe that looks like it belongs in the 21st Century.
Those with no real affinity to the Transformers franchise will look back fondly on a robust third-person shooter with the occassional dip in quality, but nothing severe enough to make you regret investing your time and money into High Moon Studios' world.
For Transformers fans however, this is the game you've always dreamed of, and then some. Your bargaining posture, as the saying goes, is highly dubious.