Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron Review

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a game that kind of fails to live up to its title. Oh, sure, Cybertron will indeed fall, and it will do so in pretty spectacular fashion. But the six-hour campaign is not a transformative experience; rather, it's an iterative one. We've seen most of Fall of Cybertron's tricks before, in 2010's War for Cybertron, and although they are slightly more polished and buffed by greater spectacle here, the feeling of familiarity remains throughout the experience.

That's not to say that any part of the game is particularly boring. It's to be expected that a sequel borrow heavily from its predecessor, after all, and if you've spent any time with War you'll be perfectly comfortable jumping into the Autobots' last stand on Cybertron. Just as before, the bulk of the gameplay in Fall takes the form of a third-person shooter. You won't have access to any cover, and will instead have to rely on dodging, jumping and switching aiming hands to outmaneuver the Decepticons. The default shooting sensitivity is a little sluggish, so you'll likely want to crank it up when you get your hands on the game. When pepped up, the shooting is snappy and responsive as can be, a necessity for a game in which you're almost constantly in the line of fire. 

He may have a sexy robot voice, but Optimus Prime is the least interesting of the playable characters

Other than the overall lack of cover in any given fight, Fall plays like a pretty standard shooter. You'll jump with the A button, reload with X, aim with the left trigger and shoot with the right. Stop me if you've heard any of this before. Though you will play as many different characters over the course of the campaign, there are no discernable differences between the 'bots when they're in their robot form. None of the characters have their own special weapons or melee moves, meaning that your arsenal will typically be limited to whatever you can scavenge from the ground or pick up from the stores. You'll occasionally find weapon pods scattered about the environments that have a chance of granting you a new or special weapon, but typically they just poop out the same stuff you can pick up off of the bad guys. 

Weapons are split into two categories, Primary and Heavy. I found most of the Primary weapons to be pretty boring, archetypes that they are. The Shotgun in particular lacks the distinctive punch that is typical of most video game varieties. The secondary weapons are thankfully much more interesting; some of them will take the forms of giant chainguns or rocket launchers, while others have more unique effects. One of the coolest guns in the game, for example, actually charms enemies into turning against their friends. 

The variety in terms of the robot forms comes in special abilities that are unique to each character. Optimus Prime gets the short end of the stick, with a sort of artillery strike courtesy of Metroplex being his special. Other characters have vastly more interesting moves; Jazz can use a grappling hook to zip around environments, adding a whole new element of mobility to the game's chaotic battles, while Cliffjumper can cloak himself for brutal stealth kills and basic sneaking sections. 

The airborne levels are the biggest, and the best

After a rousing first level, the game takes around an hour to really get into the swing of things. As sad as it is to say, playing as Optimus Prime is probably the most boring part of the game, and the fact that the first several levels cast you exclusively as him is disappointing. Once you get to play as Jazz, Cliffjumper and Starscream in the game's mid to late hours, things really start to pick up. Starscream and co.'s levels are especially invigorating thanks to the wonders of flight. Some of their levels really open up when you transform, giving you a sort of miniature sandbox in which to play around with the game's mechanics. These levels are so much fun, they'll make you wish that the rest of the game was equally open-ended. 

Instead, the average level in Fall takes the form of a corridor crawl with an occasional forray into slightly larger arenas during some of the game's bigger battles. While you can always transform from one form to another, the choice is usually pretty obvious; it's cumbersome to navigate the vehicle forms through the game's narrow corridors. When you fight enemies in these confines, they'll typically seek cover behind one protrusion or another, which begs the question of why your characters all refuse to cover themselves. It makes sense that creatures as massive and imposing as the Transformers wouldn't need to cower behind cover, but it doesn't feel like the developers have come up with any especially viable alternatives, either. As is, only the characters like Jazz or Grimlock feel fully developed in terms of gameplay thanks to their unique alternate powers.

That goes double for Grimlock, the much-hyped T-Rex transformer who comes into play late in the game. He doesn't use any guns at all, instead opting for a giant sword and, when in dinosaur form, flame breath and a ground pound. It's certainly a nice change of pace to be suddenly weilding a sword instead of a gun, and even if the melee controls aren't the smoothest around they're still satisfying enough to get the job done. The coolest part of being Grimlock is natrually the ability to morph into a giant, flame-breathing robot dinosaur (just typing that out feels awesome,) but this power is locked away as a sort of "Rage" mode that you have to build up with your melee combos. Once transformed, Grimlock's attacks are extremely powerful, but they also aren't exactly the easiest to aim and control. And unfortunately, you'll only get to be Grimlock for that one, late level. It would have been nice if he had made a few more appearances further down the line. 

The dinobots are easily the coolest part of the game. It's just too bad they don't feature more heavily into the gameplay

The dinobots do at least play a pretty big part in the story, and it's one that is surprisingly well-told and involving. The world of Cybertron is dying; of that, there is no doubt. What you'll witness in Fall is the demise of a once thriving planet, and as the game nears its conclusion, it's every bit as tense and epic as it should be with a premise like that. You and your Autobot pals can only hope to escape the planet before you're all drained of resources and life. There is no saving this place, and that fact alone adds a ticking clock element that makes the game feel at its best moments like an unstoppable countdown to extinction.

When that countdown reaches its conclusion, you'll have to rely on Fall's multiplayer to hold you over. Just as in War, a surprisingly full-featured multiplayer suite awaits your attention as the campaign draws to a close. There's both competitive and co-op modes consisting of your typical team deathmatch and hoard varieties, but the real fun comes in creating your characters. Fall really goes above and beyond with its character customization suite, allowing you to create your own Transformers and splitting those creations up into distinct and varied classes. It's been a while since we've seen a proper, big-budget class-based shooter like this, and in an odd way it's kind of refreshing. 

There are several different classes, and each has its own unique ability much like the named characters in the campaign. The Scientist class, for example, can heal other robots using a healing wave device. Annoyingly, experience is earned on a per-class basis, so experience with one class won't translate over if you decide to play with another class. It's a decision that kind of limits the flexibility of the multiplayer experience; who would want to play as an under-leveled class when they could play as the class with all of the weapons and abilities already unlocked? Still, if you're dead-set on mastering each class, you'll find the multiplayer to be a lengthy and rewarding experience. Your enemies will be similarly handicapped in their distaste for cover, making the battlefield feel a bit more balanced, and the various weapons and abilities play well together.

The grappling hook adds a whole new level of mobility

Of course, that's not even touching on the coolest part of the multiplayer suite. I refer, of course, to the ability to build your own Transformer from the ground up. As you play the game, you'll be able to purchase and earn new parts for your head, shoulders, torso, legs, etc. You can mix and match these parts, along with various colors, to create your very own robotic warriors. Even cooler, when you transform to your vehicle form you will see your chosen parts reflected in the vehicle's shape. Your chest piece will determine what type of vehicle you are capable of transforming into, while smaller bits like shoulder pads and arms will make small but distinctive changes to the wheels and wings of your vehicles. It's a cool idea that looks great in execution, and it's one that makes every Transformer look unique to boot.

You can also opt to purchase packs that will make you look exactly like characters from the story if you're more into the idea of jumping right into the shooting. Buying Starscream or Optimus Prime packs will make you look just like some of the series' most famous characters, and while it's not quite as cool as building your own 'bot from the ground up, it at least gives players uninterested in spending hours customizing each class an alternative that looks equally neat.

Fall also features a co-op wave-based survival mode, because it's a shooter in 2012 so of course it does. Called Escalation, this mode will be familiar to anyone who's dumped any serious time into shooters over the last few years. The mode consists of fifteen waves of increasing difficulty, and killing the enemies as they come will reward you with the cash to buy new guns. The character customization doesn't really come into play in this mode. Instead, the game casts your squad as specific classes designed to support each other in the heat of battle. Thus, for example, one player might be forced to play as the Scientist because the game deems his healing beam helpful. 

Stealth killing Decepticons never ceases to be totally rad

Visually, Fall is a subtle step up from its predecessor. The game is still really chrome-y and metallic looking; you are on a robot's planet, after all. The terrain is just a little more varied than it was last time, though, giving you more in the way of hills and jumps to best when you're in vehicle form. The more open-ended environments afforded the flying Transformers also look great, and they stream off the disc with minimal, if any, loading.

If the last few paragraphs sound pretty familiar, don't be surprised. Fall of Cybertron takes more than its share of cues from the action of its predecessor, and doesn't feel the need to shake things up too dramatically in terms of gameplay. Stomping around as Grimlock is a welcome change of pace, but it's over too soon, and some of the levels don't feel like they take full advantage of the mobility that an inherent vehicle form provides. Having said that, Fall is mechanically rock-solid, especially when controlling one of the more mobile characters, and its vast multiplayer suite should be enough to keep even the most dedicated gamers glued to their controllers for a few weeks. The Transformers make a valiant effort to be sure, but there's still plenty of room for improvement when the robots in disguise inevitably reach Earth.

Score: 8/10

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360

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