Are you watching Mr. Bay?
High Moon Studios
XBox 360, PS3, PC
Despite being a child of the 80s, I never really got into the whole Transformers fad. Sure, they were pretty cool, and I’m sure I vaguely remember forcing my parents to rent the 1986 movie on VHS at one point or another, as well as having a passing interest in the cartoon series around the same time, but my interest never went beyond that. Looking back, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in my six year old self for that, because based on what I’ve seen from High Moon Studios with 2010’s Transformers: War for Cybertron and now its follow-up, Fall of Cybertron, I really feel like I’ve been missing out!
War for Cybertron was by no means a perfect game. It had quite a few pretty glaring flaws, but there was a huge amount of potential that was obvious from even a few short hours of play – potential that has well and truly been capitalised upon here with Fall of Cybertron in abundance.
Like its predecessor, FoC is a third person shooter driven by a franchise canon narrative focusing on the end of days on Cybertron, before the Transformers made their way to earth, thankfully avoiding the nonsense of those awful Michael Bay movies, particularly Shia “I’d Really Like to Punch Him in the Face” LaBeouf (even though High Moon did handle last year’s mediocre Dark of the Moon game).
The action kicks off in the present day (at least in game time, it's actually long ago... technically in a galaxy far, far away), as the Autobots are trying to escape from the pursuing Decepticons through a wormhole in space, before taking us back six days to learn how the story unfolds. There’s a serious amount of fan service paid here, with a whole host of favourites from the animated series making an appearance, including Optimus Prime, Vortex, Starscream, Shockwave, Grimlock, Warpath, Jazz, Soundwave, Onslaught, Air Raid, Ironhide and even the gigantic Metroplex and combined Combaticons form Bruticus.
The story unfolds with a surprising maturity, given the nature of the source material, and you can really tell that the writers really do care about the franchise. But even the story isn’t the most impressive thing about FoC; that is reserved for the sheer scope of the venture. With huge, sprawling levels featuring an astonishingly high level of detail, plenty of alternate routes to explore and a healthy dollop of series mythology thrown into the mix for good measure, everything here feels epic.
Watching the last days of the war unfold is massively engrossing, and as players switch from Autobot to Decepticon without so much as a stutter in the story progression, the whole thing feels pleasantly natural. However, impressive and all as Fall of Cybertron is to the senses, without the correct gameplay balance it was never going to prove as successful as either High Moon or Activision would have hoped.
Thankfully, and perhaps most surprisingly, that hasn’t been an issue. The game’s controls are tight and responsive, with the gunplay satisfying and accurate, and a huge amount of variety added by virtue of the multitude of characters and parallel story arcs available to play through. That it feels so natural to dispatch an oncoming wave of enemies before transforming to quickly traverse the devastated metallic terrain followed by a stealthy assassination of an unsuspecting foe is as high a praise as we could possibly pay here. The fact that there’s so much to do, in so many different ways, and the game still feels cohesive and consistent is a hell of an accomplishment for the developers.
Obviously, this added focus and drive comes with a cost, and Fall of Cybertron may prove to be a little too linear for some. This is always going to be an issue when it comes to a heavily scripted title, but there’s certainly a place in the gaming world for story progression of this type, particularly if there’s a long and storied mythology to keep to, so we certainly don’t have any issue with High Moon taking this approach.
On the presentation front, as we touched upon earlier, FoC never ceases to impress. From the perfectly suited soundtrack to the gut-rumbling explosions of munitions to the huge, detailed cityscapes and ancient ruins, the game delivers on all fronts.
Those of you who were hoping for a similar co-operative mode to the one found in War for Cybertron will be sorely disappointed, as it has been stripped away this time around to accommodate a deeper and more varied storyline. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of online action for you to sink your metallic teeth into, with the sickeningly addictive Escalation more offering co-op horde styled play, and a wealth of competitive online modes for those of you who can’t get enough of blowing your friends to pieces.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron has certainly surprised us, truth be told. While War ticked most of the boxes, the fact that High Moon has gone well above and beyond the expectations placed upon it here, both in terms of narrative and execution, to surpass its predecessor by such a distance is something we genuinely didn’t anticipate – and that’s coming from someone who’s not a Transformers fanboy… I can only imagine the kick those guys will get from this!