Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review (Xbox360)

Transformers: War For Cybertron was the game all fans knew was possible but had never really happened: a good Transformers game (the PS2 one was okay, but not great). What is it about London developers realizing long-crushed dreams of fanboys everywhere? Nevertheless, unlike Batman High Moon’s pixie dust wasn’t quite able to make people fly. War For Cybertron was fun but a little repetitive: there’s only so much grey metal you can stuff in a game before it gets boring. Now the sequel’s here, and you know what? High Moon have listened to the criticisms.

If there is one key component to making a great shooter, it’s variety. Pressing Fire a million times is by nature repetitive, so the way the best shooters stop boredom setting in is by changing things up as often as possible – new environments, new enemies, new weapons, even new rules. Where War For Cybertron stumbled, Fall of Cybertron knocks it out of the park.

Who doesn’t love Starscream? The treacherous moronic git

Every single level offers something new, whether it’s a new play style or a setpiece so epic it’d immediately make Michael Bay drop what he was doing and rush to a dictionary to look up the word, like going into battle as Optimus Prime with the enormous Metroplex stomping alongside you. I’ve seen fights where you can summon air-strikes before, but not ones where you can see those air-strikes get launched from a mile away out of the shoulders of a skyscraper-sized robot! Or cleaving robot insects in two with a massive sword before turning into a big fire-breathing T-Rex and watching enemies commit suicide rather than be eaten by you. Seriously, the variety in Fall of Cybertron’s levels is incredible, managing to feel pretty much like the first game and yet surprise at every turn – and that’s not just great, that’s damn miraculous.

I guess I should mention the story at this point, right? After the events of the first game, where Megatron’s uprising and his experiments with Dark Energon caused the heart of Cybertron to shut down, the Autobots are preparing to launch their last great Ark ship and abandon the planet – but the Decepticons won’t let them leave that easily. From there the story takes in beats from the animated movie (Starscream’s betrayal of Megatron is wonderful), establishment of key lore (the Space Bridge, how they ended up on Earth), and explanations of stuff that was cool in the series but didn’t make much sense (the Dinobots!). In short, it’s a Transformers fan’s wet dream. I know, because my bed sheets needed a good dry cleaning afterwards.

But this is a prequel to a kid’s cartoon series that was primarily used as a toy advert right, how decent can the story be? Pretty damn good in fact, with some surprising twists and big fanboy “AHA!” moments. It’s not the best writing in the world or anything but High Moon certainly know their Transformers lore, and their love of the series is both infectious and shows just what a shoddy job Michael Bay made of it. There are plenty of nods to the original cartoon and animated film of course, but also references to the Bay movies and even current cartoon series Transformers Prime. The short version is that both young an old Transformers fans will get a kick out of this.

How about the non-fans though? I couldn’t possibly give the game a great score without it appealing to everyone, and fortunately like Rocksteady’s Batman games there’s a great game here with or without the licence. The shooting is excellent, with a wide variety of cool weapons, enemies that actually take cover this time and try to flank you, and a decent challenge, but it’s made incredible by the ability to transform at any time and blow your enemies to s**t with Megatron’s tank cannon or Starscream’s rocket launcher (beautifully counterpointed with the character’s otherwise stealthy nature). The transforming really makes the game stand out.

Like the first game the controls are utterly spot-on, despite the PC version seemingly lacking customisation options (heresy!). Robots smoothly move about the environments, and the transition to vehicles at the tap of a button is immediate and silky sweet. It’s a bit awkward boosting, where you have to use the mouse to move which often results in a big crash against a wall, but otherwise it’s easy to get around in Fall of Cybertron in either robot or vehicle form, which is a big plus to the gameplay. Nothing would cripple a Transformers game like silly vehicle controls.

An addition to the series is the Teletraan 1 in-game shop. You know those little shiny bits in War For Cybertron that you could collect everywhere but didn’t seem to have a purpose? Now they’re money, which you can spend at shop terminals to buy weapons, perks, power-ups or upgrades. These upgrades seem minimal at first, until you get the final upgrade for Megatron’s arm cannon that turns the last shot in a clip into a mini-nuke. Still, it’s a shame the best weapon seems to be DLC – a Retro Laser that makes “pew-pew” noises. Nevertheless the Scrapmaker chaingun and the lightning-firing Electrocannon never steered me wrong, but there’s a wide range to choose from. I’m sure you’ll find a setup you’re comfortable with, but experimenting is fun too.

Someone left a metal spoon in the microwave again

Some weapons and power-ups can only be unlocked by finding special blueprints hidden over the level. Oh yes, there’s secrets to find too. I love shooters that give me a reason to explore, and Fall of Cybertron doesn’t disappoint. Apart from those blueprints the now-requisite Audio Logs recount the thoughts of major characters, occasionally adding to the story and lore, but it’s the more humorously bizarre secrets that players will enjoy seeking out. Optimus Prime settling in to watch some Cybertronian television (after a while getting gently reminded that there’s a war on outside) and the switch that turns out to be a dancing Transformer are a couple of my favourites. I can’t stand shooters that are too po-faced and serious, so I’m really happy that High Moon keeps a sense of humour throughout – not just in the secrets either, some of the character comments in the game are hilarious. Starscream’s a perpetual delight to listen to as always.

The single-player campaign last about 8 hours through thirteen chapters, culminating in an ending so fanboy it’s made me use the word “fanboy” as an adjective. I immediately began playing it again. Collecting all the upgrades and hunting down all the secrets certainly adds replay value, although the sheer fun I was having is enough for me personally. However, I am sad to report that the campaign co-op that made the previous Transformers so entertaining to replay has been stripped out. Yes its omission was to make the single-player more polished and High Moon have certainly achieved that aim, but it’s still sad.

So, what multiplayer is there? Five modes altogether, four of which are team-based, and most are old favourites. Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, and Conquest are all self-explanatory. Headhunter is the only free-for-all (no, I don’t know why there’s no regular Deathmatch either) as players take out opponents to see who can collect 30 pieces quickest. The final mode is Escalation, High Moon’s take on Horde mode, which is combined a little with Call of Duty’s Zombies mode to add purchasable ammo, health, weapons, and unlockable new areas to the mix.

All of which seem a rather basic set until you play them, where even Team Deathmatch feels as fresh as the day Doom spawned it. The transforming mechanic not only keeps things ever-changing (particularly when flying Transformers get involved) but also allows for large maps with none of those tediously long searches for opponents that they usually bring. To add further spice there are four Transformer types to choose from in each mode with various pros and cons – don’t expect the big hulking Titans to be the be-all-and-end-all for example, as their tank forms don’t do much good against fast Scouts or flying Scientists. All can be upgraded with different weapons and powers.

Escalation is the main mode, even getting its own separate option on the Main Menu, and it’s lots of fun balancing roles (no one may want to be the Healer but he’s vital) with the right tactics, with enemies continually forcing you to change those tactics – flying Sniper bots for example add a lot of tension because they could be anywhere. There may not be massive long-term appeal to Fall of Cybertron’s multiplayer, but it’s certainly a blast in short doses or with friends. Let’s just hope that more people start playing it on PC, since even set to Worldwide it’s hard to get a game going sometimes.

Pictured: fun

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is my favourite shooter of 2012 so far, edging out Max Payne 3 because it remembers that it’s actually a game and doesn’t have a cutscene every two minutes. Variety is the spice of life and Fall of Cybertron is incredibly spicy, with every level potentially bringing new scenery, new gameplay styles, new weapons, new enemies, or ever-more-epic new set-pieces. The shooting remains always fun and flipping between robot and vehicle forms is both natural and makes the whole thing more entertaining.

Despite the lack of co-op Fall of Cybertron is a huge improvement on its predecessor, offering plenty of entertainment for the non-fan and out-and-out geekgasms for the Transformers acolyte. The only reason I’m not scoring it even higher is the game having debatable long-term appeal, and because War For Cybertron pretty much laid every foundation here. If you want a fun, entertaining shooter you should look no further, and if you’re a Transformers fan you’ve already got it. ‘Til all are one and all that.

Top Game Moment: "Who disrupts my coronation?!"

Platform Played: PC