Review: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
When it comes to dealing in licensed properties which span various forms of media, video games have often felt like they lack a certain sense of “identity” when it comes to dealing with them. For example, take Batman: He has had a comic book version, a cartoon version, and a movie version, all going at the same time, each one distinct– its own identity within the franchise.
And yet, for many years, whenever a Batman video game would be made, it was generally based on one of those forms or another: A Batman Returns video game, or The Adventures of Batman & Robin (nee Batman: The Animated Series), or just a typical comic-like version of the Caped Crusader. While each of the aforementioned would cross over into other media, they were generally associated with their home medium.
Then came Batman: Arkham Asylum, and for the first time ever, there was a true “video game” version of the Dark Knight. It had its own look, and more than that, its own identity– it wasn’t merely adapting one from another branch of the franchise, but instead, it created its own which could stand alongside the others.
If you’ve played Transformers: War for Cybertron, then I probably don’t need to tell you this, but with that game, High Moon Studios did for Transformers video games what Rocksteady did for Batman, and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron continues the video game branch of the franchise along that same glorious path.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a third-person shooter, likened to the Gears of War series in some aspects. And before we go on, I should probably make a clarification/admission: I’ve never really played a third-person shooter before. That’s actually part of why this review took me a while to do, and you should know that I’m coming at it with some relatively fresh eyes, and I hope this gives other Transformers fans like myself who may not have experience in that style of game a better idea of what they can expect from this title.
Suffice to say, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a true product of its generation: It looks great, it sounds superb, and one look at the control scheme might be enough to keep less-dedicated gamers at bay. It isn’t a simple layout, but the developers have done a fine job of easing you into it with the first stage as a tutorial-based mission. Sure, the “T” word is enough to make some roll their eyes, but this works rather well– I can say this from experience, having to learn it myself, and if you know the controls, then it more or less feels like a regular mission.
I’ve only had a few troubles with the controls, and I’m willing to chalk that up to inexperience. Foremost is using the right analog stick to line up a shot on the enemies; you move a targeting reticule that turns red when an enemy is in your sights, though those at further ranges can be a lot trickier to get a bead on as they are likely to move when you finally get things lined up. That’s realistic enough, actually, but when you’re taking cover and lining up a shot, sometimes it turns red when you aren’t far enough from behind your cover and you waste shots on the wall instead.
The other trouble I encountered, and this was early on, was involuntary transformation. In the default control scheme, transforming is performed by clicking the left analog stick, and in some intense situations, I’d find myself having accidentally clicked it and transforming before getting slaughtered. The robot mode controls have numerous alternatives for this, though none where you can set the buttons as you wish.
Furthermore, other parts don’t have as robust a selection, which could create a disparity of sorts. Vehicle mode only has two options for controls, and both relegate transformation to clicking the left thumbstick, leaving a possibility that you’d need two different buttons to transform to vehicle mode and back if you change.
Incidentally, I found the vehicle controls to be a little odd. These vehicle forms tend to hover, and you can move forward/backward or sideways as a result, save for when you initiate the booster (which switches to a full-on land mode). As a result, steering is done by controlling the camera with the right thumbstick. It’s a little weird, to say the least, especially if you’re expecting these guys to move anything like most racing games.
That said, I’m probably making a lot of this sound worse than it really is in practice. You get used to most of the quirks over time (though I’m still not quite used to the vehicle mode controls), and get to do some neat stuff as you go.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron has proven to be a mostly-satisfying challenge for me. I began on normal, but my lack of experience in this style of gameplay began to work against me before too long, and I was conveniently able to switch to an Easy setting. There, I’m still challenged, but it feels less overwhelming.
As I’ve progressed, I’ve still run into some spots which have given me trouble, even in Easy mode. But rather than feel like my back is against the wall, much of the progress has come from examining the situation and giving it another different go. Only on rare occasion have I felt any frustration, and even those trials were eventually overcome.
The experience is largely accommodating, as progress is linear, which is in keeping with this title’s more story-driven nature. Beacons tell you were to go, and in my experience, if you manage to get close enough to your next checkpoint, the game registers it. I’m of mixed feelings about this, as it allows me to keep going without running my head against a proverbial wall, but at the same time, I’m sometimes unable to easily give certain sections another shot after failing. But as someone who perhaps relishes this game’s atmosphere, setting, and story over its actual gameplay, that’s not all bad.
Indeed, this game is more linear than its predecessor, which featured a more squad-based style in which you could typically choose from one of three present Transformers across two separate campaigns, Autobot and Decepticon. High Moon Studios has opted to tell a more focused, tighter-knit story than its predecessor, and it works out really well.
Across the single, longer story told by Fall of Cybertron, you’ll switch characters– and sides– with each mission as you move ever-closer to the finale. You won’t have a choice of characters, as each one has a role to play in each section and special talents which accentuate that role.
For instance, Optimus Prime is rallying the troops and trying to keep the Decepticons from destroying the Autobots’ only hope of leaving Cybertron, the Ark. For this, he recruits the massive Autobot City Metroplex, a Transformer himself, to help crush the cannons (and more in one delightful bit, but that would be spoiling. Suffice to say, it was the best Quick Time Event ever… and I hate QTEs). And while Metroplex’s main focus is on these cannons, you can still call upon his awesome power much of the time to rain destruction upon your aggressors.
Elsewhere, Cliffjumper and Jazz work together on a mission. Rather than the big guns and rush ’em attitude he’s previously been known for, Cliffjumper is now more the Autobot equivalent of Solid Snake, keeping to the shadows and tunnels while employing a cloaking device to get the drop on enemies. Meanwhile, Jazz gets a callback to the five-part premiere of the original cartoon and employs a grappling hook to let his inner Bionic Commando out to play.
And of course, there are the likes of Grimlock and Bruticus, who cause destruction in the unique ways that only they can later on in the game. Each character has their own sort of feel beyond abilities, including their speed and efficiency with melee attacks, adding further variety beyond vehicle mode and special attacks. Fortunately, they do get to all share in some of the upgrades you purchase throughout the campaign.
To me, more than anything, the story is one of the main draws of Fall of Cybertron. This, along with the art and designs are what are no doubt a large part of the game’s appeal among Transformers fans. Certainly, the gameplay is to be commended as this is one of the better Transformers games, but the world created here is what helps set the experience apart.
Much like War for Cybertron, this game is of course set on the Transformers’ homeworld of Cybertron– a surprisingly rare twist in the mythos, as more often than not, writers feel like they’re drawn to Earth. Instead, we get to see the Autobots and Decepticons engaged in a full scale planetary war among their own kind, rather than with the added issue of miniscule humans getting underfoot. And for a robotic planet, there is a nice degree of variety in the settings here. It’s not quite the difference between a lush jungle, a desert, and an iceberg, but the areas still feel distinct from labs and launch sites to the Sea of Rust, one of the planet’s most inhospitable regions.
The story is helped along by some fairly decent voice actors led by the legendary Peter Cullen, who reprises his iconic role of Optimus Prime. Several iterations have covered the Autobots’ and Decepticons’ departure from Cybertron, but most of the time, it feels like it’s being told in passing. But as superheroes have gained more detailed origins over time– a greater look at Superman’s Krypton before its explosion, or a more elaborate telling of the night Peter Parker learned that with great power comes great responsibility, so too does this game– along with its predecessor– give us a more in-depth look at the events surrounding the two sides’ exodus from their home planet.
In addition, while this does now stand as the iconic “video game” version of Transformers I had mentioned before, it also belongs to Hasbro’s new “Aligned” continuity for the brand. As a result, this means that Fall of Cybertron acts as a prequel (albeit loosely) to the current television shows Transformers: Prime and, in a sense, Transformers: Rescue Bots. The company has shown a timeline (click here for an uncondensed version of events) featuring what has been shown so far in this new form of the franchise, and High Moon’s two games sit right near the beginning of it, making them experiences not to be missed.
Plus, they went the extra mile to fit the fan-favorite Dinobots into this new era of Transformers, something that Hasbro initially wasn’t too keen on, so props to that.
If there was one downside I came across while playing this on Xbox 360, it’s that maybe half the content (depending on how you quantify such a thing) was cut off for Xbox Live Gold members. The multiplayer is understandable, though the wave-based cooperative mode, “Escalation,” is also an online-only experience.
However, the worst part for me is that just as in War for Cybertron, you have the opportunity to create your own Transformer, but this is also gated off behind the other modes. Since these are the characters you use in those modes, I can understand why they would be so closely associated with them. But at the same time, I just wanted to mess around with the character editor by itself, and without a Gold account, I can’t.
In a way, that feels like a missed opportunity as well. One would think that having your own customized Autobot or Decepticon sitting there before you, unusable, might entice someone to pony up for Gold in order to try them out. Instead, no such enticement exists, save for those who want to play multiplayer already.
Altogether, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron feels like a must-have for fans of the franchise, and according to those familiar with the genre, it stands as a good example of a third-person shooter as well. As I have hopefully demonstrated, even if you have never touched such a game before, it is still possible to get into it.
[Addendum: In addition to the game itself, there has also been merchandise produced based on these games, rather than the other way around (as is so often the case). Action figures have already been released on three of the game’s characters: Optimus Prime, Jazz, and Shockwave, with more to come. Meanwhile an art book based on the designs and concepts for this title will be available in early December, helping to round out the experience and cement it further as a greater part of the Transformers universe than a mere spin-off.]
A review copy of the Xbox 360 version was provided for review courtesy of Activision.