Developers: High Moon Studios
High Moon's Transformers games, whilst scaling far greater heights than most licensed properties in this industry (which isn't terribly difficult to be honest), have always been damned with the faint praise of solid-yet-unspectacular. Twice, now, they've managed to succeed in giving us an initial burst of euphoria and nostalgia as we take control of giant, transforming robots, with slick animation, responsive controls, and a model of design that looks to deliver some serious fan service. But on both of those occasions, their games have been unable to sustain early promise, whether through repetitive design (War for Cybertron) or a lack of time (Dark of the Moon).
Fall of Cybertron represents a last throw of the dice, really. There was leeway cut with the first game - it was a debut of sorts after all with a property had been abused before. It earned a great deal of goodwill predicated on promise and potential. The film tie-in was excused its paltry content offering, largely because, well, it was a film tie-in. But this third game has had time and effort poured into it. It's high time High Noon really hit their stride and delivered something truly special.
Trouble is, Fall of Cybertron is not quite that game either.
The thing is, that's not for want of trying. The core gameplay at the heart of this third Transformers title is better than ever before, the robots themselves handle very smoothly indeed, and you'll get to play as lots of them. Eschewing the multiple choice approach to playable characters in War for Cybertron, High Moon have decided to focus in on one particular character for each chapter. It's a tactic that does wonders for the game's diversity in terms of gameplay elements, with each level now finely crafted to make the most of mechanical specialities (each character has their own special ability, be it cloaking, marking targets, using a grappling hook etc.), but it comes at a high price: there's no co-op in this game.
The game begins with a simple premise: Cybertron is wrecked. The wars between the Autobots and the Decepticons have ravaged the planet, leaving it a burning, broken mechanical mess. Worse still, the Decepticons, leading to the initiation of one of the most iconic moments in Transformers history: the attempt by the Autobots to abandon the planet in an Ark. Of course, Megatron and his cronies aren't especially happy about letting them go, and so are looking to destroy the Autobots once and for all. The story is not particularly complex, but it does allow High Moon to create a tightly-woven narrative that delivers some cracking fan service in parts. Player freedom takes a backseat to the journey itself, but it's one that should delight fans of High Moon's previous efforts.
To be honest, though, that doesn't really concern us; we'd rather have a rather special campaign than something fairly average and samey set over two different game modes, after all. But Fall of Cybertron only ever really gets going until its second half. In a game that's all about giant robots with cool weapons who can transform at will, the points in the action where you feel truly powerful are few and far between. There are some interesting moments, of course, but too much of the time you spend with Optimus Prime is pointing out targets for Metroplex or pulling levers or issuing orders or watching cutscenes. You're removed from many of the best bits of the early stages - forced to watch rather than invited to engage.
It doesn't help that the robot weapons are all-too familiar too. Energon shards litter the levels of the thirteen chapters in this game, to be used for weapon upgrading, but those weapons aren't unique. You pick them up off of the battlefield when in robot form, and the majority are simply futuristic representations of common weapon types: assault rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers. Things do get spicier when you flip into vehicle mode, though. Megatron's blisteringly powerful tank can only do one thing really, and that's blast things with its massive gun, but it fills you with a powerful sense of satisfaction. Playing as airborne models like Starscream and Vortex proves once again to be a lot of fun, too, and then there are the Dinobots. Grimlock's appearance is both incredibly exciting, and yet wildly frustrating. He cannot transform at will, which makes for some splendid deferred gratification, but the joy at finally unleashing his dino form is tempered slightly by his cumbersome nature. Lining up attacks can be a bit of an exercise in frustration, but when you do...oh boy!
The elements are all there, but the balancing of all of them is a little off. Even in the action moments, the game doesn't quite come together. Enemies can hide behind cover, but there's no dedicated cover system for you, which is made more infuriating because in spite of being mechanical leviathans Transformers are apparently super fragile. Vanquish proved that having a cover system doesn't mean you have to bog down your game, and above all else I'd want to keep the run-and-gun aspects of this title wherever possible, but the majority of the time hurtling into the fray is tantamount to suicide.
Outside of that all, though, if you're a Transformers fan (which I am), you'll still find a lot to like about this game if you can forgive its niggles and its compromises, and as the game nears its finale, High Moon throw everything they have at the player. The perspective shifts quickly, the action ramps up to 11, the last few battles are furiously fought and all the better for it. It was only really here that the empowering fantasy lifts off and utterly engrosses you.
The lack of co-op in the campaign may be a dealbreaker for some, but at least Escalation is back - providing some co-operative Horde-based action should you wish it. Competitive multiplayer returns with the same four basic classes, but now with four modes instead of six; War of Cybertron’s Deathmatch, Countdown to Extinction, and Power Struggle are out, but a headhunter mode is now in alongside team deathmatch, capture the flag, and conquest. The chance to create your own Transformers proves just as cool as we'd all anticipated; there's not the depth to customisation that can be found in mech titles, but then this is a very, very different game to those, albeit with enough variety to make a robot distinct from those of your friends. There's a trade off, however, with the robots you make looking identical no matter which side you choose. One of the most successful aspects to the game has been the visual distinction between the blockier Autobots and the somewhat more sharply angular Deceptions, but that's blown away in multiplayer. It's not a big issue at all, but one that might be a little disconcerting if you're used to identifying sides by design.
Fall of Cybertron, then, is something of a mixed bag. It can be fist-pumpingly good fun, but it can also be pretty frustrating in laces too. High Moon should be praised for attempting to mix up the gameplay, but the pacing could be better. The multiplayer is lots of fun, but we do miss those other game modes. Everything has a slightly hesitant caveat. That said, if you enjoyed High Moon's previous efforts, it's a game worth sticking with. Though it might take a little while to get going, the final level is absolutely worth it all, and the fan service dispensed here is fantastic.
- Campaign is the best one yet
- Final level is a blinder
- Level design and AI don't always sit well with the action model
- Missing multiplayer modes are a shame
- Frame rate can be choppy, especially on PS3
The Short Version: High Moon have made their best Transformers game to date with a campaign that really delivers in its second half. But there are still ideas that could have been pushed further, the action model seems confused at times, and there's less MP on offer here than there was in War for Cybertron. It's a cracking game for the fans, but one with a few too many issues for the newcomer perhaps.