Sometimes a video game can surprise you. You may expect that a particular game might just be a generic licensed third-person shooter, with references only for the familiar and some slightly wonky and underdeveloped combat and technical specs. However, upon playing this game, you may discover that Transform- I mean, this game, is actually really good, has the fixings of a AAA title, has well-developed gameplay, and has a campaign that you actually want to see through to the end.
I’ll spoil the surprise now. I am reviewing that game.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a sequel to Transformers: War for Cybertron, a game I never played from a franchise I never paid attention to from a developer (High Moon Studios) that I have no familiarity with. Despite this, the setting is basic enough that even someone like me could follow (and enjoy) it. The game takes place right after the first, in which a civil war between the Autobots (the good guys) and the Decepticons (the bad guys) over control of their world, Cybertron. Meanwhile, the Autobots are trying to escape through a portal to what must be a better place than their home world, and the Decepticons want to stop it. With my lack of series familiarity, some of the subplots were quickly lost on me, but that doesn’t mean that the plot is obtuse or convoluted by any means, it just means that the story you’re being given is built from the ground up for Transformers fans.
The best way to explain the gameplay would be to say that it plays a bit like Mass Effect with bulkier characters. Fall Of Cybertron is a cover-based third-person shooter that controls fairly traditionally (for what it is). There are standard assault rifles and heavy weapons and such, and there are special ammo powers, but what makes the combat sing are the transformations you can make as the robots.
During combat, the L3 button can be pressed to transform a characters’ robot form into its vehicle form, which is faster, more compact, usually faster weaponry, and easier to maneuver. They’re typically less powerful and easier to fire shots at, but the ability to change combat style on the fly is much appreciated and makes the game a more exciting affair. There are exceptions to this rule, like when you play as Grimlock later in the campaign. He can’t transform into a vehicle (nor can he do much more than shield and melee), but he can turn into a nearly invincible robot T-Rex to destroy everything in his path.
Perhaps most impressive is how smoothly everything controls. For so many playable characters and transformations, I’m surprised that everything feels like it got a thick coat of polish before it was released. The shooting feels on par with the top standards of this generation, and the vehicle controls are good enough to be in a racing game if they were tightened up a bit more.
The campaign is thirteen chapters long and takes you through the entire fall of Cybertron and the efforts to escape. The game takes you through several playable characters on both sides of the conflict, from stealth-based sections through giant robot devastation. While the campaign is short (around seven hours or so), I was never left wanting any more or less of the game.
Unfortunately, with such a short length and so many playable characters, the pacing feels really broken. The early missions are incredibly standard TPS affairs (minus transformation), and the game really only becomes anything special in the last few. Considering there is only one boss fight in the game (and its only sort-of one), it was tough to be excited about doing anything when the setpieces look like they came out of Mass Effect, the shooting and maneuvering feels like Mass Effect, the weapon customization feels like Mass Effect, and it’s always never as good. That’s not to say it isn’t good, but the game truly only gains a personality of its own in the second half, which is kind of problematic when you realize that only three hours of the story are devoted to these much more diverse, much more exciting missions.
Thankfully or not, the main draw of Fall of Cybertron lies in its multiplayer modes. From the hour of it I played, it was easy to see the appeal. In a nutshell, the multiplayer is a direct translation of the single-player gameplay. Playing in one of four classes, the game has everything you would expect in an Activision-published game. You can customize your robots (which has pretty robust options), as well as your weapon loadouts (with further options gained upon leveling up and gaining experience points), and you can enter your standard Deathmatch and Capture the Flag variants. In addition to this, there is also a co-op Escalation mode, that pits two players against a hoard of enemies until they die. It’s a hoard mode and nothing more.
One more thing Fall of Cybertron does right is having visuals that really stand far and above most other games based on a licensed property. The visuals look stunning, especially when seeing large amounts of Autobots and Decepticons fighting each other or a towering Metroplex joining the fight. The soundtrack does the job, but it’s the same orchestrated stuff you would see in other games about war.
There’s a lot to love in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. The story holds up, the fanservice is clearly present and the gameplay and presentation are top-tier, with no doubting in that claim. However, the short campaign length, inconsistent pacing and quality, and ordinary multiplayer may cause some to wish they had held off. Either way, I’m seriously impressed, and I have confidence that High Moon Studios might just achieve greatness in the not-so-distant future.
Score: 7.5 out of 10