In 2010, High Moon Studios delivered a Transformers game chock-full of fan service and smart implementation of the robot/vehicle mechanic at the heart of the franchise. Transformers: War for Cybertron (read our review) was a solid step in the right direction for the "Robots in Disguise" but, unfortunately, a lot of the momentum that High Moon had created was quickly squandered by the underwhelming Dark of the Moon movie prequel title - based on Michael Bay's third cinematic iteration of the characters. Movie tie-ins are notorious for rushed development time, leading to short and thin gameplay experiences, and Dark of the Moon (read our review) was no exception.
Fortunately, the developer wasn't ready to end its Transformers run with a movie-to-game adaption - and has now delivered a true follow-up to War for Cybertron. Does Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, with the inclusion of fan-favorite characters like The Combaticons and The Dinobots as well as the city-sized Autobot Metroplex, offer an even better Transformers experience?
While Fall of Cyberton successfully improves on the War for Cybertron foundation with a lot of fun (and at times jaw-dropping) gameplay additions, some of the new elements are at odds with core experience - resulting in lengthy tutorial-like sections throughout the campaign as well as an especially awkward overall gameplay progression. The story, as well as many of the new gameplay mechanics, come full circle by the end of the campaign but as the narrative jumps from plot point to plot point (and bot to bot), some players might wish that they'd had more time with a few select characters, and their respective tech powers, than the buffet-like tasting that Fall of Cybertron offers.
Despite hopscotching through time and across enemy lines, the core Fall of Cybertron story succeeds at delivering a significantly larger scale - while also telling a more intimate storyline. The War for Cybertron has left the Transformer home world nearly-depleted of Energon - and the Autobots and Decepticons engage in a last ditch effort to escape before the planet is nothing but a lifeless scrapyard.
While there aren't too many twists and turns that will outright surprise fans, the storyline provides plenty of fan-service as well as retrofits the more outlandish Transformer characters (such as Insecticons and the Dinobots) with interesting, and surprisingly sensible, origin stories. In most cases, the storylines are successfully implemented into the actual progression of the game - adding some variety to the otherwise familiar robot/vehicle gameplay experience. For example, once Metroplex is discovered, High Moon supplements an otherwise straightforward Optimus Prime shooter chapter with devastating orbital strike functionality as well as some epic moments of fluid character interaction. Metroplex exemplifies Fall of Cybertron is at its best - managing to both provide a more immersive story experience while also adding improved tools for player experimentation.
Unfortunately, not all of the new additions are as seamless as Metroplex. The Grimlock portion of the game, which has been teased extensively in the Fall of Cybertron marketing occurs surprisingly late in the campaign and forgoes nearly every previously established mechanic - requiring the player to learn an entirely new set of actions. The melee-heavy Grimlock gameplay is fun (and transforming into the T-Rex never stops being amusing) but, considering prior chapters had taught players to be smart and tactical shooters, the sword and shield Dinobot gameplay requires significantly less thinking and, as a result, isn't nearly as challenging.
It's as if High Moon Studios countered War for Cybertron criticism by making sure that each level was exceptionally different this round - possibly to a fault. Gamers are consistently faced with new tutorial-like sequences at the beginning of nearly every chapter - as Fall of Cybertron teaches the player about familiar mechanics like cloaking, grappling, aerial combat, or hovering, among others. While the variety is enjoyable, jumping from character to character with different abilities means that very few of the mechanics ever get a chance to develop beyond the same basic implementations seen numerous times in similar titles (i.e. the grapple power allows players to pull down obstacles or jump to elevated platforms) and more nuanced applications (such as using the grapple to pull an enemy toward the player) are not available.
Similarly, there are very few boss-like enemies to truly test a player's mastery of the various learned mechanics. Admittedly, boss battles are becoming antiquated as games become more cinematic but, despite the destruction occurring around the player-character, there are few large scale challenges to face (aside from increasingly large gangs of enemies) - a problem that persists through to the very last second of the title.
In addition to some enjoyable and creative new guns, Fall of Cybertron also introduces a customization storefront, Teletran-1 (another fan service nod) - where players can purchase weapon upgrades, disposable tech powers, and perks (such as increased health and store discounts). The in-game currency is earned by collecting Energon shards from downed opponents - which is a major improvement to their, oftentimes, wasted functionality in the prior installment (simply replenishing health). Individually, the add-ons offer minor tweaks but a fully-upgraded weapon, or a character that's fitted with a number of combat perks, will definitely see a major difference on the battlefield. Fall of Cybertron also removes some War for Cyberton features - most noticeably co-op. At first the absence of an in-campaign co-op experience might be off-putting to some players but, for anyone who attempted to play the first game alongside clumsy and, at times, downright broken AI partners, it's a relief to see the developers narrow the focus to a solid and more immersive single player experience.
For gamers that do expect multiplayer, Fall of Cybertron offers a similar online component as the prior franchise entry - but with significantly improved customization and some slick new tech powers and weaponry. Nearly every recognizable Transformer is broken down into several different components - allowing players to mix and match fan-favorite heads, chassis, and other parts (or forgo customization and simply play as their favorite character). The classes have been slightly retooled as well - providing a much more balanced experience this round.
Although, fans who enjoyed some of the more over-the-top game modes in War for Cybertron (i.e. Power Struggle) may be underwhelmed by the Fall of Cybertron's emphasis on more standard fare - Team Deathmatch, Conquest, Capture The Flag and Head Hunter. Much like the decision to remove co-op, it's clear that High Moon wanted to clear away the clutter and make room for a more focused and polished experience. For the most part, they succeed and, aside from some matchmaking glitches (which created significantly imbalanced teams, i.e. 3:1 capture the flag), most of the competitive matches were technically sound and will provide a fun, albeit thin, distraction for returning players.
Gamers looking for a more team-oriented experience can, once again, join up with friends (or random online partners) for Escalation - Fall of Cybertron's variation on co-op Horde Mode. The gameplay is pretty straightforward: survive waves of increasingly difficult enemies and earn in-match credits to upgrade weaponry or gain access to new areas. Escalation isn't going to rival Gears of War 3 for Horde Mode supremacy but it definitely offers an added option for players who want to kill Decepticons with other people but aren't interested in the competitive arena.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a worthy follow-up to War for Cybertron - with numerous improvements to the core formula and a number of smart variations on the third-person action shooter gameplay that utilize impressive new Transformer characters. Not all of the isolated improvements mesh into a cohesive experience - unlike the game's kick butt Combaticon combiner Bruticus. That said, while certain gamers may find some clunky or underwhelming elements, by the time the credits roll, most players will have thoroughly enjoyed everything that Fall of Cybertron does right - even if there are a few missteps along the way.
If you're still on the fence, check out the Transformers: Fall of Cybertron story trailer below:
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Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is Rated T for Teen and available now for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for this review.