(Xbox 360 Review) Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

Developer: High Moon Studios
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action
Players: 1-12
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: Philip Smith

Overall: 8 = Excellent

High Moon Studios’s tenure on Transformers has been a rocky one. After a very promising start with 2010’s War for Cybertron, the studio then released the movie tie-in for the third film the following year, the dud Dark of the Moon. Fortunately for fans of the franchise, Fall of Cybertron, a direct sequel to War for Cybertron, sees the studio coming back stronger than ever with an explosive send-off that sees the Transformers leaving their home world in a high-octane escape that is sure to please fans and non-fans alike.

While previous Transformers titles have focused on the war between the Autobots and Decepticons on Earth, it has only been recently that their original conflict has come into focus. War for Cybertron found the embittered factions already weakened after eons of warfare, and Fall of Cybertron finds them nearing the end—of everything. The fight is no longer about holding the line but simply trying to escape the overrun trenches. The Autobots are on the ropes; their cities have been destroyed, their energon reserves are nearly depleted, and their forces decimated by a warlike, tireless foe. As they make their way to a tear in space that will see them to the relative safety of a new galaxy, they are set upon once again by Megatron. As the Decepticons launch a ferocious assault on the Autobot’s carrier, the game quickly jumps back in time to follow the previous six days and allow you to take part in the events that end with this mass exodus, the one that will see Cybertron abandoned for a new destination, rich in minerals and untouched by the eons-long conflict: Earth.

At this point in the war, there isn’t much left for either side to fight over. With Cybertron now a charred wasteland, both sides now gather as much life-giving energon as they can for an uncertain future. But when the chance comes for the Autobots to make an escape to a new home, they take it. Megatron and his Decepticons aren’t far behind, but his goal isn’t to make a getaway, as he is content to rule a dying world, but only to stop the Autobots from leaving—because that’s what the Decepticons do.

It’s best to view their objectives as long term versus short term, with Optimus Prime looking to continue their race and Megatron wanting nothing less than absolute power. When you hate anything and everything, short term will do. But for the Autobots, they are in a race against time to gather as much energon as possible to initiate the launch of a massive transport ship christened the Ark. The Ark is bound for a portal that is starting to deteriorate, and if they cannot make it before the portal vanishes, then all hope will be lost. In short: it’s time to get out of Dodge.

Slingshotting back in time allows you to witness the liftoff of and final assault on the Ark. Broken down into chapters, Fall of Cybertron continues its predecessors’ practice of swapping viewpoints so that you can experience the war from both sides. After each side gets a few chapters to get the ball rolling, the game increases begins to switch between the factions faster and faster to match the frantic last moments, ping-ponging you from Autobot to Decepticon and back within a matter of minutes. At the game’s finale, you are given the choice of which side to fight for. The setup is not only a nice homage to the cartoon’s structure, but it’s also especially effective at highlighting the tug-of-war struggle between those fighting to break away and those fighting to hold on.

In-between all of this back-and-forth is a series of set-piece battles that will make anyone with a love of gun-toting automatons smile. Whereas previous Transformer titles played up the size of the robots by having them tower over men and climb up buildings on Earth, Fall of Cybertron embraces scale like never before and goes all out with some absolutely massive characters. The huge Metroplex is a prime example: a lumbering behemoth who looks down on Cybertron’s spiraling towers and over innumerable Decepticons on his way to help Optimus Prime, he is a screen-filling monster. The encounters are also bigger, and now feel much more as though they are part of a larger conflict. The way High Moon Studios cranked up the scale of the set-piece battles is reminiscent of Infinity Ward’s approach to Modern Warfare 3: the more over the top, the better. And when you’re dealing with huge transforming robots, over the top is exactly the right direction.

The grandiose scenarios also help to offset the fact that the Transformers, being the giant metal creatures that they are, have a somewhat limited range of motion. Despite being a third-person shooter, there are no cover or other more involved mechanics at play as in so many other action shooters on the market. Save for being able to transform into their alt modes, which tend to be most useful in sequences specifically designed for their use, the limited agility offered by the directional dash and ability to wield two firearms (normal and heavy) means that your best bet is to stay in robot form to maximize your firepower. To add more variety, an upgrade system allows for each weapons’ components to be upgraded by trading in stored energon at Teletraan 1 stations. These upgrades, along with permanent bot perks and one-time-use items (drop shields, powered-up projectiles, etc.), are also graded by the community, with players rating all items based on usefulness to help with purchasing decisions; though, there’s more than enough energon to go around for all of the permanent upgrades and several modified weapons. So while the Transformers themselves might not have much to offer in terms of physical prowess or tactical possibilities, the combination of dashes, alt modes, a varied upgradeable arsenal, and impressive set pieces fit nicely with the solid run-and-gun action.

The downside to the campaign is that it is short. Very short. Even a bit of filler in the last act couldn’t pad the game out beyond eight hours. While there’s no in-game counter, I would venture to say that my game only lasted between six to seven hours. The difficulty is also on the light side, with Normal feeing more like Easy, despite the bots themselves being fairly weak, which isn’t a serious mark as it keeps the action fast, but it’s definitely noticeable. I also encountered two bugs that forced me to resort to an earlier checkpoint. Fortunately, checkpoints are plentiful and largely well placed, saving me from heavy backtracking after Starscream got stuck on a pipe after transforming in a tunnel and a trigger failing to activate after Swoop flew beyond what was necessary and into—and through—a giant tower. The checkpoints largely relegate these to nothing more than minor nuisances, but they, especially the later, could be confusing for younger players who will undoubtedly get their hands on the game despite the Teen rating. To end on a more positive note, because the campaign really is a fun ride, the voice-over performances are spot-on and the writing is actually really good, with Starcream eliciting more than a few chuckles. There’s also a nice Easter Egg of what appears to be one bots doing the Carlton Dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I’m not sure why it’s there, but it’s definitely worth seeking out (another Transformer performs it in the credits, in case you miss it during the campaign).

After seeing the Transformers off to their new home, it’s time to jump online for Multiplayer and Escalation. Multiplayer hosts the more traditional modes, including Capture the Flag, Conquest (capture and hold territories), Head Hunter (gather enemies’ dropped sparks), and Team Deathmatch. These are all similar to previous Transformer titles, with five base classes—Destroyer, Infiltrator, Scientist, and Titan—each with their own unique skills, such as dropping barriers and healing allies, and leveling up when enough experience is accumulated from killing, meeting objectives, and completing challenges. As in the Call of Duty titles, challenges are tasks that tend to be accomplished naturally during play (e.g., kill so many enemies, travel so far in alt form, etc.) that serve to give surprise experience boosts for faster leveling and a bit of excitement. Credits earned during play can also be used to customize a Transformer, with the base model having its armaments and gear unlocked and upgraded as they level, including two additional slots to allow for a total of three different versions of each class, but appendages and body altered by points purchased. The head, shoulder, body, arms, and legs, as well as decals, can be swapped from a list of in-game unlockable as well as DLC items. The model can even be given a specific name, to help differentiate it from others in the same class.

Escalation is a survival mode in which you and three others, each picking one specific class type, face off against 15 waves of increasingly difficult enemies. As waves are bested and enemies felled, the energon gained is used to purchase more ammo, different weapons, the use of automatic defensive turrets, and to unlock new areas. But as in the single-player campaign, I did encounter a strange bug. After I transformed into the alt mode, my Transformer fell into the floor and was stuck driving around inside the geometry, unable to transform back into robot form. I was eventually saved after blowing myself up and having a teammate revive me. There were still some glitches after that, though, and things didn’t sort themselves out until after a respawn. In regards to the maps, while they can’t fully accommodate all alt modes, I did find that they could still be of great benefit when the alt modes were used appropriately; granted, some out there might just want to let it rip on the accelerator, but that’s often out of the question. Similarly, there is a lot to like, and there is a bit of skill involved in balancing out the weapons, the damage radius (splash or focused), directional dash, and alt modes.

The multiplayer component as a whole doesn’t have as dramatic an impact on replayability as in a Gears of War, but it does extend the game’s longevity by several hours.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
is a little rough around the edges, but it’s also a bang-up action title with a lot of great set pieces and some fantastic voice-over work. The short length, even when taking multiplayer into account, isn’t helped by the graphical glitches that cropped up in the story and when playing online. While the technical problems might be patched away, diehard fans will find themselves itching for more after they’ve burned through the storyline and much of what online play has to offer in a weekend. Still, it’s a great ride while it lasts.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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