I want to be really upfront before getting this review underway. I am a massive Transformers fan. Having been pretty much disappointed with all efforts in the franchise until High Moon came along with War for Cybertron has been disheartening, to say the least. With their follow-up to that fantastic title, the team had some mighty big shoes to fill. WfC is considered to be the best Transformers game to date, by a long shot. Well, after blasting through the campaign and spending ample time with the surprisingly fun online, I can safely say that Transformers: Fall of Cybertron takes the crown, making it a must own for anyone who loves those robots in disguise.
The one thing High Moon has done right with this series is the story. Fall of Cybertron takes its namesake and runs with it. This is basically the prelude to the original TV series a lot of us grew up with. The Autobots and Decepticons are knee deep in war, and the Autobots are trying to co-exist and save the planet, while the Decepticons have other plans. There are thirteen chapters highlighting both sides of the war. You will play as Optimus and Megatron for sure, but also some truly classic names like Jazz, and even members of the Combaticons team (who combine to form the fearsome Bruticus) at one point.
It is clear the game is built on fan service. Several lines of the dialogue have been stripped straight from the classic animated movie, and there is even a remix of Stan Bush’s ‘The Touch’ in the end credits. At times I was lost in how much nostalgia was being delivered, and after completing the campaign I am not sure I saw all of it. I am positive there are Easter Eggs hidden all over that game. The voice work is fantastic bringing Peter Cullen back to voice Optimus is a must, and if I didn’t know that Scatman Crothers had passed away in 1986, I’d swear that he was behind the mic for Jazz.
If you didn’t play the previous game you can still follow the story, but some of the references will likely be lost on you. Of course, to be fair, if you are a fan of Transformers you undoubtedly played the last game, and will love this one just as much. I can’t stress enough how much of a love letter this game is to fans.
Gameplay hasn’t much changed from the past game. You still play in third-person, much like any typical shooter. You can transform into vehicle form by clicking the left stick, and each Transformer has a special ability that is performed with the right bumper. You can dash with the left bumper and this time around you can equip two types of items to help in your battles. These include helper droids, shields and boosts for your main skills. The upgrade system has also been streamlined to keep things in order.
You can purchase upgrades for the main weapons at stations lovingly dubbed Teletraan 1. These allow you to equip weapons, upgrade them and purchase items. You can also buy perks that last throughout the campaign such as making your Transformer move faster, or reducing the cost of items and upgrades. I highly suggest saving up early on and buying the shield cool down and health upgrades right off the bat. Fall of Cybertron is definitely a challenging game, even on normal.
I found myself dying a lot at first. That is until I learned how to utilize the dash move more effectively. Also, it is wise to keep items handy and use them. While the combat is always challenging, it rarely felt unfair. The one exception comes in the form of a mission where you have to protect a specific device while fighting unrelenting hordes while using a weaker Autobot; that mission almost separated the controller from my hand at a high velocity.
Outside of this, the game feels wonderfully paced and just the right length. You can get through the core game in about 6-8 hours depending on difficulty and how much you search around. What I love is the variety of missions. The game opens up with some straight shooter action, but it definitely diversifies itself with flight levels, stealth and (my personal favorite) the grappling hook stages. Those missions really are a ton of fun. You can also go back to any chapter after beating it on any difficulty to mop up collectibles and max out your stats. There are audio logs that definitely expand the universe and blueprints for new weapons. The game keeps track, but there are no checkpoints in the chapter select (a change from War for Cybertron). So you have to play the entire mission all over again.
In addition to the single player game you also have a full online competitive mode as well as the returning horde-style Escalation. Sadly there is no co-op for the main campaign. It feels like they really wanted to streamline the characters this time around and give them more time in the spotlight. While disappointing, this omission didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the game.
Escalation once again allows you to play up to four players against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. You earn cash for kills, which can then be traded for weapons and items. Each map has a theme and a select set of Transformers to pick from. This mode is still fun with friends, but extremely challenging. Going solo is simply not an option.
The competitive mode from WfC was actually really well done. High Moon has built upon that by adding much more customization as their focus this time around. You can customize your Transformer with new cosmetic pieces to create your very own Autobot/Decepticon. Leveling up unlocks new pieces for customization as well as new weapons to equip. It is the perfect feeding tool to keep you playing. Matches are a blast to play when you get enough people in the room. There is a decent selection of maps and the class system returns giving you four choices to play with. There is also a challenge mode that lets you keep track of specific kills (again lovingly dubbed Teletraan 1). Fan service spills into every facet of the game, and if enough people take the plunge, I could see myself enjoying the online for quite a while.
One of the most impressive things about Fall of Cybertron is its presentation. Being a huge fan of the show I was really excited to hear the voice work, and of course the Stan Bush cameo, but the original stuff is also excellent. The other voice actors do an amazing job with all of the characters. The Dinobots are all unique while Nolan North does a decent job as Cliffjumper. The original music is also outstanding. The core level music really sets the tone while boss battles and epic moments are accompanied by tracks that feel right out of a big budget movie.
The visuals are no slouch either. The locales feel much more diverse this time around and the animations on characters are outstanding. Seeing gears move when in robot form (not to mention the entire next to last chapter) is simply stunning. Did I also mention the last level? Wow they really went all out with this one. There was minor slowdown during some truly epic encounters, but for the most part, the game runs at a super steady clip the entire game.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a must have for fans of the series. High Moon really gets the universe and you can tell there are some designers on that team that are hardcore fans. If you loved the last game this is a no-brainer, but if you somehow missed out on the original, I cannot recommend these two games enough. Fans of Transformers will be delighted at the care taken with this series. I really hope that Activision keeps these guys on the series and we continue to get more. Who wouldn’t love to see High Moon take it into Generation One? I have to end this review with the simply phrase: Til all are one!
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.